Ever since childhood, I’ve hated clowns. Something about their painted faces and miserable attempts at buffoonery, churns my stomach. I never found them funny nor did they gain my compassion as they slipped on the sawdust and wept those painted tears. No, I never responded in the way I was supposed to instead I sat frozen, closing one eye in protection while the other was galvanised in an hypnotic loathing of the malformed monstrosities.
Later, I wondered what was going on for me at the time to cause such a strong antipathy. My family was a highly dysfunctional one, prone to disregard the desires and fears of children. When I begged to be released from going to the circus, I never liked animals in cages either, I was told how selfish I was and so was brought shivering to view the faces of my slapstick tormentors.
In my thirties I fell in love with Carl Jung, a well and truly dead psychoanalyst, protégé of Freud and discoverer of the human shadow. I was fascinated by the theory that states when we have a strong reaction to anything on the outside in life, it originates from an unknown part within ourselves. Where I was my inner clown? I felt sick just imagining it.
Life overtook me, the evil clown disappeared from my life until by accident (or was it synchronicity?) I called on a friend who had a book with a lurid cover of said creature on her coffee table. Knowing of my fear, Paula started talking about her arachnophobia and the desensitisation process which she had undertaken-we were both psychology students after all. Deciding that I had to overcome this fear, I researched the “Evil Clown” archetype.
‘Clown costumes tend to exaggerate the facial features and some body parts, such as hands and feet and noses. This can be read as monstrous or deformed as easily as it can be read as comical. The significant aberrations in a clown’s face may alter a person’s appearance so much that it enters the so-called uncanny valley—in which a figure is lifelike enough to be disturbing, but not realistic enough to be pleasant—and thus frightens a child so much that they carry this phobia throughout their adult life.’
I now had a name for my fear, Coulrophobia. Knowledge is powerful and the understanding was sufficient to heal me. Or so I thought until I came face to face with the living, gallows-laughing, flesh curdling, red mouth-smeared malignity in a haunted house on a Canadian Halloween two years ago.
My Canadian friends took me to a traditional Halloween event, a visit to Galey farms. The farm celebrates All Hallows Eve by creating a Haunted House for adults called ‘Carnevil’.
My considerate friends had given me a choice between the crazy train, rattling through the corn fields in the cold night air, or the Haunted House. I chose the indoor option, just how scary could this be? Nothing I couldn’t handle.
But once inside the huge yet claustrophobic construction, I could tell that is was going to be a different experience to the one I had anticipated. So I chose to go fearlessly first and with my friends at the back laughing nervously, I committed myself to the ordeal. The place was in shadow until threatening music indicted that something macabre was about to be revealed. A huge arachnid scuttled towards me, placing a hairy leg through the bars which separated us. I knew I would faint if it touched me.
‘Its ok Kate, its NOT REAL ‘ I muttered unconvincingly. The music faded as I turned the corner in shadowy light, realising I’d been separated from my friends and waited for the next primal monstrosity to be revealed. Music of a different kind slowly commenced and then the lights strobed on the cold, evil eyes of a mass murderer clearly involved in dismembering a body. It was gruesome stomach turning stuff and reminded me of why I am not a fan of violent murder mysteries, particularly those involving crimes against women.
I have always had a healthy heart and normal blood pressure but during that interminable night, I keenly felt its beating presence. Perhaps the warnings which I had taken for lurid advertising were true, recommending that those with a heart condition should not participate. By this stage as I walked through the increasingly claustrophobic maze, I was aware that the bars which kept me separated from the Carnevil creations, were growing thinner and weaker. I kept an eye out for the promised chicken exit.
I knew he would be there waiting for me as horrible fat fingers crawled up my back and onto my shoulder in the dark moments before he showed his grotesque facial features. The light throbbed to jagged music as he stood next to me, laughing with his yellow teeth, white greasy face and smeared red mouth. Suddenly I recalled some years earlier walking out of the film ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ when I saw Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the sadistic joker. And now I stood face to face with my evil clown. The light continued to strobe and the music screeched as his companion, an out of control madwoman laughed at his lascivious actions. I stood captured in a web of fear, immobilised. Slowly he turned and walked back to his circus chair, head hanging down. Still I couldn’t move. After some time, immeasurable in minutes, he turned and slowly smiled, the worst face I had ever seen. A low laugh of the sadistic kind came from somewhere in the room as he deliberately stooped to pick up an instrument of torture, his eyes still on me, coming closer.
I ran, whether I ripped a hole in the tent or found the exit I couldn’t say. I was out in the blessed cold air, alive and breathing.