Most Traumatizing Movie: STEPHEN KING’S IT
Wikipedia says I have Coulrophobia and I have never known it to lead me astray. That’s a fear of clowns, but perhaps for me, the word “extreme” should be stitched into the side of that very technical term, because it has been, at times, the kind of heart-quickening, panic laced fear, particularly during my childhood (and the one time, as an adult, that I spied two clowns in a car behind me during a traffic jam).
How did I get so frightened of such a seemingly innocuous thing? I’m glad I made it look like you asked. As a kid, my parents had the wizard idea that I would love some kind of massive porcelain headed clown puppet. Whatever, fine, it wasn’t a hard plastic proton pack, but beggars… choosers. The thing is, they hung the puppet on a hook that was on the back of my bedroom door, leaving that porcelain clown face to glisten in the night light as it watched me defenselessly lay there. You’re seeing why I am so fucked up. I can feel it.
A parade of creepy-assed birthday clowns and a panicked exit from the circus had a hand in further fucking with my shit, but fancy and official sounding word for clown fear didn’t really take root in my consciousness until I saw Stephen King’s IT at the too-young age of 8. We’re talking original mini-series broadcast, both nights. I don’t know how I was allowed to watch this or where my parents were, but I half-saw Richard Massur’s head in my refrigerator until I hit puberty.
That was nothing compared to Pennywise, though. People forget that Tim Curry is a deeply brilliant actor because he’s had to pay bills for the last thirty years, but he falls so deeply into the role of the manifestation of childhood fear/child murdering monstrous clown that I have, for years now, continued to have a deep affection for his work, fully separating the man from the thing that terrorized me as a child.
Instead of being afraid of Curry, I wound up giving cross glances to sewer drains and playing cards for a few weeks, but while those silly notions faded, the film and Pennywise stayed with me by virtue of the great lost mosiac that was the video store horror wall of box art. Together, this graphic collection of beasties, blood, and jutted out chests made a bitches brew that both caught my eye and put me on edge as a kid, but no matter which store I went to, there was always a copy of IT staring at me and forcing me to admire its hold on me. It was magnetic and torturous. Heart quickening, panic laced.
This went on for years, every time I went to the video store, I would lock eyes with Pennywise. I never had the chance to leave the horror of that voice, those teeth, and those eyes. Blockbuster was Derry, I was pre-Sister Sister Tim Reid. In recent years, with the death of video stores, the onset of adulthood, and the rise of on-demand and Netflix, I have had less encounters with Pennywise and the IT DVD. Every so often, I’ll see it and get half-transported back, but for the most part, I just get creeped out, I do not run screaming out of the room.
Despite that evolution, though, I had been resistant to go back and watch IT for 23 years because… well, I am an adult now and you can’t make me! But when I saw that Screen Invasion was running a series about traumatic horror films, I elevated above petty fear. I grew a pair and watched it on YouTube.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that I had a clown-buddy for this adventure — a friend who has forever taken great pleasure in torturing me about my clown “issue”. He would highly rate the experience of watching me occasionally squirm as I re-watched IT, but my score for the event is much lower. Plainly put: IT is a flaming ball of cheese covered crap. My lord what a pile of garbage.
It’s just a dopey film that completely relies on the brand of Stephen King, a notable (at the time) cast of TV stars and Dennis Christopher (it’s okay man, you were the bomb in Django), and the Pennywise creep-out factor that kept this forgettable film in the minds of a generation of poor bastards like me that saw the film as children.
It took me about 35 minutes of battling back the Pennywise demons before I realized this and reached a point where I could wish that the filmmakers had gone meta and made Harry Anderson’s Hollywood player a Night Court judge while wondering if the werewolf that had attacked young Seth Green had actually given him his werewolf-y-ness that manifested itself on Buffy. Yes, everyone becomes Tom Servo when watching shitty horror or sci-fi films, but the point is, that’s all this movie is good for now — a few laughs at its expense.
So, essentially, facing my fears helped me mostly overcome them and I am now on my way to being completely clown-fear free… is a thing I would say if I was a liar. The fact is, I know now that IT is nothing to stress about, but Pennywise still makes me tense up a little (especially when pulling pictures for this article) and he probably always will, because I was 8 and it was scary and “you’ll float”.