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Are you scared of It?

Are you scared of It?

As Stephen King's It arrives on Virgin Media Store, we investigate what makes clowns so creepy...

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to do more things that scare you, Stephen King’s It will arrive just in time on the Virgin Media Store

Buy It on the Virgin Media Store from New Year’s Day and rent on Virgin Movies from 15 January. Also available in HD. Cert 15

There’s something creepy about clowns. This year’s big horror hit, Stephen King’s It, played on that fear to intense effect, with Bill Skarsgård’s (The Divergent Series: Allegiant) supernatural clown Pennywise terrorising a group of young kids and twisting an entire town to his own perverse view. But even when clowns aren't as blatantly terrifying as Pennywise, there’s something scary about them to many people, something that leaves people unsettled by innocent performers who just wanted to make people smile. So why is coulrophobia, as it’s called, so widespread?

We’ve scoured existing research for some explanations…

1. They look just a bit too nearly human

Those giant shoes, and often cartoonishly exaggerated features, can read as terrifying rather than amusing. Human beings have always been good at spotting things that are just a little off, predators hiding in the long grass or enemies trying to infiltrate the tribe. Clowns fall into the same “uncanny valley” – looking close to human but not quite right – that computer-generated video game characters do. If a human life figure is almost convincing, but not quite there, that’s far scarier than something that is obviously artificial or different.

2. They push the limits of logic

Andrew Stott is a professor of English, author of a book on comedy and – more importantly here – an expert on clown culture. He told The Telegraph that, “Clowns have always been associated with danger and fear, because they push logic up to its breaking point. They push our understanding to the limits of reason and they do this through joking but also through ridicule.” That’s particularly true of medieval jesters, who had the duty of reminding royalty about the certainty of impending death. But spare a thought for the clowns themselves: some were mutilated, those smiles made painfully permanent with Joker-style scarring.

3. It’s just not natural to smile so much

Harvard psychiatrist Steven Schlozman describes it like this, “Your brain registers that smiles are largely good things – and yet you can’t smile all the time, because if you’re smiling all the time, something’s not right.” Clowns, with their painted-on faces contorted into a rictus grin, smile too much. We see them and immediately suspect that the good humour is not genuine and not to be trusted. But this can be a saving grace for good clowns: the really talented performers can look convincingly joyous and spread that good feeling to us. Unless you’re a true clown-phobic.

4. Some clowns are just evil

The evil clown is a familiar horror movie trope, from The Dark Knight’s Joker to the undead clown in Zombieland to almost the entire cast of Killer Klowns From Outer Space. Even in that company, It’s Pennywise is a particular bad’un. His very presence in the town of Derry, Maine (the setting of many Stephen King novels) makes the people of the town meaner and more violent, and the monster himself emerges once every 27 years to feast on innocent children. He's one of the scariest horror creations ever made, and the fact that he appears in a form that's meant to be friendly and attractive to tinies – a smiling clown, holding a red balloon – only makes him all the more chilling. But watch It for yourself, see the kids fight back and you’ll understand why this is a new horror classic. Clowns may be scarier, but a plucky band of misfits can still triumph over a clown monster.

Buy It on the Virgin Media Store from New Year’s Day and rent on Virgin Movies from 15 January. Also available in HD. Cert 15

It is part of a very special collection of films available to buy right now on the Virgin Media Store. Appropriately titled the Best Of 2017, this collection also includes Beauty And The Beast, Dunkirk, La La Land, Logan, Despicable Me 3 and Wonder Woman. That's literally not even the half of it. What are you waiting for?


Oh, don't know where to start? First, set up your account quickly and easily at Once that’s done, if you have a Virgin TV V6 box powered by TiVo® you can buy and watch hundreds of films and TV Box Sets via the Virgin Media Store app on your box. Alternatively, if you’re not a V6 customer you can buy and watch via the Virgin Media Store website and do everything through that. Simple!

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