Human Interest Movies

Fear of Clowns – Why Stephen King’s IT became a Cult Classic

Fear of Clowns Stephen King Banner 4
Written by Izak Van Heerden

Within 24 hours of the release of the IT teaser, it received a record-breaking 197 million views. This exceeded the 138 million views that were received by Fate of the Furious, the record holder at the time. The popularity of IT worldwide can be seen in these numbers. It also brings up several questions about both the movie and clowns in general. What is it that made IT the cult classic both the book and movie have become?

Indeed, what makes any book or movie so appealing to the masses that it attains a cult following? Finally, what is it about clowns that so terrifies us that even those who aren’t diehard Stephen King fans (yes, they do exist) know who Pennywise is?

What Makes a Cult Movie or Book?

Trying to pinpoint one factor that turns a movie or book into a part of a cult culture is not possible. If it were, authors and movie makers would all be able to add that little extra ingredient that would guarantee their final creation would live nearly forever. As it is, each time something has risen to cult status, it has appeared completely different than any such work that came before. There are a few things cult productions do seem to contain.

*Fringe populations. In most cases, the film or book appeals to members of a fringe population rather than the mainstream. You won’t find a cult following among the mainstream population but instead among some portion of the population that is often considered “outside” the norm. For example, Rocky Horror appealed to the LGBT community because of the main character Frankenfurter.

*An internal message. Another thing that can appeal to a cult following is when a strong internal message is portrayed. For example, Schindler’s List became iconic among Holocaust survivors because it showed extreme courage and the strength of going against the status quo to do what is believed correct, even at the risk of personal danger.

Cult Movies


*Unusual. Let’s face it; some pieces that obtain cult status are downright strange. Think about Little Shop of Horrors or Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Both involved plants that ate humans. The acting in each was nowhere near exceptional, but the unusualness of the topic appealed strongly to a large section of the population.

*Evokes strong emotion. A cult following may be achieved if the book or movie can evoke some strong emotion. This emotion is often humor, but can be anything from eternal love, winning against all odds or even extreme fear.

Why IT Has a Cult Following

Some might think IT became popular simply because Stephen King authored it. While that would be an easy answer, it isn’t the case. The majority of cult classics don’t have popular writers. IT plays to some of our deepest childhood fears. Pennywise appears as a clown, something that terrifies children and adults worldwide.

Fear of Clowns Stephen King IT Scary Clown

Another fear is the loss of a child. One of the worst things a parent can imagine is the loss of their child and even those without children find crimes against the youngest members of our population horrendous. Hardened prisoners even hold those who commit crimes against children at the lowest position within a prison population. IT took some of the deepest fears within the human mind and brought them to life.

At the time of its release, the population was also reeling from the real-life crimes of John Wayne Gacy, who often dressed as a clown and was even known to work children’s parties. This made the possibility of IT becoming real seem viable in our minds. Finally, the almost childlike qualities that Pennywise displayed at times, evoked the time when we, as children, understood that fears could take on a life of their own.

The New Movie

The new movie is being released in two parts, with the September release following a group of children and the second part checking back in with the survivors as adults. Seeing that IT returned every 27 years, this release is perfectly timed at 27 years after the first release. Rumor has it that some of the horror creatures, such as werewolves and mummies, have been replaced with newer horror figures in order to increase the element of surprise. The director also included more gore and horror than with previous releases.

This time around, IT is going to be much closer to the actual book. The director felt confident in the public being ready for this. The one thing they did leave out was the child orgy scene. Not only did they believe that would push the rating into an over 17 audience only but they also believed filming such a scene might cause psychological damage to the child actors on set. Other than a few tidbits, producers are keeping most of the movie’s actual details quiet, hoping that the already curious public will be even more intrigued.

The Fear of Clowns

Fear of Clowns Stephen King IT Coulrophobia

What makes clowns so terrifying to so many? The original “clowns” were court jesters who performed acts to help ease the minds of royalty when times were tough. They were considered harmless to most people. Over time, however, it became noted that many of the most popular clowns hid sadness and pain beneath their always present smiles.

John Wayne Gacy further embedded this realization in the minds of the general public. Clowns have come to be something feared because they hide reality behind their painted-on faces. We don’t know who truly lurks behind these masks, and the unknown is our greatest fear as human beings.


In the first video above, a clown with a goofy looking hammer scares the living crap out of three men. In the second video, two clowns raiding a baby carriage causes 10+ young men to flee in terror. It is highly doubtful that they would have had the same effect without the clown outfits.

Humans are more likely to fear what they do not know then the greatest horrors they do know. When you know the enemy, you are on guard but know what you can do to fight. You can’t fight something you don’t know. Clowns appear happy and harmless, but hidden beneath that paint could be a worse horror than is imaginable and we don’t know when the horror may be released.

IT played on the fears of a whole generation of both children and adults. With the new release in September, a whole new generation will join their parents in this fear. It remains to be seen whether or not the kids who have become adults have overcome their fear or will be taken back to their childhoods and passing every sewer opening with the fear of hearing those now famous words: We all float down here.

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Izak Van Heerden
Izak has witnessed a couple of decades worth of changing tech. He hopes to make it a couple more until his conscience can be copied to a cyborg body.

About the author

Izak Van Heerden

Izak has witnessed a couple of decades worth of changing tech. He hopes to make it a couple more until his conscience can be copied to a cyborg body.

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