Deadly funny : the subversion of clowning in the killer clown genre

Spratley, Liezel (2009-03)

Thesis (MDram (Drama))--University of Stellenbosch, 2009.

Thesis

This dissertation investigates the potential for horror in the comic repertoires and performance styles of clowns, in an attempt to address the popular questions of why clowns inspire fear as well as laughter, and what makes them effective monsters in the horror genre. Notwithstanding short articles which offer a general and broad account, the question of why circus clowns are often viewed as frightening figures remains largely unexplored. For this reason I intend to undertake an in-depth exploration of the wide-ranging history of clowning – which includes anthropology, theatre, film, and literature. This study focuses on finding the primary causes of clowns’ horrific potential, rather than being satisfied with secondary causes such as the effect of their depictions in horror narratives on audiences. During my investigation of specific killer clown films, graphic novels and prose novels, and by drawing on works such as Noël Carroll’s Philosophy of Horror (1990), Mikhail Bakhtin’ Rabelais’ World (1984), and various other studies of the genres of horror and , or instances of practising clowns turning to crime, or simply accepting the view that they play tricks on their audiences, or that their make-up acts as a mask and therefore makes their faces and motives ‘unreadable’. Although these explanations are legitimate, they do not adequately explain why certain clown types prove to be such effective monsters in horror narratives. Clowns typically, albeit to varying degrees, flout taboos on deformity, scatology, violence and insanity, and carry with them the latent stigma attached to these phenomena, which are also recognised as the common themes of the horror genre. The focus of this study is not on clowns as figures of comic relief in horror, but as legitimate monsters in their own right, and an attempt is made to discover how audiences’ anticipation of comic relief and the ‘laws’ of comedy are used deceptively in the construction of clowns as figures of fear. During my investigation of specific killer clown films, graphic novels and prose novels, and by drawing on works such as Noël Carroll’s Philosophy of Horror (1990), Mikhail Bakhtin’ Rabelais’ World (1984), and various other studies of the genres of horror and comedy, as well as anthropological studies of clowns, I argue that, when clowns are shifted from comedy to horror, the comical features and actions that flout the taboos on deformity, scatology, violence and insanity are reinstated as elements of horror and fear. I propose that clowns have the potential to be appropriated as monsters in the horror genre because they exhibit a paradoxical duality of fear and humour, and they have the ability to transgress and violate comedy elements to horrific effect.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/2004
This item appears in the following collections: