The Clown at Midnight by Gary Warne

The Clown At Midnight

The Clown At Midnight

When I was twelve years old, I read an interview with Lon Chaney, Senior, The Man, of a Thousand Faces, In an article by Robert Block called, "What Is Horror?". Chaney asked us to picture this: Imagine you are alone in your living room; It is late, the clock is striking twelve, the moon is full. No one is in the house. The town is asleep. You have been reading, and are startled; you really don't want to answer the door, but someone is knocking on it. You try to go back to reading, but you cannot. The knock comes again. You get up and move towards the sound. You hesitate—and turn the latch. The door swings open... On your porch, in the deep night, its face bleached in moonlight, is a clown, in full costume and gleaming face paint. It is smiling at you.

What would your reaction be? Would you laugh? Perhaps, suggests Chaney, it would not be that funny. Perhaps it would be just the opposite...even if you had just seen the clown in the circus ring that very night, in the sawdust where it belonged. What would your reaction be???

Block summed up his article with this image and this question. The man who wrote one of the most frightening of all stories, "Psycho," suggested that this was the essence of all horror: THE CLOWN AT MIDNIGHT.

I was a very young boy when I read that. It has never left me. It has colored and shaped everything I have ever done, ever imagined. It remained a key for me to understand the world with. I don't know if I can explain to you what it means to me, but that simple reading experience changed my whole life. The world and people's experience of it took on transformations, new possibilities, inversions, juxtapositions that were denied other people.

I saw, from then on, that the same things that frightened some people brought pleasure and laughter and wonderment to others. And I saw some people's joy turn to horror in the mind of still other audiences and lives. I learned that many people experience the same things in many different ways, and that I could therefore choose my own reactions to most of life's experiences. If I had a choice, then it would be joy at mystery, and excitement at most dangers, and I would know that only myself lay at the end of these journeys I would undertake. I learned that responses were my own peculiar sense of incongruity, and that a sense of horror and a sense of humor were only each person's sense of what was untypical -incongruous. If that was all it was, then I would take my response in excitement.