Haunted Tropes #001 – The Spontaneous Circus

Tropes are not clichés, which are dull and uninteresting. These are common scares that come back year after year because they work, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re highly repetitive. Join us every Thursday as we explore these Haunted Tropes.

Creepy clown says, "Go to bed."

Nighty Night!

Okay, I get it. For some reason that I don’t personally understand, clowns are scary. I always thought they were great, myself. Funny hair, big red noses, huge shoes, balloon animals, and those little honky red noses. Oh, and bicycle horns. Don’t ever forget the bicycle horns.

Here’s the thing, though. My memories of clowns are that they were associated with the circus for the most part. Oh, of course, there was always the kid whose parents were apparently rolling in dough that could hire one to come to their kid’s birthday parties, where he’d make the balloons into hats and do magic tricks for all the kids and give them candy and stuff, and of course I wanted to go but I never got invited to anything except the lame birthday parties instead because everyone thought the suspenders my mom made me wear were dorky even thought they were actually efficient and logical garments, and when Nathan Hall had his birthday he said he’d invite me because we were friends and then he never did because he was a traitor like that and Nathan if I ever find you I swear to God I will end you, you back-stabbing son of…


Anyway, the point was, the circus was a pretty rare event. It only came to town once a year, and if you didn’t go downtown during that week, you just missed it, until next year. The Spontaneous Circus refers to the propensity for a circus to pop up all the time, in the least expected places. The best time for the circus is anywhere, any when, if a haunt is to be believed. The setting is immaterial. Barnum and Bailey be damned, the circus is in town and they’ll set up anywhere they like, thank you very much.

Are we in the middle of a butcher shop? Don’t care, circus! A dark, damp cave in the middle of the woods? Don’t care, circus! A cornfield at the intersection of no and where, a hospital, a crypt, a mausoleum, or even up on the deranged mountains of some Redneck Extravaganza, “if you build it they will come” seems to be the motto that drives everyone who’s ever thought about a circus to put one up. I have seen a circus erupt in the rumpus room of someone’s house, for cryin’ out loud. No place, nowhere at all, is immune to the polka dots, the neon glowpaint, or the rainbow-hair-clad warriors of utter doom.

Of course, perhaps I’m the one who’s mistaken. Perhaps there’s a reason the circus is as prevalent as it is. Maybe the haunt owners are trying to tell us something. Maybe they know something we don’t. Forget the zombie apocalypse, that’s just the media trying to throw you off the scent. Maybe the real pandemic that will take humanity to its knees is Circusitis (that’s inflammation of the Circus for those who don’t speak Latin).

Think of it. Maybe there’s a creeping terror out there, that’s sweeping its way across the nation, turning entire, otherwise perfectly normal rooms into Day-Glo nightmares, multi-colored polka dots growing like malignant tumors that will eventually consume the entire structure, and once the human host is infected, the skin turns a pale white while the capillaries under the skin of the nose and mouth burst, causing the infamous red nose and painted smile. But the real trauma is to the brain, turning these once-intelligent people into laughing, maniacal shells of their former selves.

Oh man, I’m starting to get a real case of the heebie-jeebies here. The point is, if you’re striving for something authentic and believable, then every room in your attraction needs to make sense, and to tie into the overall theme in some believable way, and letting the Ringling Brothers decorate the stockroom in your little shop of horrors is the best way to crush any suspension of disbelief your audience had to begin with. Drawing people into the experience is what makes it scary, not mentally ejecting people out of the creepy mental landscape you’ve built so painstakingly over the last several rooms only to crush it dead beneath size 47 shoes.