Clown hysteria may seem relatively new, but it is hardly a modern phenomenon. For many audiences over the centuries, the clown’s seemingly joyous face has detracted from something more sinister—some darker, hidden quality in the character. As a type, the creepy clown comes to us from centuries past. Like Pennywise from Stephen King’s IT, the clown is the monster that escapes a prior age, returning once again to stalk our nightmares.
Stephen King’s story “The Raft,” published in Skeleton Crew in 1985 and part of the horror anthology Creepshow 2 (Michael Gornick, 1987), is deceptively straightforward. Near the end of October, four teens—Deke, Randy, LaVerne, and Rachel—have a few drinks, smoke some pot, and decide to swim out to a raft in the middle of a deserted lake. Once they’ve all reached the raft, Randy sees a strange black shape in the water: it looks like oil—an oil slick is the closest he can come to naming it—but it’s not an oil slick; it’s too perfectly formed. Randy tells his friends that the one oil slick he has seen was “just this big sticky mess all over the water. In streaks and big smears.” He insists it did not look like the shape that is lurking on the lake: “It wasn’t, you know, compact.” This strange mass, which seems to sense their movements and their vulnerabilities, is a dense blackness—and the story tells of its relentlessly oozing over the teens, one by one, dissolving their flesh, pulling it off their bones, until only Randy is left. Read more