World

French Freak-Out Over Creepy Clowns

Halloween in France suddenly got scarier than anybody wanted.

10.31.14 8:30 PM ET

PARIS, France—It may be Halloween night in France, but for the love of Pierrot, don’t send in the clowns!

A wave of diabolical weapon-brandishing bozos has sown fear across the country in recent weeks, prompting arrests and warnings from bedeviled authorities against anti-clown vigilante justice. In the South of France, one mayor has even banned clowns outright from his town.

Pierre Dudieuzière, the mayor of Vendargues, a village of 6,000 souls near Montpellier in the Hérault administrative department, signed a municipal order temporarily forbidding the “presence and circulation on the streets and in public spaces of any person disguised as a clown.” Monsieur Mayor signed off on the ban after parents told him they might skip the town Halloween parade this year in the face of a nefarious clown craze sweeping the nation. The Vendargues order applies to jokers over the age of 12.

What exactly will happen if a clown drops by Vendargues’s Halloween fête? “He will be forcibly removed from the parade! We’ll take off his mask. Six local policemen will be there,” Dudieuzière told the weekly L’Express. “To be clear, I have nothing against clowns. I even love the circus. There will even be a show with real clowns [at the party]. It will be in a hall, so of course they will have nothing to fear. If the violent individuals had chosen Zorro or Bin Laden disguises, it would have been the same thing! But they chose clowns. What can I do?”

Vendargues’s mayor says townspeople were deeply affected after a clown attack last Saturday night in Montpellier. An 18-year-old man dressed as a clown mugged a pedestrian, striking him 30 times in the back and neck with an iron bar. The masked assailant, who claimed he was drunk and looked to emulate crazed clowns seen on social media, was sentenced on Monday to four months in jail. The victim, understandably, told a judge he hadn’t slept since the attack and was having nightmares.

In nearby Agde, police arrested 14 people between the ages of 16 and 20 dressed as clowns and loitering on a high-school parking lot, reportedly wielding knives, baseball bats, and pistols. Police picked up yet another disguised man, in Marseillan, on the Mediterranean coast, for damaging a car while dressed as an aggressive clown.

For French law enforcement, the evil clowns are, it has to be said, no laughing matter. The national police have tweeted pleas not to spread clown rumors that could complicate their work, and to call the French equivalent of 911 if one crosses paths with a violent clown.

“Many of you have asked us about the ‘threatening clowns’ who, after having had their effect in the north and in Alsace, have arrived in the Var [administrative department],” one gendarme headquarters tweeted. “We kindly inform these little jokers with the dubious jokes that they risk judicial proceedings they may not find funny at all.”

In northern France on October 20, a 19-year-old scary clown was handed a six-month suspended sentence and community service for frightening a 6-year-old and a group of teenagers while brandishing a stick said to look like a big knife. The convicted clown reportedly claimed he’d copped the idea from Facebook.

In Lille, the northern city the French daily Le Figaro calls the “epicenter of the epidemic of evil clowns,” some costume shops reportedly have yanked clown disguises from their shelves while others are requiring ID from minors looking to rent them. Lille’s annual Zombie Walk scheduled for Nov. 1 was canceled, although City Hall denies the zombies were ousted because of France’s creepy clown conundrum.

French media have trotted out specialists to explain the phenomenon and have generally pinpointed its origins abroad. Le Monde points to the recent creepy clowns in Wasco, California, and the fourth season of “American Horror Story.” Agence France-Presse makes reference to clown-by-day American serial killer John Wayne Gacy, Batman’s Joker, the scary clown in Stephen King’s “It,” and even The Simpsons’ Sideshow Bob (known as “Tahiti Bob” to French fans).

Italian YouTube jokesters DM Pranks Productions are also thought to have had a hand in the freaky phenomenon spreading to France, according to Le Monde. Some of DM Pranks’s violent evil clown videos have registered over 30 million views worldwide.

The voice of reason in this circus? Perhaps the real clowns losing face while their evil clones run amok.

“I am scandalized. A clown is sacred,” Michel Lebeau, a proper clown who was once a couturier for Dior and now performs for sick children in hospitals, told the daily Le Parisien on Friday. “I work with my heart. And now, to see these folks who disguise themselves as clowns to attack and scare people, it’s shameful. I am very truly angry.”

Uh-oh.