Please welcome my dear friend Harriett Branch back for a second year of Halloween Horrors!

For her 2017 entry, Harriett will be taking a look at the character of Twisty the Clown from the Freak Show season of American Horror Story. In addition to being the newest character on this year’s list, Twisty is also only one of three characters coming from the realm of television. I guess the size of the frights aren’t necessarily determined by the size of the screen.

In addition to giving a brief recap of the character’s history, Harriett shares a personal account of the show’s characters spilling off the screen and into her “real world”. 

The Story of Twisty

Twisty is a good clown. He’s just misunderstood.

That’s what they all say. But this time,…’s true.

The first time we are introduced to Twisty the Clown is in Episode One of American Horror Story: Freak Show, entitled “Monsters Among Us.” He is a disheveled clown who happens upon an innocent couple having a roll in the hay. He begins to entertain the girl, while the boy has stepped away for a moment. A flourish of flowers. A sleight of hand. And then,… the boy is lying in a pool of blood and the girl has been secreted away in a rotting school bus.

Twisty’s past is cloudy. As a clown in a different circus, he is hired to entertain children in the early 40’s. He loves his job, and he loves the children. The dwarf roustabouts, however, have other ideas. They tease Twisty, and call him “Simpleton” and say that he was dropped on his head. Apparently, that wasn’t far from the truth. The dwarves chase him away from the circus accusing him of doing bad things with the children. When he reaches his home, Twisty finds out that his mother has died. To make ends meet, he attempts to make toys out of the junk lying around, but he is unable to sell them or get anyone to buy them, which sends him further down a depressive spiral. Something terrible happens to Twisty, and suddenly, the reason for his mask is revealed.

I am not a huge fan of clowns, nor a coulrophobe, but something about Twisty had me hooked. I wanted to know who he was, how he came to be so dirty, and why he wore that twisted grimace mask. The character is only in the first four episodes of the show, but what an impression he made. After the show had ended, I knew that I might see one or two people dressed up as Twisty that Halloween, but I had no idea how many. It seems I wasn’t the only one he had captivated. His visage was on everything. T-shirts. Pins. Stickers. Phone cases. We had seen the birth of a new horror icon.

Art by Steph Sweet

Twisty’s simplicity was probably a common thing in the days before it became known as mental illness. Many people who had problems dealing with society were accepted into the freak shows and circuses of the time, and were most likely treated like animals. For some reason, I felt a kinship. As a horror movie fan growing up, I didn’t come across too many people that shared my hobby. Years later, as an adult, I soon found my tribe. Horror fans that gathered at conventions and gleefully talked about their favorite ghosts and ghouls made me feel like I belonged, and that I was “normal”. That is why I was drawn to Twisty. I was able to meet the actor who plays him, John Carroll Lynch, who could not have been nicer. He was part of the group of freaks that made up the Freak Show, and meeting him and the other freaks and getting a picture with them, is a memory I will always treasure.

Twisty has returned to the current season of American Horror Story, subtitled “Cult”, but I have yet to start watching it. I guess I just like to remember him as being a part of the Freak Show. A misunderstood misfit looking for salvation and belonging. Twisty’s true tale is told in the fourth episode of AHS: Freak Show, where he is finally given that salvation by a ghost on Halloween night. Because, sometimes,….dead IS better.