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The Horrifying History of Jack the Clown

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Overview

With the recent Las Vegas expansion announcement alluding to the possible return of Jack the Clown, we only felt it appropriate to dive into his past as we look toward the future for this character.

Universal Orlando Resort‘s Halloween Horror Nights‘ roster of event icons have brought their unique version of horror to park goers over the years, but none can compare to Jack “The Clown” Schmidt. As the most recurring icon of the nation’s premier Halloween event, Jack the Clown has made the annual celebration his home since he emerged from his box in Halloween Horror Nights X. Since then, his lore has intertwined itself deeply with Universal. Locations like the sinister clown’s birthplace, Shady Brook Rest Home and Asylum, make several appearances throughout HHN’s mythology. Adaru, the embodiment of fear itself, made the murderous funnyman pivotal in escaping from the Sumerian god’s lamp prison. Schmidt has become so synonymous with Universal’s Horror brand that, while not officially confirmed, his silhouette is seen in the concept art for the 110,000 square foot horror-based property that will be the permanent anchor of AREA15’s 20-acre expansion in Las Vegas. Indeed, when you add this to his already frightful repertoire, it’s clear that there’s no escaping Jack.

When it comes to Jack’s background, there’s little to refer to. Especially considering that his presence can be found across many fables from Halloween Horror Nights’ timeline, Jack’s story can seem scattered and choppy at first glance. However, those paying attention through their glassy, fear-glazed eyes will notice a well-woven, intersecting narrative surrounding the icon. To that end, we’ve seamed together what can be found of him through a culmination of deep research and pooling together various HHN event and house descriptions. Before getting too lost in the fog, it’s best to start our journey into Horror Nights history outside of the lore itself and at Jack’s creation.

From idea to icon – Jack’s conception and evolution

Jack the Clown at Halloween Horror Nights
Jack the Clown at Halloween Horror Nights

Mike Aiello, members of Universal Orlando’s Creative team circa 2000 (namely J. Michael Roddy), and the man we’ve come to know better as Jack (James Keaton), desired to create an original character to host their annual Halloween event. Delving into the psyche of society, Universal Orlando enlisted the help of their valued guests via their usual in-park questionnaires. They took information about the public’s worst fears and eventually manifested the icon into the form of a clown. Now- scary, sadistic clowns are nothing new as a simple search for “purple and green clowns” or a “blue and red clown” will return any number found in pop culture. Universal Creative faced the task of making theirs stand out. In contrast, they opted for a more traditional appearance with a few nightmarish twists. They altered the usual red, shaggy hair into fiery orange locks resembling horns; the commonplace round cheekbones and chin were stretched and sharply angulated and across his face is a landscape of ghoulishly pale, grease paint accented by otherworldly green highlights over his brows and mouth. Jack’s sunken, yellow, and red-rimmed eyes are accompanied by a jagged-toothed smile that’s stained and seemingly decaying as he reaches to you with rough, overgrown, and grotesque nails. If this doesn’t creep under your skin, his Kreuger-esque laugh and voice, created by James Keaton while working around his original mouthpiece, will imprint his chilling presence within your nightmares.

Jack the Clown can be summed up as an amalgam of famous killers throughout history and fictitious works, such as John Wayne Gacy and Detective Comics’ Joker. He’s an incredible narcissist who relishes the spotlight. Although he’s capable of controlling his killer urges, he’s quick to turn violent. As a circus performer, his love for theatrics and showmanship are displayed in even his most homicidal moments. Jack’s look and personality have evolved through three phases. When he debuted in 2000, he was a mere serial killer in a blood-stained, polka-dotted clown suit with vibrant face paint. Then, in 2007, he became the ringmaster of his Carnival of Carnage and was granted a fleshed-out backstory, which we’ll explore in a moment. In his current form, Jack progressed into my favorite look – the cult rock star. In this stage, the ringmaster has progressed into the voice of and powerhouse behind “Jack’s Maniacs” – his legions of dedicated followers and worshippers.

So you think you know Jack – His backstory

Escaping to Oddfellow’s Carnival of Thrills

Jack the Clown at Halloween Horror Nights
Jack the Clown at Halloween Horror Nights

Starting at the beginning, John “Jack” Schmidt and his brother Eddie were born in Shady Brook Rest Home and Sanitarium in the late 1800s. Wanting to escape the abusive family they were brought into, Jack took it upon himself to escape to the circus and become a traveling clown, leaving Eddie behind. Over the years, he found success as part of Dr. Oddfellow’s Carnival of Thrills and developed a love to entertain everyone with hilarious acts of humiliation and pranks. Although this may sound joyous and harmless, Jack was anything but. Due to his unfortunate upbringing, he had become a darkly warped individual. As he traveled with the carnival, he began giving into his inevitable, homicidal impulses when it came to the audience.

After years of Jack submitting to his insatiable urges, the authorities caught up with him around 1920. The local and federal branches had been following cases of missing children throughout the states, which had led them to Oddfellow’s traveling show. Knowing that they were closing in, a panicked Jack confided his crimes with Dr. Oddfellow in the hope that the circus master could hide him from the police. However, having a standing warrant for the accidental deaths of several patrons, the ringmaster knew he couldn’t risk being connected to Jack’s twisted spree. He berated Jack for carelessly bringing the law to the sideshow and demanded to know the location of the children’s remains. Still in a state of desperation and fear of incarceration, Jack brought the circus master to his coach where he revealed a few small chests holding the rotting bodies of thirteen children. Disgusted and angry, Oddfellow had Schmidt killed and hid the bodies of Jack and the children in the sideshow’s House of Horrors exhibit with patrons none the wiser. Over the next sixty years, Dr. Oddfellow sold off the Carnival of Thrills and its numerous attractions with the ownership changing several times after, and Jack’s story was seemingly forgotten to history.

You can’t keep a good clown down

During the 1980s, a BBC production crew covering America’s greatest dark rides finally came across the remains of Oddfellow’s House of Horrors. As it stood decrepit and abandoned in a Louisiana junkyard, something urged them to enter it. Making their way inside, there was a funk of decay that hung thick in the air of its halls. As it reached its most pungent, the crew discovered an oversized, wooden music box with the letters J-A-C-K etched onto each of its sides. A debate lingers as to who was brave (or foolish) enough to do so, but most will agree that it was the host who grabbed the crank to play the box’s tune as the cameraman caught every moment. With each stiff turn, a creepy melody lumbered out and before long, the crank began spinning on its own, as if shambling back to life. The crew rejoiced for only a few moments until the music abruptly stopped and their electronics died out, bringing the former House of Horrors to cold darkness. After a few moments of bated breath, the cameraman was able to bring his light back on just in time to catch the box-top suddenly open and spring out Jack the Clown’s putrid corpse. Frightened beyond belief, the crew ran out and reported everything to the Louisiana authorities who took the remains of Jack, his box, and his victims into custody.

During the transit to the local Coroner’s office on Halloween night, something caused the delivery van to hurtle into the swamp. Some say it was actually Jack, others say it was another mysterious force. What actually happened is a mystery, but not long after, the bodies of both the BBC cameraman and host were found mutilated, while their killer’s identity nor their whereabouts known. Rumors spread that Jack had returned from the dead to exact revenge on Dr. Oddfellow. Among them were reports of Jack’s newfound murder spree with tales of his promise to “bestow a mysterious reward unto those who released him from his box prison.” The reward of which was eventual death. It wasn’t until 2000 that Universal Orlando Resort happened upon and purchased what was left of the House of Horror’s props during an auction, which included the box said to contain Jack. Naturally, his urban legend reached Universal Orlando’s backstage and while preparing a new maze for that year’s Halloween Horror Nights, a Universal Studios Florida team member tested the relic’s curse, turning the box’s crank. This unfortunate event would make Halloween Horror Nights 10 our official introduction to Jack The Clown. Although he didn’t have a dedicated house that year, he horrified event go-ers from nearly every angle of the park, including the mainstay attractions that were open during the event that had formerly been a safe haven from scares.

Jack’s mortal resurrection

Jack the Clown at Halloween Horror Nights
Jack the Clown at Halloween Horror Nights

The following year, Adaru (or Fear, itself, as it’s also known) had chosen Jack’s brother, Eddie, as the new herald of Halloween Horror Nights. However, the tragedy of 9/11 struck the nation, and Universal Orlando Resort felt the younger Schmidt’s brand of horror was too intense in light of what’d occurred. Jack was summoned back as the icon and instructed to bring a lighter-hearted tone that year. However, this wouldn’t last, as Jack made up for it soon thereafter. To promote Halloween Horror Nights 14, Universal Orlando took guests on a VIP production tour of the set for Horror Nights Nightmares, a promotional movie starring favorites from their growing catalog of event icons and other characters including Jack and Legend’s Lord of Darkness. Almost predictably, things took a turn when the movie’s icons and character tributes sprang to life! The crew was mercilessly slaughtered and the tour group narrowly escaped with their lives. Then in 2002, Jack subjected event guests to Jack’s Rat Run, a chain link maze in Terra Cruenta’s Maldaken Pass. Here, guests were heckled and tortured by the fiend as they tried to desperately make their way back to our realm through the dimensional passage.

Darkness returned to host the introduction for the event’s Sweet Sixteen and resurrected Orlando’s past Horror Nights icons, including Jack. In being restored to a human form, Jack was able to revisit his homicidal ways. However, the world was different than what he was used to and the modern arm of the law quickly caught up with him. Almost poetically, Jack found himself back “home” at Shady Brook Rest Home and Sanitarium – this time, as an inmate due to his crimes from the previous events. Strangely, it seemed that even as a mortal, Jack’s presence at the asylum still had a supernatural effect as the other patients began mimicking him. He quickly took advantage of this, caused a violent uprising, and took control of the facility. During his “residency,” he discovered Oddfellow was a former patient, and not only was he still alive, but he was now operating a new venture – Dr. Oddfellow’s Dark Carnival and Emporium. With this newfound knowledge, Jack knew it was time for him to seize his revenge.

The Carnival of Carnage and Fear’s Lamp

Jack and Chance at Halloween Horror Nights
Jack and Chance at Halloween Horror Nights

Seeking out Oddfellow, Jack departed Shady Brook and made his way to the ringmaster’s new traveling show. Hiding in the shadows, Jack finally took swift retribution upon Oddfellow for his murder. Reveling in his vengeance, Jack realized that he wanted to rule more than merely Shady Brook and decided it was time for a regime change at Oddfellow’s business. Inspired, he donned a red and black ringmaster’s coat, boots, and top hat. He also took Oddfellow’s prized silver-headed cane of souls as a souvenir. In preparation for what we’d know as his “Carnival of Carnage,” he scoured the world for the most malevolent killers in all existence over the course of a year. His quest reaped the rewards of Jason Voorhes, Freddy Kreuger, and Leatherface – whom he christened the Carnage Killers – along with Mary Shaw from Dead Silence and The Thing. He unleashed them and others upon the masses at HHN’s 17th annual celebration. This would also be where we’d meet his protege, Chance, for the first time as an assistant during the event’s mainstage show.

As time went on, it was revealed that Jack had a much more important role than anyone realized. As Adaru’s Chaos Lord, he played an integral part in unleashing the Sumerian God into our realm during HHN’s twentieth year. At the conclusion of the event, Fear, Jack, and the other icons were thought to have been imprisoned in Fear’s Lamp. However, thanks to Bloody Mary, the lamp was broken and Jack once again returned with his Carnival of Carnage during HHN’s 25th year. Similar to what happened during his takeover of Shady Brook, Jack became inspired and wanted adoration like that of Adaru’s followers. This brought forth Jack’s most recent evolution as the Cult Rock Star. That year, his ringmaster look took on a refined, leathery, buckled finish and the scareactors’ expressions became more visible through the makeup, as if it were bonded to his skin. Schmidt even gained a following known as “Jack’s Maniacs,” rocketing him to cult leader status and granting him more power and fame than he’d ever dreamt of. Wanting to prove his superiority to Adaru and that he is Halloween Horror Nights incarnate, he debuted an elevated Carnival of Carnage where he’d slay his victims in hyper-violent ways, such as an oversized blender while his ego drank in the cheering love of his fans.

At the event’s conclusion, Jack and Chance were apprehended by the authorities. Jack was somehow imprisoned back into his box while Chance was committed to an institution. Although the Clown King of Halloween Horror Nights made a return during HHN 30, this was said to be non-canon to the official lore. What actually happened to Jack’s box and its current location are unknown, but given what we know of from Chance’s official christening as an icon over the event’s 26th year, we’d like to assume that it’s safely in her possession. For now, all we can do is let the anxiety flow while we await the next chapter of Jack’s story.

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About Sean Pagnotti

Sean is an Orlando geek of most trades. Growing up with the theme parks as his backyard, he developed a passion not just for the industry, but also for helping others get their best experience from the city. Aside from travelling annually with his wife, Sean can be found sketching in his drawing book, crafting the next cocktail from his bar, and binge-watching his favorite shows.