Back in May, the Alamo Drafthouse announced a series of women-only screenings for Wonder Woman that led to an intense backlash and calls from irate online trolls for “guys-only screenings,” among other obnoxious suggestions. But among the detritus of sexist comments that littered the theater chain’s Facebook page lay the kernel of a good idea: “Will there be … a special screening for It that’s only for those who identify as clowns?” one user wrote.
The theater’s response? “We might actually have to steal the clown idea.”
“I think the idea was sort of there originally, but once people started saying stuff like that, we were kinda like, ‘We kinda have to do this now, right?'” Mike Sampson, the senior marketing and promotions manager at the Brooklyn Alamo Drafthouse location, tells EW. “When the women-only screening came out, everybody was saying, ‘Are you gonna have a Baby Driver screening with only babies?’ Every movie had its own ‘only’ screening, but this was the one that felt like it was funny, it worked, and we all thought it was a really great communal experience to bring people together and have fun with a great horror movie in a way that we think movies are meant to be seen.”
Cut to Saturday night in Brooklyn, and the New York Drafthouse outpost became the latest site haunted by movie and horror buffs dressed in their Pennywise finest. Ahead, a running diary of a coulrophobe’s worst nightmare.
6:00 p.m.: It’s just a typical day in Downtown Brooklyn’s Albee Square: teenagers are running into the Century 21, pedestrians are going about their day of walking into each other out of negligent texting, and a woman is slogging so slowly up the subway steps that someone completely missed his or her train. (It’s fine, I’m over it… mostly.) But the first sign that something is out of the ordinary is the table strewn with curly-haired rainbow wigs, red noses, and face paint. Oh! And also the clown carrying an actual machete.
6:05 p.m.: The first clowns-only screening was announced in Austin, but Sampson says the two showings “sold out in less than 24 hours.” When the idea expanded to Brooklyn, the Drafthouse found the same ravenous response. So Drafthouse went even bigger with similar screenings in Phoenix, Yonkers, New York, Dallas, Omaha, Nebraska, and other locales. “People were responding to it in a really big way and everyone was really excited about it,” he mentions.
6:19 p.m.: The specialty drink brewed just for the occasion at the Drafthouse bar is called The S.S. Georgie, a concoction of cognac, strawberry, lemon, egg white, and balloon garnish. It’s sweet, but as my friend points out, “So was Georgie and now he’s dead.”
6:30 p.m.: As people began falling under the happy hour haze of vodka martinis, draft beer, and S.S. Georgies — seriously, poor Georgie — the resident town crier of the Drafthouse walks into the bar, now filled with the clown from Children’s Hospital and at least one Ziggy Stardust, to shout that the theater is now open.
6:40 p.m.: Theater 5’s pre-show offerings held a treasure trove of clown-friendly clips, including a creepy black-and-white ad from the 1960s for Sugar Rice Krinkles cereal, a trailer for the 1967 movie The Clown and the Kids, and this clip of a Japanese prank show sending in the clowns.
6:45 p.m.: Opening the bathroom door to see this guy walking out? Hard pass.
6:55 p.m.: It took the theater some finagling to enlist a clown emcee for the occasion. Apparently, most of the professionals contacted for the gig did not want to associate themselves with a movie that’s been the bane of their industry. I spotted this guy earlier walking around the ticketing area, but he now addresses the audience to warn about the Drafthouse’s strict no-texting, no-talking policy. “I’ll come find you,” he tells the potential rule breakers while holding a pie and a machete.
7:30 p.m.: Around the time that little Ben is being chased through the library stacks by Pennywise, disguised as a smoking decapitated corpse, I noticed the soul-searing sight of clown party hats snaking through the audience. These, it turns out, were the waiters and waitresses, who all voluntarily decided they wanted to get in the spirit of the event by painting on the makeup and tightening their bow ties.
9:24 p.m.: The water-cooler chatter begins as the credits start rolling. “It was like Stranger Things — hilarious,” one member of the clown posse remarks. Another mentions, “I laughed a lot more than I wanted to.” At the very least, I’ll be saying all of It‘s many one-liners for the next couple months — namely, “it’s in my other fanny pack.”
“[Specialty screenings have] been the kind of thing that Drafthouse has always done, it’s just now after the Wonder Woman screening, I think they’re all starting to get a little more attention,” Sampson notes. So expect this experience to continue, though probably not that babies-only Baby Driver idea. “We’ll always think of new and different ways to get people out to the theater on opening weekend to have fun with the movies with a crowd.”
Check out more photos from the clowns-only screenings around the country. It is now playing in theaters.