June 07, 2016 at 03:42 PM EDT

When Eli Roth saw a fake trailer for a nonexistent horror movie called Clown — which the clip claimed he had directed — the Hostel and Cabin Fever filmmaker could have called his lawyer. Instead, he reached out to the trailer’s director, Jon Watts, and started talking to him about turning his pretend film into a reality. 

“There was a fake trailer that appeared online around Halloween, I think it was 2010,” Roth tells EW. “Everyone thought I’d directed this movie. It was cut exactly like Hostel, with the Hostel music, and said, ‘From the Master of Horror Eli Roth.’ I found the director, Jon Watts, and I called him and I told him how much I loved it. The first thing he said was, ‘Thank you for not suing me.’ And I said, ‘This is Hollywood, let’s wait ’til we make some money, and then we can sue each other.’ I said, ‘Did you ever think of this as a real movie?'”

Half a decade on, the film which that question spawned can finally be seen in theaters and on VOD beginning June 17. Produced by Roth, directed by Watts, and cowritten by the latter and Christopher Ford, the full-length Clown stars Andy Powers as a man who slowly transforms into a demonic child-killer after putting on a mysterious clown costume. Although the conceit might sound preposterous, the film — which costars Elizabeth Whitmere and Peter Stormare — is played both totally straight and, at times, with extreme nastiness.

“It would have been too easy and obvious to make a crazy, silly clown movie,” Roth says. “We wanted to stay true to the mythology of fairy tales. It’s one of the things that actually held it up from release. We wanted to stay true to the mythology of fairy tales and, in Hansel and Gretel, it’s children who are being baked in an oven and eaten. [We decided], if we’re going to make a fairy tale movie, we have to stay true to that, and kids are going to get killed, and that’s what distributors were afraid of. Thankfully, the Weinstein [Company], with Dimension behind it, released the movie. But it’s creepy, it’s upsetting.”

Watts and Ford hardly sat on their hands while awaiting the release of the movie. The pair collaborated again on last year’s Kevin Bacon-starring thriller Cop Car and Watts is now at work on Spider-Man: Homecoming. “I think he made such a fantastic movie,” Roth says of Watts’ Clown. “It certainly caught the attention of Hollywood, because he’s directing Spider-Man.”

Roth himself had plenty of experience with creepy clowns long before seeing that fake trailer. “The clown that really traumatized me as a kid was the clown from Poltergeist, even though it was a clown doll,” he says.


“I grew up in Massachusetts in a town called Newton and a bit of a ways-away is a town called Brockton, which has a carnival,” says Roth. “And the Brockton carnival was a carnival where you could literally get stabbed. Anybody who grew up in the area would be like, ‘Oh, the Brockton fair was f—ing scary, I got beat up there.’ It was a dangerous carnival that my parents absolutely would not let me go to. So, of course, we went, and there was a racist clown in a dunking booth. I just remember the things coming out of this guy’s mouth, in this horrible Boston accent, screaming anything to get people to throw a baseball at him. It was so disturbing. If people ask me what it’s like growing up in Boston, that memory sums up my existence there. The racist clown.”

See the trailer for Clown below.

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