Why Eli Roth Made 'Spider-Man' Director Jon Watts' Fake Horror Trailer Into a Feature Film

Four years after its YouTube upload, 'Clown' — about a dad possessed by a demonic clown costume — will hit theaters this summer.
Courtesy of Katrina Wan PR
Jon Watts (center) directing 'Clown'

Director Jon Watts has a way of getting Hollywood to take notice. When he was competing for the gig of directing Spider-Man: Homecoming, he had the Marvel webslinger tattooed on his chest. (The ploy helped: Watts, 34, is filming the reboot, due July 7, 2017.)

In 2010, the Cop Car director uploaded a fake trailer to YouTube for Clown — about a dad possessed by a demonic clown costume "from Master of Horror Eli Roth." The hitch: Roth had nothing to do with it.

"I remember around Halloween in 2010 my phone and email blew up with people saying my new movie looked awesome," Roth recalls. "I had no idea what they were talking about, and then I went online and saw this brilliant fake trailer for a film called Clown, and it said 'From Master of Horror Eli Roth.' They cut it just like Hostel, with the same music from the trailer and everything.

"It was absolutely brilliant," he continues. "So I tracked down Jon and told him how much I loved it, and he said, 'Thank you for not suing me.' I said, 'This is Hollywood; we only sue each other after the film's a success.'"

Roth, who helped Watts develop the trailer into a feature for Dimension Films, has demonstrated an eye for spotting new talent, having given Whiplash director Damien Chazelle his first break. "He was working as a math tutor when we hired him to write the sequel to The Last Exorcism," the horror auteur says.

Roth thinks the source of clown fear, a common phobia which has been exploited in properties like Stephen King's It and American Horror Story: Freak Show, stems from the trust society places in them.

"There are not a lot of people we put around children," he says. "If you think of it, it’s school teachers, religious leaders and clowns. I love clowns, I always have, but people are very freaked out by the idea of an adult putting on makeup and becoming this thing that kids find magical."

But Roth says the point of Clown was not to "make a movie about evil clowns. We wanted the suit to be evil. It’s the skin of a demon. We all worked very hard on the mythology of the clown suit, the origins, where it comes from, what it wants."

The movie is set to hit theaters and VOD on June 17.

This story first appeared in the June 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.