Nightmare fuel to cleanse the palate. There are pranks, there are good pranks, and then there are pranks so ingenious that they qualify as international news.

A spooky clown, dressed in white face paint with huge drawn-on eyebrows, a curly red wig and a ruffled collar — and looking exactly like Pennywise clown from the Stephen King-inspired 1990 horror film, “IT” — has appeared in several locations throughout Northampton, England since Friday, Sept. 13. The city, some 67 miles outside of London, is an industrial town known historically for its shoemakers and churches.

Why the clown is there and what he or she is doing has baffled local residents and social media users around the world. Thousands of people have been following the story on Twitter since the sightings began, using the hashtag #northamptonclown.

That’s a cheesy concept to spook people but it’s been superbly executed. Check out the large photos compiled at HuffPo, particularly the one of him standing in front of a sculpture clutching a, er, clown teddy bear. The best-known image is posted below. If you have young children and one of them happens to be looking over your shoulder as you’re reading this, understand right now that they’ll never sleep again.

According to a local paper, “The clown also knocked on a stranger’s door and offered to paint their window sills despite having no equipment,” the mere thought of which makes me pee a little. However, the clown himself denies this, and also denies that he’s part of some local upcoming “fright night” promotion. “Wait,” you say. “The clown is communicating with people?” Why, yes. It’s the Internet age. He has his own Facebook page, apparently. How people can be sure that it’s really him updating and not some random loser looking to capitalize on the attention, I don’t know, but it looks like one or more of the photos of him might have originated there. If he starts posting pics of corpses or creepshots taken from shadowy alleyways, we’ll know it’s really him.

No, in reality, the mystery appears to be almost solved. The Northampton clown looks to be wearing the same costume as a clown in a mockumentary that hit YouTube a few months ago and which stars an actor from — ta da — Northampton. The blue-doored garage that appears in the photo above also briefly appears in the YouTube clip. As for the freaky deaky Pennywise mask, Metro UK discovered that a photo of a verrrry similar mask was posted last year on the Facebook page of — ta da — the guy who directed the mockumentary. So, there you go; the official unmasking is presumably just days away. What interests me about this is simply the logistics of it all: How are they taking these photos in public with people now out in force looking for the clown, and how many people are/were involved in circulating the photos on social media to try to promote the story? I assume the pranksters went out and took all of the photos, probably dozens, on a single night, before the city had heard of the clown and now they’re releasing them serially, to make people think he’s out there every night looking to steal children’s souls or whatever. At least I hope so — there must be a few teen miscreants who are now out and about themselves in the wee hours lately looking to catch the clown and do God knows what to him for funsies. Can’t wait for the mocku/documentary.