If clowns scare you, you’re not alone. According to psychologists, coulrophobia (the fear of clowns) is a common phobia that often strikes children, and can continue well into adulthood. With the recent spate of creepy clown sightings across the country, and Halloween just around the corner, here are 20 of the most disturbing movie and TV clowns of all time. Unpleasant dreams!
House of 1000 Corpses
Rob Zombie’s heavy metal concerts have always had a carnival-like aspect to them, so it made perfect sense that his directorial debut would feature one of the most gruesome clowns in cinema history. As Captain Spaulding, the lovably lascivious owner of a gas station and roadside haunted attraction, cult actor Sid Haig became an instant horror celebrity. Zombie wisely expanded the character’s role in the sadistic sequel The Devil’s Rejects.
Stephen King’s novel “It” became an instant bestseller when it was published in 1986, but it wasn’t until Tim Curry donned white greasepaint and a red nose that the evil Pennywise became a true horror icon. Though the TV miniseries he appeared in didn’t hold a candle to King’s magnum opus, Curry’s terrifying portrayal of the child-eating clown remains one of his most unforgettable characters.
When a clown that he hired for his son’s birthday party doesn’t arrive on time, a desperate father finds a cursed clown suit in a basement, and slowly transforms into a demonic circus freak. This extremely gory horror film originally began as a fake trailer for a movie that didn’t yet exist. The filmmakers attached Eli Roth’s name to the trailer, hoping to lend it a sense of authenticity. In a stroke of luck, Roth saw it on YouTube and agreed to produce the actual movie.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space
Written, produced and directed by the Chiodo brothers, a team of three siblings known for their special effects and puppeteering work, this horror comedy about clown-shaped aliens managed the impossible task of living up to its outrageous title. Overflowing with circus-themed sight gags and macabre humour, Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a genuine cult classic.
More than a decade after he introduced moviegoers to the Captain Spaulding, Rob Zombie unleashed six more circus-inspired psychos in 31, an ultra-violent tale about a group of carnival workers fighting for their lives against killer clowns on Halloween night. Since the movie’s release coincided with the recent wave of clown sightings across the country, the film’s distribution company was forced to issue a statement saying that they were in no way associated with the bizarre phenomenon.
In this R-rated comic book action movie, John Leguizamo plays an obese demon known as Clown, the earthly guide of a murdered assassin who’s been granted a reprieve from Hell. Hidden beneath layers of prosthetic makeup, and drawing on his impressive stand-up comedy skills, Leguizamo steals the show as a cackling circus freak with supernatural powers.
A trio of escaped mental patients murders a group of clowns and steals their costumes in this chilling stalker movie from the director of Jeepers Creepers. The film’s claustrophobic setting and eerie atmosphere makes it one of the scariest thrillers on this list. In his feature debut, Sam Rockwell plays one of three brothers menaced by the colourful killers.
He Who Gets Slapped
Lon Chaney, Hollywood’s legendary Man of a Thousand Faces, starred as several different circus performers throughout his career, yet perhaps none was more subtly disturbing than the masochistic clown he portrayed in the silent drama He Who Gets Slapped. Playing a disgraced scientist who takes a job as a clown whose act consists of being slapped across the face night after night, Chaney imbues the character with a damaged psyche and a tortured soul.
Though not a clown movie per se, this haunted house classic features the scariest clown doll of all time. In a film filled with incredible special effects and over-the-top horrors, it was the sight of a grinning toy sitting on a chair in the darkness that gave nightmares to a generation of children. The image remains so potent that the 2015 remake used a similar doll on its official poster.
American Horror Story: Freak Show
Having played disturbing characters in David Fincher’s Zodiac and the recent thriller The Invitation, actor John Carroll Lynch was an inspired choice to star as Twisty the Clown in the fourth season of American Horror Story. A hulking serial killer who hides his grotesque face behind an equally frightening mask, Twisty proved so popular that Universal Studios has included him in their current Halloween Horror Nights attraction.
British stand-up comic Ross Noble made his film debut in this international co-production about an unlucky birthday clown named Stitches who returns from the grave to take revenge on the teenagers who accidentally killed him. Notable for its inventive murders, disgusting gore effects, and a memorably unhinged performance from Noble, Stitches is an above-average horror comedy with a pitch black sense of humour.
Charles Band’s Full Moon Entertainment is no stranger to nightmarish clowns, having produced several entries in the “Demonic Toys” series, which featured a clown-shaped Jack-in-the-box. But they stuck pay dirt with Killjoy, a low-budget slasher film about a supernatural clown who avenges the murder of a teenager. A modest hit on video, the movie spawned four sequels, including 2012’s Killjoy Goes to Hell, which added twelve additional evil clowns to the mix.
Fear of Clowns
A string of gory murders ensues when an artist suffering from the title phobia is stalked by a clown named Shivers in this ambitious, yet painfully low-budget horror film. Though the movie’s myriad flaws will test even the most forgiving audiences’ patience, Shivers himself is an undeniably creepy figure whose asymmetrical grin hints at the diseased mind lurking beneath the makeup. A sequel arrived three years later.
The Clown at Midnight
While refurbishing an old opera house, a young college student has terrifying visions of the white-faced clown that killed her mother years earlier. This being a horror film, those disturbing hallucinations prove prophetic as an identical clown begins slaughtering her friends, one by one. Part murder mystery, part slasher film, “The Clown at Midnight” contains several decent scares and a better-the-expected cast, including Margot Kidder and Christopher Plummer.
A Sad Trumpet Ballad (aka The Last Circus)
Cult director Álex de la Iglesia wrote and directed this indescribably odd drama about a lovesick Sad Clown who competes with a vicious Happy Clown for the affection of a beautiful trapeze artist. Gorgeously designed and shockingly violent, The Last Circus combines the bloody surrealism of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre with the vibrant humanity of Fellini’s 1970 documentary The Clowns. The result is a demented masterpiece.
The House on Sorority Row
As graduation draws near, a group of sorority sisters meet grisly ends after a prank on their housemother results in her death. A solid ‘80s slasher film with a mordant sense of humor, “The House on Sorority Row” offers numerous red herrings and potential suspects, before a third-act twist reveals a psycho clown hiding in the attic.
If you thought Mark Holton’s role as a bike-stealing bully in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” was the height of villainy, then you definitely haven’t seen his horrifying portrayal of serial killer John Wayne Gacy in this depressing true-crime dramatization. As expected, the film includes Gacy’s stint as Pogo the Clown, a character he performed at local parades and birthday parties.
Jesse Eisenberg tangled with a flesh-eating clown in this box office hit about four strangers who join forces to survive the zombie apocalypse.
One of the strangest sci-fi horror films of the ‘80s, “Xtro” tells the story of a young boy who develops supernatural powers when his father returns home from an alien abduction. These bizarre abilities manifest in the form of a dwarf clown who impregnates a French au pair by inserting extraterrestrial eggs into her cocooned body. If that doesn’t makes sense to you, join the club!
Shakes the Clown
In Bobcat Goldthwait’s raunchy black comedy, comedian Tom Kenny stars as Binky the Clown, the resentful host of a children’s TV show who kills a man with a juggling pin while high on cocaine. In the title role, Goldthwait plays an alcoholic birthday clown who’s framed for the murder. Kenny, best known as the voice of Spongebob SquarePants, is terrific as a violent bozo with a nasty drug habit.
By Matthew Chernov for Variety.