Boy, clowns sure have to work hard NOT to be thought of as terrifying and evil these days, huh? The fear of clowns, or coulrophobia, seems to be especially prevalent today, and most of that, I’d imagine, has to do with the incredibly high number of murderous, demonic, or otherwise completely terrifying monster clowns in pop culture perverting the colorful and happy visage they’re meant to portray. Hell, it might have something to do with serial killer John Wayne Gacy who dressed up as a clown for kids’ birthday parties. Nowadays, the scariest clown around is Twisty from American Horror Story whose name might as well be Nightmares the Clown. Obviously, he takes the cake for the moment, but below is a list of five of our other favorite(?) evil clowns and why we love/cringe at them.
Pennywise (Stephen King’s It)
This is the one most people probably think of when it comes to traumatic experiences will evil clowns, and for good reason. Pennywise from It was meant to induce nightmares, and was in fact derived from nightmares of a group of children, only he didn’t go away when they grew up. When it came time to make the inevitable TV movie based on Stephen King’s novel, director Tommy Lee Wallace and actor Tim Curry were able to make Pennywise possibly the most frightening vision of clowniness of all time. And that he looked like a demonic Bozo didn’t help any child anywhere.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space
I mean, it’s right there in the title. These clowns are from outer space and will kill you. It just so happens that somewhere out in the cosmos, there is a planet full of diminutive aliens that look like what we know as clowns and whose spaceships look like circus tents and who kill people with implements that look like toys and stuff. So the plot doesn’t really make sense, but for a movie in which caricatured circus things attack people, do you really need much of a plot? The movie is really just a string of darkly comedic cartoon bits that end in death.
Zeebo the Clown (Are You Afraid of the Dark?
For whatever reason (though what reason is needed beside traumatizing), Nickelodeon’s horror anthology series Are You Afraid of the Dark used evil clowns on three different occasions. While “The Crimson Clown” and “The Ghastly Grinner” certainly led to some bad dreams for children in the ’90s, the first is still the best, that of course being Zeebo the Clown from the show’s second episode, “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark.” Some kids at an amusement park fun house become interested in the history of the clown mascot. Turns out, Zeebo was a criminal who loved cigars and attempted to stash some loot in the fun house when his cigars burnt it down, with him inside. His ghost still haunts the place, and don’t you forget to give him respect. (You can now watch full episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark if you dare.)
Buster (Masters of Horror “We All Scream for Ice Cream”)
Here’s a clown that’s sort of a mix between Pennywise and Freddy Krueger. Buster was once a friendly, good-hearted, yet mentally simple ice cream truck driver who dressed as a clown. One day, some jackass kids play a prank on Buster, which ends in his death. Decades later, Buster returns to get revenge on those kids, now adults, but preying on their children. It’s pretty horrendous what he does, and it being from a now-defunct Showtime series, you can bet the deaths were as gruesome as possible. And the fact that the clown was played by William Forsythe, one of the scariest screen actors of the who-knows-how-long, makes Buster even more menacing.
You probably forgot about this guy, but in any iteration, Batman’s most fearsome foe is nothing short of terrifying, especially in that he’ll make you laugh before he kills you, or while he kills you, or after he kills you. From Jack Nicholson’s growls to Heath Ledger whooping to Mark Hamill’s cackling, each interpretation of the Clown Prince of Crime is different, valid, and above all, scary as hell. Even Cesar Romero in the camp 1960s TV show is scary in his own way. Clowns are always a little off, but add to that insanity, psychopathia, and the toothiest grin ever made up in comics, and you’ve got one of the creepiest and deadliest bad guys of all time. And this guy isn’t even supernatural or alien.
These are merely five ones we like. I didn’t even mention the clown doll from Poltergeist, the dream terrors from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and The Brave Little Toaster, or any of the other countless clown-based horror movie villains out there. But that’s what the comments section is for! Tell us below which TV, film, or other media clowns scared you the most and we can all have a group therapy session.