Send in the Clowns

The Creepiest Clowns from Movies and Television

I really went down the rabbit hole on this one. “Wouldn’t it be fun to research some of the creepiest clowns in movies and television?” I said to myself. The answer is… yes and also no.

By no means do I suffer from Coulrophobia but I can say with confidence that I’m not a fan of clowns. Whether it’s a great aunt who collects porcelain clown dolls or six or seven fellas getting out of a tiny car, there is something inherently unnerving about clowns.

If it happens to be the profession you chose, I’m happy for you. Hopefully, your goal is to make people smile, laugh, and forget about their problems. Unfortunately, the media and some twisted individuals have put a stigma on clowns.

Bad Publicity

John Wayne Gacy was a serial killer who took the lives of at least 33 men and boys. While a member of the local Moose Club, Gacy joined the “Jolly Joker” clown club. The members, including Gacy, regularly performed at fundraising events, parades, and for hospitalized children. He created his own clown characters which he named “Pogo the Clown” and “Patches the Clown”. Pogo was the happy clown while Patches leaned more toward the serious side.

When Gacy was finally caught in 1979 the press labeled him as the “Killer Clown” and the clowning industry took a hit. I’ve included Gacy below, only because they’ve made several movies about the man.

Clown Scares

Throughout the last forty years, every so often, a wave of clown violence and mischief will hit different parts of the country. The last big one I can remember was in 2016. An article from ABC 7 Eyewitness News out of Chicago listed a string of events from that year.

August 2016:

People call 911 to report clowns – Gags the Green Bay Clown began showing up in grainy photos taken at night.

Police warn of a clown trying to lure children into woods – South Carolina

September 2016:

Clowns chase children waiting for school bus – Georgia

Clowns in the woods, chasing children – Pennsylvania

Law enforcement issues alert over clown-related crimes – South Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee

FBI investigates school threat including ‘scary clown image’ – Arizona

Teens wearing clown masks tied to fast food restaurant robberies – Arizona

Group of clowns allegedly terrorize drivers in the street – New York

Clown armed with explosives robs bank – Tennessee

October 2016:

Mom fights off clown accused of attempting to kidnap girl – California

Teen girl asked clown to kill her teacher

Clown seen clinging to back of moving bus – Michigan

Creepy clown scared off after man fires gun into air, police say – California

And that was just in two and a half months. That same year Target pulled all clown costumes off of their store’s shelves. School districts banned children from wearing clown costumes. McDonalds entered Ronald McDonald into some form of witness protection. Stephen King even went to Twitter to share his support for the honest, hardworking clowns.

“Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria–most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh.” 3:00 PM · Oct 3, 2016

One fan responded by saying, “You started it!”

The List

So without further ado, but with a honk of my horn and a squirt of my fake flower, here is the list of some of the creepiest clowns in cinema and television. They are in no particular order, these are just some of my favorites. I’m excited to stop watching scary clown movie trailers and listening to “Send in the Clowns” by Judy Collins on repeat.

22. The Clown at Midnight – 1989

Mr. Caruthers is the owner of an opera house. He falls in love with an opera singer who is planning on marrying her co-star. In a jealous fit of rage he steals the co-star’s clown suit and murders the opera singer, framing the co-star. After hiding him in the opera house, he’ll do anything to keep his secret.

21. He Who Gets Slapped – 1924

Lon Chaney stars as Paul Beaumont in this silent psychological thriller. Beaumont is a scientist who worked for years on his theories on the origin of mankind. A wealthy Baron comes along, takes credit for his work, steals Beaumont’s wife and slaps him in front of a large audience. His wife calls him a clown which he eventually becomes. While working as a clown (who allows people to slap him) at a circus in Paris, he bumps into the Baron. Lions are involved, it doesn’t end great for anyone.

20. Saw Franchise – 2004 to 2023

If you’ve never seen one of the Saw movies you might think that Billy is the main antagonist. In actuallity Billy is a puppet used by John Kramer (the Jigsaw Killer) to communicate with his test subjects. Billy pops up in nearly every Saw movie and has become the face of the franchise when it comes to marketing.

While not a clown, he is designed as one and was created by Jigsaw to be given as a gift to his unborn child. That unborn child died which is what turned John Kramer into the madman he became.

19. Killjoy – 2000

Killjoy is a killer demon clown who is out for revenge against anyone who harms the person that summons him to life via black magic. There have been five films in total and while the movies have recieved mixed reviews, Killjoy has gathered a bit of a cult following.

18. Fear of Clowns – 2004

Shivers the Clown is a schizophrenic, sex offender placed under the psychiatric care of Dr. Bert Tokyo. The doctor takes out a life inusrance policy on his wife and asks Shivers to kill her, claiming it will cure him.

Things go awry, shenanigans ensue and a lot of people die.

17. Wrinkles The Clown – 2015

One of two real life clowns on the list, Wrinkles made his debut in a YouTube video posted in 2015. Wrinkles the Clown is apparently the work of an unknown performance artist living in Naples, Florida. After showing up in numerous videos and giving out his phone number, stories began to circulate that he was hired by parents to scare their children.

A documentary about Wrinkles was made in 2019.

16. Zombieland – 2009

The ‘Clown Zombie’ appears in a memorable scene from the movie when the character, Columbus, is forced to face his fear of clowns. He’s not in the movie for long but it’s certainly one of the stand out scenes from a great movie.

“I have a case of chronic anxiety. Truth is, I was always kind of phobic… but the thing I fear more than anything, yes, even more than zombies… clowns.”

15. Krampus – 2015

The largest of Krampus’s Killer Toys, Der Klown is a giant man eating Jack-in-the-Box who consumes people whole. At the end of his tail is a large music box from where he presumably sprung. When surrounded by his evil friends he is actually relatively cute and joyful.

14. The Last Circus – 2011

A young trapeze artist must decide between her lust for Sergio, the Happy Clown, or her affection for Javier, the Sad Clown, both of whom are deeply disturbed. The film is set in Spain. It’s 1937 and the Spanish Civil War is raging. The Happy clown is recruited to fight and does so while still in his clown outfit. It’s a wild movie… check it out.

13. Stitches – 2012

Stitches is a clown who gets bullied by a group of ten year olds at a birthday party. After having his shoes tied together he trips and lands face first on a knife… That doesn’t kill him but when he gets up and pulls the knife out, he slips on his own blood and the knife lands in his head again. This time he’s dead. Until six years later when he somehow rises from the grave and will stop at nothing to get his revenge.

12. Spawn – 1997

Based on the Spawn series of comicbooks from Image Comics’ and Todd McFarlane, the Violater is played by John Leguizamo. He only pretends to be a clown but he looks cool so he made the list.

The Violator, also known as The Clown, is the main villain in the movie. He’s the chief lieutenant of Malebolgia’s army and becomes Spawn’s mentor and enemy.

11. Clownhouse – 1989

Cheezo, Bippo and Dippo are just your run of the mill clowns performing with a travelling circus. That is until three mental patients escape the nearby asylum, murder the clowns and assume their identities. It’s just before Halloween, the new clowns are on the prowl and three young brothers find themeselves home alone and under attack.

10. John Wayne Gacy – 1975

The second ‘real’ clown to make the list is none other than the afformentioned John Wayne Gacy. Between 1967 and 1978, Gacy murdered at least 33 men and boys. There’s been numerous movies made about the man. Based on the fact that he worked as a clown in the middle of his murder spree is what might make him the scariest clown of all.

9. The Joker – 2019

I know, I know, there are so many Jokers to choose from and there’s like a 90% chance I didn’t pick your favorite. For my money, Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayl of Arthur Fleck and his slow decent into madness is worthy of landing him amongst a list of psychotic killer clowns. Joker is my all-time favorite superhero villain, its hard to pick a bad example, but the way this movie feels and looks seems to fit with the motif of this list.

8. 31 – 2016

It’s no secret, I love me some Rob Zombie. His movies aren’t for everyone but I sure would like to spend a day hanging out with him. Maybe find out what makes him tick… see where he gets his ideas from.

The film takes place in 1976. The Heads are a group of killer clowns who force five carnival workers to play a game of survival on Halloween Eve. The game is called 31 and for twelve hours the carnies need to stay alive while crazy clowns try to kill them. One of the clowns is a little person painted up as Hitler… so, there’s that.

7. Poltergeist – 1982

The Clown Doll, although not a major part of the movie, is certainly one of the more memorable. Controlled by the “Beast”, the clown doll terrorized Robbie as a distraction so that other vengenful ghosts could abduct Carol Anne.

6. Killer Klowns from Outer Space – 1988

This movie freaked me out when I first saw it over 30 years ago. It hasn’t aged well but still has a large fanbase. Alien clowns land their spinning big top spaceship in a field near where a bunch of teenagers are making out. A small town is being overrun by these silly looking clowns while its residents are being turned into delicious cotton candy cocoons.

It’s up to the kissing teenagers to save the world.

5. It (miniseries) – 1990 // It (movie) – 2017

Whether it’s the Stephen King novel, the original ABC mini-series or the big budget movie, Pennywise the Dancing Clown has been terrorizing viewers and readers for years. Played masterfully by both Tim Curry and Bill Skarsgård, the story centers on a group of outcast kids known as ‘The Losers’ Club’ who are terrorized by Pennywise after he emerges from the sewer.

4. American Horror Story (Freak Show) – 2014

Twisty the Clown was dropped on his head as a baby causing him to live with a minor mental disability. He began to work as a clown with Rusty Westchester’s Traveling Carnival in 1943 but the circus freaks became jealous of his quick rise in stardom and started a rumor about him. Now out of work, he tried his hand at making children’s toys while still continuosly wearing his clown costume and make up.

After he learned that his mother had died and the toy store owner turned down his creations Twisty attempted suicide with a shotgun blast to his lower jaw. In order to hide his grotesgue face he wore a wide-grinned prostethic mask. With only the best of intentions he set out to make children love him again while ridding kids of their parents.

3. The Clown – 2016

Little Jack McCoy wants a clown at his party. After realizing that the clown is a no show, Jack’s mom, Meg calls her husband Kent. He’s a real estate agent who happens to discover an old clown costume in the basement of a house he’s selling. Problem solved! Kent wears the outfit, saves the party and falls asleep with the costume still on.

The next day, he realizes that the costume won’t come off. Kent starts acting strange. He’s hungry all the time. The clown wig becomes his own hair and the nose is only removed by force when his wife rips it off, leaving him horribly scarred.

It turns out that the outfit is the hair and skin of an ancient Icelandic demon called the “Clöyne.” The only way to satisfy the demon is to eat five children. The only way to stop the demon is to be decapitated. Blood, violence and Chuck E. Cheese ball pits fill out the rest of the movie.

2. Terrifier – 2016

I’ll start with a warning. Terrifier (released in 2016) and Terrifier 2 (released in early October) are not for the faint of heart. Rumor has it that people are having physical reactions to the sequel. Art is a demonic killer clown/mime who appears every Halloween to wreak havoc on unsuspecting citizens. He is ultra violent, animated and never speaks or makes a sound.

Art has appeared in numerous films directed by Damien Leone with the two Terrifier films being all about Art.

Total gross out films. Good luck to you if you decide to watch them.

1. House of a 1000 Corpses (2003) // The Devil’s Rejects (2005) // 3 From Hell (2019)

Alright, I may have told a little fib. While the list of clowns is in no particular order, I did save my favorite clown for last. This is another entry from the mind of Rob Zombie. Actor Sid Haig is magnificent as the vulger and murderous Captain Spaulding.

Captain Spaulding is the owner and operator of a gas station and fried chicken eatery that also houses a roadside attraction known as Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen. In reality, its a way for him to lure people to the home of the Firefly family who are always looking for more victims.

Sadly, Sid Haig’s health was failing him during the filming of ‘3 from Hell’, forcing Rob Zombie to alter the script and limit his role. Haig died in September of 2019, five days after the film was released.

I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Haig along with Bill Moseley (who plays Otis Driftwood in all three movies) a few years ago at a convention.

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