Clowns…for some they’re our worst nightmare and for others the ultimate birthday entertainment. Clowns are kind of like snakes and spiders, the chances of one ever wanting to do you harm are slim to none, but they make for great horror movie antagonists due to the phobia of the colorful characters, called coulrophobia. This weekend possibly the scariest cinematic clown of all hits the big screen for the first time, the creature known as Pennywise in “It”. In celebration of the upcoming film, and to jump on the bandwagon of many other bloggers I guess, I produced my list of the Top 10 Fear Inducing Clowns in Film.
For this list I didn’t limit myself just to the horror genre. I looked at any and all clowns or clown-like characters in film that could be considered scary, threatening, or evil in any way. These characters don’t have to be actual clowns themselves, but their image and characterization has to be inspired by and/or emulate the stereotypical image of a clown. They also can be inanimate objects as long as they do have some lifelike aspect about them and were designed to look like a clown in some way.
Because there have been so many clown characters in film over the years, this was a tough list to narrow down so I set myself some limits. I limited myself to only theatrical films, so straight-to-video releases or straight to television films will not be considered although a limited U.S. theatrical release makes a film and its clown eligible for this list. That being said the original “It” TV miniseries did not apply to this list so you won’t be seeing Pennywise here, although this weekend’s film may warrant a redux of this list down the road. Also I limited myself to only a single version of a character from the big screen as at least one individual on this list has been seen many times in film…if you can’t guess who that is you may be living under a rock…
Without further ado, let’s get to it. What are your favorite cinematic fear inducing clowns? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to check out “It”, if you dare, this weekend and look for my review sometime Saturday night or Sunday morning.
10. The Evil Clown, “Cabin In The Woods”
“The Cabin In The Woods” was a spectacular sendup to classic horror cliches and throughout the film we saw callbacks to some of the most iconic horror villains and figures of all time. When the protagonists unleash all of the horror icons on an unsuspecting office of military personnel and game makers all at once one of the monsters released is this simple, but memorable clown who only gets a few minutes of screen time but takes full advantage of the opportunity to shine. Sporting a classic look, a creepy smile, invulnerability to gunshots, and a knife this clown is a tribute to pretty much every other entry on this list, making it the perfect place to start for this top ten. In essence, this character, as small as he is, is a tribute to just how scary and iconic clown antagonists have become in horror. One could wonder what kind of hell he had in store for the movie’s victims if they had picked his item in the basement.
9. Eric, “The House of Sorority Row”
A classic 1980s slasher film, the clown in this movie only shows up at the very end, but it’s more than enough to strike fear into anyone who sees it. The film features a group of young women who accidentally kill their sorority housemother in a prank gone wrong. One by one the girls are picked off by a mysterious killer and by the end we discover it’s the housemother’s son, Eric, who is doing the killing. The final scene sees Eric attack the last remaining sorority sister, dawning a clown suit and makeup. While the reason behind his uniform change is left up in the air, we known Eric to be a little unstable and a resident of the house attic, where a clown doll was scene earlier in the film. Bring together a fandom of clowns and a lack of mental stability and it’s no shocker he decided to dawn the clothing and appearance of a clown to take on his final target. This image of a clown created a longstanding connection between mental illness and clown culture and while this is an unjustified stereotype nowadays, this film was enough to reinforce the fear of a character meant to bring joy in other situations. Eric’s clown costume was seemingly meant to be one of irony, but the fact that he took his time to dawn the costume before finishing off his final victim says a lot about his psyche. This is a killer with patience and identity issues. Wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark ally….ever.
8. Stitches the Clown, “Stitches”
While this film only received very limited theatrical release in the United States, “Stitches” spawned a character that has quickly become one of the most popular clowns in all of horror. A birthday clown who was wrongfully killed, Stitches returns from the dead with vengeance on his mind and proceeds to kill off the now grown children who were present during his death from a prank six years earlier. What makes Stitches a creepy and threatening character is his kill methods. He’s creative and resourceful, using tools on hand to perform gruesome and imaginative kills without remorse. He kills with flair and style and despite being a clown he doesn’t always laugh or smile at his kills. Instead he seems to see it as his job pulling off every murder with the occasional one-liner. This undead clown packs a punch and not only carries himself in a threatening manner, but has the look and the skills to back up his threatening façade. From his design to his methods everything about this colorful killer will make you fear doing any clown wrong. Hell you may even not want to laugh at clowns any more after seeing this film. One things for sure, this terrifying character will certainly leave you in stitches, just not the kind you’re hoping for.
7. Der Klown, “Krampus”
It’s strange to find a scary clown character in a Christmas movie, but it makes sense when you realize said movie is a Christmas dark comedy meant to play off of a spooky holiday legend of the anti-Santa who punishes those who fail to adhere to the Christmas spirit. In the 2015 film the titular character prays on a family who has lost that spirit and brings with him a bag of living toys to gather his targets. One of those toys is Der Klown, a jack-in-the-box designed to look like a clown and consumes his targets, growing as he adds to his personal collection of meals. What’s interesting about this creepy character is that he is rather polite, even whipping his mouth after eating one victim, and is shown to be meek and among the more innocent toys that help in Krampus’ mission. All the same this character is also one of the most menacing looking toys in the film and was a centerpiece of the film’s ad campaign for good reason. With an expandable jaw and a large worm-like body this character is imposing and his charm and seeming innocence only adds to the creep factor as killing is more fun for him than anything. Der Klown may not make you afraid of the typical birthday clown, but the next time you try out a jack-in-the-box remember what came out of that box in this horror tale and you may think twice.
6. The Killer Klowns, “Killer Klowns From Outer Space”
A 1988 cult classic, you’d think a film about evil aliens that look like clowns seeking out humans to harvest wouldn’t go over so well. However, the film was a critical and commercial success and today is a popular film in science fiction and horror for its creative direction and now-iconic clown-like alien creatures that captured the humans in a small town, encasing them in cotton candy like cocoons, for their own personal use. The characters were designed to look like otherworldly creatures, merely resembling their real-world counterparts, making them disfigured and even more menacing representations of the otherwise joyful circus and birthday performers. The Klowns are spooky for both their design and their intent, seeking humans for harvest, and although you won’t see anything like them in real life if aliens were to come to earth and look like this it would only add to the fear they would bring to an unsuspecting humanity. There’s a reason the Killer Klowns are still relevant in pop culture today. They were the origin of clown fear for many long before Pennywise even hit the small screen and remain an iconic symbol of coulrophobia to this day.
5. The Clown Doll, “Poltergeist”
A highlight character from the famed film about a family haunted by beings of paranormal nature, the clown doll has been nightmare fuel for children for generations as one of the most iconic figures of 80s horror. Possessed by one of many spirits torturing the family in the film, whose home was built on a Indian burial ground, the clown doll attacks and nearly kills the family’s young son and while he is on screen for a short time this doll is what many have come to remember from the film, so much so that the doll became the mascot of the unneeded remake of the movie. The “Poltergeist” clown brings about a combination of the worst fears a child can have. Imagine if your toy doll came to life to kill you. Now imagine that this doll looks like a clown, a happy and seemingly innocent clown, and when it attacks its face is changed to a more demonic and evil form. Pretty sure you’d avoid having clowns at your birthday party or getting actions figures and dolls for Christmas from that point forward. What makes this an effective and fear inducing cinematic clown is that its attack was relatively unexpected. It was a random and seemingly out-of-nowhere act of violence from the spirits haunting the family and showed not only the capabilities of the spirits in the home but also their intelligence that the clown doll was not only an effective conduit, but one that would add to their attempt to terrify and torture the children who made their home on top of their graves.
4. The Violator, “Spawn”
While the 1997 “Spawn” film is pretty dated, one standout aspect of the movie remains John Lequizamo’s portrayal of Spawn’s advisory and guide to the path of evil The Violator. A short, tubby clown-like demon the Violator has two forms, but it’s his more simple form I’m focusing on most here. Possessing a talent for sarcasm and trickery, The Violator is not only intimidating and an eyesore, he’s unpredictable and more than willing to do anything in his power to make your life a living hell especially if he feels he is being wronged. There’s a good reason The Violator resembles a clown however, and that’s because he believes everything to be a big joke and he’s the only one who gets it. He treats the world and humanity like the ultimate pun and everyone he comes in contact with is just another punch line. While he may not look intimidating on the outside, he can transform into a massive demonic being and live up to his name, violating your entire existence with either his sarcasm and tricks as a clown or his violent temper and sheer ability to kill in his monster form. The Violator may not be a horror movie clown, but he’s not one you want to double cross. You’d be smart to flee, if he lets you, because otherwise he’s prepared to pull out his bag of tricks and laugh at your expense and you don’t want to know what happens when the joke’s on you with this clown.
3. Captain Spaulding, “The House of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects”
Also known as Johnny Lee Johns or Cutter, Captain Spaulding is one of the memorable characters in the duo of horror classics by Rob Zombie. First seen as the owner and proprietor of Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen and later revealed to be the patriarch of the Firefly family, Spaulding is an intimidating individual in both stature and attitude. A capable killer and a man so confident he stared down a pare of robbers, mocking them and killing them, Spaulding induces fear in his victims through sheer attitude and presentation alone. Wearing a clown-inspired face paint mask Spaulding plays off of his clown-like persona perfectly. I could go on and on about how terrifying he really is, but there’s one scene from “The Devil’s Rejects” that sums up his character in only a few short minutes. The famed “official clown business” moment sees Spaulding literally inject fear into not only an adult mother, but her son as well. This speech alone perfectly captures why this clown impersonator is so high on this list. You can watch a clip of that moment here if you don’t believe me. Spaulding is the only character on this list that directly addresses the clown fear right to someone’s face and not only embraces it, but incorporates it into his intimidating demeanor.
2. The Joker, “The Dark Knight”
See this was the one I meant when I said only one rendition of the character would make it on this list. Obviously the Joker has been on the big screen numerous times. Jack Nicholson played him to a T in the Tim Burton film, Jared Leto added a creepy aura to the character in “Suicide Squad”, and of course Cesar Romero first brought the character to the big screen in the 60s. All have embraced the clown prince of crime’s iconic makeup, but only one stood out above the rest and that is the award-winning version by Heath Ledger. While the other portrayals have their own intimidating features, Ledger’s version was truly scary and fear inducing because he had a plan and he always saw it through. You can never tell what’s going on in his head. Ledger presented a cold, calculating, merciless maniac of a clown that not only struck fear into Batman himself with what he was willing and able to do, but an entire city as well. While this version of the Joker probably won’t make you afraid of actual clowns, he’s no less frightening. He will kill to get his way, he sees everyone as expendable, and he’s a master of whit always looking to show humanity that everything is one big joke. A man so unpredictable and so chaotic should be feared and wants to be feared and he completes his maniacal outlook on life with a simple clown-inspired look to show the world that the joke is truly on them and he is there to send the circus of life into total anarchy.
1. The Zombie Clown, “Zombieland”
The perfect blend of two of the most feared characters in horror, the zombie and the clown. I honestly couldn’t help but put this at number one because it’s a near perfect horror character and it’s one that was nearly unstoppable in “Zombieland”. In the film Columbus has to conquer the fear that every one of the entries on this list helps bring about, coulrophobia, which actually turns out to be harder for him to conquer than battling, you know, a flesh eating undead mass of skin in general. The zombie clown is also well designed. Bloodied and battered without being too over the top this is a character that would be intimidating under any circumstances and one that even the strongest among us may have a hard time facing. A perfect blend of two horror clichés, the zombie clown is the epidemy of fear for many. It’s the ultimate example of a worst-case scenario were one to ever find themselves in a real life horror situation. It doesn’t help that this particular zombie also seemed to pack a punch, being able to take on Columbus better than almost any other zombie before him. Combine strength, presence, and it’s ability to kill with a single chomp and you have the scariest and most intimidating clown cinema has ever produced.