Clowns. They’re a bonafide classification of being that can induce fear. One doesn’t even have to be seen to bring on fear. A laugh can be heard, and those who fear clowns know that the creepy laugh originates from a painted mouth. Horns honking, circus-themed music, clomping footsteps- These sounds associated with clowns are just as terrifying as the actual clown.
What causes the fear of clowns? For me, a lifelong Coulrophobe, it’s thanks to my older brother terrifying me when a huge stuffed clown that he swore would attempt to eat me late at night. That clown was stuffed in the back of a closet and was never seen again. As I grew older the clown’s painted face, hiding the true monster within, is what brought on the fear. What we see is a painted face full of bright colors and shapes, but what we don’t see is the creature behind the facade.
Of course, a more simple answer to why we fear clowns is probably because we saw one terrorize and gleefully murder on our screens. I am here to present to you some of those – shudder – clowns that may be the cause of your Coulrophobia.
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10. John Wayne Gacy (Pogo, the Clown), Gacy (2003)
Gacy is not a great film. Gacy (Mark Holton) portrays his clown alter ego, Pogo, for barely 2 minutes. But it’s a perfect representation of the “what’s behind the makeup is what makes a clown terrifying.” Even more terrifying is that Gacy was a real man who committed horrible things to young men. Enough said. Moving on.
9. Clown Zombie, Zombieland (2009)
In Zombieland’s finale at Pacific Playland, our heroes become overwhelmed with the usual zombie film finale’s horde of the undead. The standout zombie? The bulky, multicolored clothed clown zombie (Derek Graf) that Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) must defeat to get to Wichita (Emme Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). It doesn’t help that Columbus is a fellow Coulrophobic. This is where he breaks Rule 17: Don’t Be A Hero, and overcomes his coulrophobia by taking the zombie clown down with a carnival game hammer to the nose.
8. Canio, The Clown at Midnight (1999)
Canio is the tragic character in the Italian opera, Pagliacci, who killed his wife and her lover – in full theatrical clown getup – after he discovered their affair. The plot of The Clown at Midnight borrows from this tragic tale, and amps it up as Canio slices and dices his way through a group of high school students who are reviving the theater that a Pagliacci related murder occurred.
7. Clown Toy, Poltergeist (1982)
The poltergeist terrorized the Freeling family in many ways throughout the runtime of the 1982 horror classic, but it was Robbie’s (Oliver Robins) interaction with a certain toy that sent me running from the room. Due to the aforementioned fear of a stuffed clown that I had as a child, simply seeing the clown toy of Robbie’s was enough to scare me. When the toy becomes animated and attacks Robbie, that terror turned into full-fledged, bombastic horror. The stretching arms? That stretched smile? Why all of the stretching?!
6. Clown, Clown (2014)
Clown’s clown is a clown that possesses via a costume and face paint to Clownsess The Performer. In this case, it’s a struggling dad (Andy Powers) who wants to only make his son happy. After applying the wig, makeup, and clown nose, he finds that it won’t come off. The longer it stays on, the more maniacal he becomes. And then there’s the attack on kids in a ball pit tunnel slide playhouse that solidifies Clown’s insanity.
5. Twisty, AHS: Freak Show (2014)
Whew, Twisty (John Carroll Lynch). When we first meet him in Freak Show, he’s just another horrifying clown committing horrifying acts. It isn’t until we learn his backstory that we truly terrify him. Sure, the backstory is sad. His life was pretty rough. So rough that it led him to attempt suicide which was unsuccessful, leaving him with a blown off jaw. As if the combination of a painted face and a lower jaw mask to cover his lack of jaw isn’t enough, the fact that he kidnaps children to “save” them from their parents just ups the ante on his creepiness.
4. Jumbo, Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
The Chiodo Bros created some pretty creeptastic clow…klowns for Killer Klowns from Outer Space, but there’s one that stands out, and that is Jumbo. He is unarguably one of the most demented. Don’t recall which klown was Jumbo? He’s the one who sits outside of Big Top Burger, attempting to lure a little girl away from her parents so that he can off her with the oversized klown hammer that he’s hiding behind his back. Jumbo is also the clown who – in the campy film’s creepiest scene – utilizes Offer Mooney (John Vernon) as a ventriloquist dummy, and gives a warning to Dave (John Allen Nelson): “Don’t worry, Dave. All we wanna do is kill you”. Scary clown fun turned into full-fledged “Nope” in those 2 small moments.
3. Pennywise, IT (2017)
Bill Skarsgård has created a new horror icon with his performance of Pennywise the Clown. It’s a different representation that strays away from Curry’s Pennywise, and it works. The little quirks that Skarsgård added to his performance heightened the creep factor. Everyone talks about his eye movements, but what got me was the drooling that occurred when Pennywise is about to pounce. Eesh.
2. Art the Clown, Terrifier (2017)
From the revival of clown horror – thanks to IT (2017) – comes another powerhouse clown that is so brutal, so creepy, and so mysterious that it settles in a notch higher than Skarsgård’s Pennywise. Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton) may be a jokester, but his punchlines are downright bloody. Credit his huge smile and invasive eyes to the creepy piece of art that Art is.
1. Pennywise, IT (1990)
Tim Curry’s Pennywise is the catalyst of many a person’s fear of clowns. There were clowns before him, but Pennywise floated above them. From his seemingly innocent yet still horrifying “Ahuck, ahuck!” laughs to his shapeshifting, nightmarish antics, Curry’s Pennywise settled in to cinema’s roster of scary clowns where, for most people, it still reigns supreme.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shake the creeps off since I just spent quite a while thinking of these clowns. By that, I mean I’m going to sit right here, and watch an episode of Buffy the clear my head. I will definitely steer clear of season one’s episode, Nightmares, though. There’s a creepy clown, there. Of course, this will only settle the clown fear until I sit in the theater for IT: Chapter 2 which floats our way September 6.