Evil clowns have appeared in music and literature for hundreds of year. The famous Italian opera Pagliacci, first performed in 1892, features a clown who kills his wife on stage. A serialized novel by Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers (published in 1836) featured a drunken, unemployed clown whose “inebriation and ghastly, wasted body contrasted with his white face paint and clown costume” (Source). From the court jesters of feudal Europe to the buffoons of Branum & Bailey, clowns are often characterized by impish mischievousness and amusing but dangerous antics.
The evil clown motif has certainly flourished with the prominence of modern horror movies, where they’re often employed for their ability to strike fear almost instantaneously. Whether an actual human or just a doll, clowns are a sure-fire way to set legions of horror fans on edge. While their ranks are swelling with each passing year, certain characters have achieved iconic status as exceptionally terrifying scoundrels. The fiends on this list are the most likely to give the coulrophobe in your life an unexpected heart attack! Let’s play!
Pennywise from It (1990)
While some come close, it’ll probably be a very long time before anyone dethrones Pennywise from It (played by Tim Curry) as Supreme King of Killer Clowns—if ever. There’s a lot of excitement for the impending 2-part feature film remake of Stephen King’s bestseller, but even optimistic fans don’t expect the new Pennywise (whoever that turn out to be) to surpass Curry’s near-perfection.
The Clown Doll from Poltergeist (1982)
The often imitated but rarely outdone doll from Poltergeist is the petrifying paragon of pint-size evil clowns. When that signature smile turned into a sinister, bloodthirsty grin, and its arm wrapped around Robbie’s neck, I lost my cool.
Richard Grindle aka “Stitches” from Stitches (2012)
Before he died, the clown known as Stitches (Ross Noble) was a filthy fornicating alcoholic. In death, he’s equal parts hilarious and terrifying as a vengeful revenant. Most diabolical moment: Making balloon animals out of human intestine! The movie Stitches also reveals the secret occult underworld of evil clowns, a realm of absolute hell for coulrophobes. Fans of top-notch horror comedy and gobs of gore will love it!
The Alien Clowns from Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
Word on the street is that these extraterrestrial buffoons may be getting their own television show. The film’s co-director and puppeteer Stephen Chiodo had this to say on the Cryptic Movie Podcast last March: “Right now, we are currently pursuing a long arch series for cable. We wondered, should we do a sequel to the first one or do we do a remake? We came up with a ‘requel’ – it’s a sequel and a remake.” Expect to see more unsuspecting humans liquefied inside cotton candy cocoons!
Violator from Spawn (1997)
John Leguizamo is pure nightmare fuel as the obese grease-painted Violator in Spawn. He’s a constant tormentor to the film’s titular antihero and a mouthpiece for the Devil Malebolgia. Per Wikipedia: “His main purpose is to guide Hellspawns towards fulfilling Satan’s desire: To cultivate Evil souls on Earth for Hell’s army.”
The Zombie Clown from Zombieland (2009)
If you’re a coulrophobe who also suffers from kinemortophobia (fear of the undead), the zombie clown in Zombieland (played by Derek Graf) may just be your ultimate kryptonite. Here’s an evil clown motivated by an insatiable need to consume human flesh! When crossing paths with this beast, it’s best to remember Rule #2, Double Tap: When in doubt, don’t get stingy with your bullets.
The Sad Clown from The Last Circus aka Balada Triste de Trompeta (2010)
Any sympathy the audience has for the Sad Clown (Carlos Areces) in The Last Circus fades fast when the character snaps, becoming a machinegun toting killer with epic bloodlust. His counterpart, the Funny Clown (Antonio de la Torre), is no prince either, prone to violence, rape, and even murder. This film seems to confirm suspicions that there’s something deeply sinister about circus life, an evil that resides behind all those artificial smiles.
Pogo the Clown from Gacy (2003), Dear Mr. Gacy (2010), Dahmer vs. Gacy (2010), John Wayne Gacy: A Monster in Disguise (1999), and others.
The only thing scarier than an evil clown concocted in the mind of a skilled horror practitioner is a real-life evil clown. Fans of true crime know that prolific serial killer John Wayne Gacy raped and murdered at least 33 boys and young men, before stashing their bodies in a crawl space beneath his house. What they may not know, however, is that Gacy had a chilling alter-ego, Pogo the Clown, who was a frequent guest at neighborhood birthday parties.
Billy from the Saw Franchise (2004-2010)
At the intersection of scary clown dolls and ventriloquist’s dummies lives Billy, the tricycle riding harbinger of Jigsaw (aka John Kramer played by Tobin Bell). He’s ultimately harmless, but when Billy shows up, unimaginable pain and misery will surely follow; the last thing you want to hear him say is: “I’d like to play a game.” Consider him a distant relative of the evil clown doll from Poltergeist.
Twisty from American Horror Story: Freak Show (2014-2015)
The 4th Season of American Horror Story, Freak Show, is a fan favorite, and that has a lot to do with Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch); he’s a tormented character who’s equally pitiable and petrifying. His wooden, static grin conceals a bloody, gaping maw, the result of a failed suicide attempt. His clown-cap, adorned with red, yellow, and green hair, looks like it was peeled off of someone else’s skull.
Captain Spaulding from House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
While primarily serving as a narrator and plot motivator in House of 1000 Corpses, the “lovable asshole” Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) is later revealed to be the patriarch of the murderous Firefly clan in The Devil’s Rejects. Instantly recognizable for his filthy beard, rotten teeth, and patriotic attire, Haig’s Spaulding ranks near Curry’s Pennywise in the upper echelon of evil clowns.
Kent McCoy from Clown (2014)
I haven’t seen the movie Clown yet (it finally arrives in America on June 17th), but I only need to see the trailer to conclude that Kent McCoy (Andy Powers) is one scary mother fucker. After donning a supernatural clown costume at his son’s birthday party, the devoted father develops a craving that only the flesh of children can satisfy.
The 6 “Heads” from 31 (2016)
While a trailer for Rob Zombie’s 31 has yet to arrive, the writer/director released a set of character photos last October. Behold (above), the 6 “Heads”: Doom Head, Psycho Head, Sick Head, Schizo-Head, Death Head, and Sex Head. In 31: Five carnival workers are kidnapped and held hostage in an abandoned, Hell-like compound where they are forced to participate in a violent game, the goal of which is to survive twelve hours against a gang of sadistic clowns.
The Clown Toy from Krampus (2015)
In Michael Dougherty’s Krampus, the titular fiend of Germanic mythology conjures a creepy crew of murderous marauders to help him torment a suburban family on Christmas Eve: Killer snowmen surrounding the house, carnivorous cookies in the kitchen, and a diabolical clown puppet up in the attic. Deceptively small in stature, this demonic toy can swallow an entire human whole—which it does… repeatedly!
Porcelain from The Houses October Built (2014)
In The Houses October Built, a team of enthusiasts travels the country in an RV seeking out the most intense haunted house attraction in America. Believe me, when I say: Evil clowns abound. Most chilling, however, is an unnerving, melancholy clown who seems to follow the team wherever they go: A beautiful and terrifying young woman referred to as Porcelain (Chloë Crampton). Along with Sex-Head from 31, Porcelain proves horror needs more female clowns!
The Joker from The Dark Knight (2008)
If you’re thinking, “Wait a minute. The Dark Knight isn’t horror,” my response is: Who cares! Heath Ledger’s Joker is an incredibly scary clown. And not in a supernatural way; Ledger’s Joker terrifies because of his nonchalance towards acts of extreme violence. Not to mention, he’s completely bat-shit crazy and irreverently suicidal, meaning he’s capable of just about anything! Few villains are such a perfect personification of unbridled chaos.
Slammy from Slam! (2014)
Short horror films are skyrocketing in popularity and Canadian production company Luchagore is at the forefront of this movement. One of their early works, Slam! introduces a uniquely sinister clown named Slammy (Tyler James Nicol) whose got some advice for a youngster being neglected by his pregnant, chain-smoking mother. Check out the entire 4-minute film above.
Michael Myers from Halloween (1978)
Before “The Shape” donned his signature fish-belly-white rubber mask, on the night when he committed his first murder at the tender age of 6, Michael Myers (Will Sandin) was dressed as a clown. His niece, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) briefly carried the clown torch through Parts IV and V of the Franchise, and Rob Zombie kept the tradition alive in his 2007 remake. It’s a merging of two separate horror movie motifs: Killer clowns and creepy kids.
The Laugh from Amusement (2008)
The mentally unstable serial killer known only as The Laugh (Keir O’Donnell) is a master of disguise, and his most disturbing outfit is an evil, accordion-toting clown clad in purple; this getup includes a set of hunting knives protruding from his knuckles. Don’t cross paths with this character because he seriously knows how to hold a grudge. Yes, the movie is a hot mess, but it’s more than a little entertaining.
The Ice Cream Man from Face Off, Season 2 (2012)
This awesome guy doesn’t have a movie or a television series (or even an official name) but he should! The “Ice Cream Man” from Syfy’s Face Off, Season 2, is one of the “coolest” evil clown ever imagined. Matt Valentine rocked the “Burtonesque Challenge” creating a character that’s both whimsical and “chilling” (okay, I’ll stop with the ice cream puns!). The slightly bewildered look on his face suggests he doesn’t even realize how scary he is, which is both endearing and unsettling.