Long before Stephen King’s “It” was causing outrage among the professional clown community, there was always something inherently creepy about clowns. So much so that there was even a phobia (coulrophobia) named after it.
Psychologists argue because their faces are concealed via makeup, there’s something disingenuous about them, which raises subconscious alarms. Thus, clowns have long since been a subject for horror films and many still haunt our dreams today. So, we thought it would be fun to count down the top 10 creepiest clowns from movies (including TV).
The only rules are we won’t be looking at any real life examples, so John Wayne Gacy and his “Bozo the Clown” persona don’t count. Neither does Doom Head from Rob Zombie’s 31, because as he told us so many times, he’s not a clown
10. Alien Clowns (Killer Klowns from Outer Space, 1988)
Admittedly, these alien clowns are more so funny than they are scary, which is why they’re at the bottom of the list. Between their over the top antics, their evil cotton candy plan, and their creative and lively balloon animals, they demonstrate a great sense of humor.
However, there is something inherently creepy and sinister about their plan to take over planet Earth. Also, let’s not forget the ventriloquist which is legitimately disturbing. They may not be the scariest clowns we’ve ever seen in film, but they still deserve some recognition.
9. Clöyne (Clown, 2014)
One of the more sympathetic entries on our list, Kent McCoy wants nothing more than to make his son’s birthday party special. When dons a clown mask that he finds, he has no way of knowing the monstrous entity that will take him over.
And it’s that entity that earns the spot here. The “clöyne” is animalistic and primal, and all the more insidious for the way it takes over its victims’ and holds their body hostage, much like demonic possession.
8. The Joker (The Dark Knight, 2008)
We thought about featuring both Heath Ledger’s and Joaquin Phoenix’s takes on the character here. Ultimately we went with the former because Phoenix is a bit more sympathetic as we see his tragic descent into madness.
With Ledger, we meet him as the psychopath, and his lack of backstory makes him even more mysterious and creepy. While The Dark Knight itself is in no way a horror film, we can’t overlook how terrifying the real world implications of this Joker are.
In a world filled with turmoil and uncertainty (essentially all of 2020), the idea of a self-proclaimed agent of chaos who commits acts of domestic terrorism is pretty uneasy. As Alfred described, the Joker “can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with”, and if you ever find yourself at the mercy of someone like that, it’s quite terrifying.
7. Captain Spaulding (House of 1000 Corpses/The Devil’s Rejects/3 From Hell, 2003/2005/2019)
Spaulding is probably the only character here (besides Joker) who remains something of an antihero to many fans of his film franchise. Sid Haig brought an immense charm and dark sense of humor to the character that we all loved and adored. However, he also brought a sense of unhinged rage that could come out at any moment.
We see him being funny and laid back with Otis and Baby, but he’s able to flip a switch to sadistic terror around civilians (especially the carjacking scene in Devil’s Rejects), and it’s that version of Captain Spaulding that gets him on the list
6. Richard “Stiches” Grindle (Stitches, 2012)
Much like the previously mentioned Clown, Stiches deals with a villain who begins as quite sympathetic. We watch the birthday party children relentless mock him, accidentally resulting in his death.
Even before that, he fit the bill of the “pathetic clown” trope perfectly. But upon his return, he’s now a supernatural entity. In many ways, he feels like the embodiment of our sins coming back to haunt us.
5. Clown Doll (Poltergeist, 1982)
Despite being an “inanimate” object with no characterization and only a few minutes of screen time, this clown doll was so terrifying and traumatizing to a generation of moveigoers that it deserves recognition! For many, this was the introduction to the idea that clowns could be scary.
It’s also an example of how less is often more. It doesn’t look any different than any other clown doll one might have found in the last 70’s/early 80’s, but there’s just something unsettling about that face. The moment it attempts to strangle Robbie, we all react in a visceral, but unsurprised manner, knowing all along there was something up with that clown
4. Twisty (American Horror Story: Freak Show, 2014)
It may be cheating to include just one clown from TV but there’s no way Twisty couldn’t be on this list. In a season that contained the incredibly irritating Dandy Mott as its primary antagonist, Twisty far surpasses Dandy in every way. His silent nature and incredibly intense demeanor make him a force to be reckoned with.
Sure, we learn his tragic backstory, but the clown we meet in the first episode is far more terrifying than tragic. It’s actually kind of a shame that we don’t get more of Twisty, before he goes off to join Edward Mordrake’s posse.
3. Pennywise (It, 1990/2017/2019)
It may seem like a cop out to include both versions of Pennywise here, especially when the same wasn’t done for the Joker, but hear me out. The Ledger and Phoenix Jokers are very much different characters altogether.
Whereas the Curry and Skarsgård Pennywise are just two different takes on the same character; a character who is responsible for many people’s overall fear of clowns.
Pennywise is the ultimate terror in that he uses his clown charm to lure children, before going full animal predator and feasting upon them. The fact that people fear clowns and Pennywise feeds on fear is no coincidence, and it makes him a much more formidable opponent.
2. Art the Clown (Terrifier, 2017)
Whereas Pennywise, Spaulding, and the Joker crack one liners and jokes, Art remains completely silent, while miming everything, and for some reason it makes him so much scarier. He never abandons his sick smile, so we never truly know what’s going on in his head.
And he goes so quickly from being fun and playful to homicidal and murderous. The fact that he’s not in any way supernatural (at least in the first one) also makes him all the more plausible and realistic.
A person could actually dress like him on Halloween night, and they would probably be able to get away with more because stranger behavior is the norm that night. Also, the trailer for Terrifier 2 looks amazing and we can’t wait!
1. Wrinkles (Wrinkles the Clown, 2019)
This was always going to be a controversial choice. No, Wrinkles isn’t killing anyone or shapeshifting in interdimensional demons, he’s just scaring children at the behest of their parents. And while his titular film bills itself as a documentary, it’s fictional enough that he doesn’t exactly count as a “real life clown”.
The very idea that parents would call a clown to terrify their children as a punishment is incredibly disturbing on the part of the parents. But in a strange way it would almost be less scary if he was trying to kill them, because at least then his true intentions would be clear. He’s just mysterious enough that we never truly know what he’s capable of.
Did we miss any creepy clowns that gave you nightmares? Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!