While children are meant to love clowns, the lurid make-up, hysterical laughter and familiar relationship with violent injuries can all be rather disquieting for the developing mind – and what you learn as a child sticks. In fact, where clowns are memorable, they are usually disturbing, whether they’re from outer space or the local asylum. Here are some of the most disturbing clowns ever to appear on celluloid – and the reason why you’re afraid of clowns!
10. The Joker (Heath Ledger), The Dark Knight
While Heath Ledger’s anarcho-terrorist might have been more Sid Vicious than babysitter, he was also, most definitely a clown – “Why so serious,” indeed? He was also an extraordinarily disturbing clown, who, along with his lipstick, hair dye and chalky complexion, also had an arsenal of knives, a shedload of dynamite and a taste in nasty, murderous set-pieces. In his comicbook incarnation, the Joker is arguably the original homicidal clown – and with a cinematic rap sheet listing kidnapping, murder, extortion, armed robbery and the destruction of entire buildings, one can only imagine he must have failed clown college.
9. The Clown / The Violator (John Leguizamo), Spawn
It’s all in the name. This particularly nasty demonic supervillain spends half his time as a tubby fellow with clown make-up, before turning into a gigantic monster from hell, called The Violator. His main priority in the film was to persuade the protagonist to become evil (he was Hellspawn after all), before conspiring with Satan-stand-in Malebolgia to start the apocalypse. Not someone you would want to invite around for dinner.
8. The Insane Clown Doctors in Pee-wee Herman’s Dream Sequence (various), Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
What’s more disturbing than Pee-wee Herman? Why, only the insane clown doctors haunting his dreams. Combining the generally worrying state of being menaced by terrifying clowns with the fact that these particular madcaps probably want to do surgery on you, this is the perfect recipe to fuel children’s nightmares. Sure, they end up only blowtorching Pee-wee’s bike but they do seem to be in league with the devil (as portrayed by the peculiar man-child’s nemesis Francis). Maybe this is where Christopher Nolan got the idea of dressing the Joker as a homicidal nurse. Horrifying.
7. Krusty the Clown (Dan Castellaneta), The Simpsons Movie
A cynical, chain smoking burn out with a string of addictions and an underdeveloped sense of ethics, Krusty might not actually seem that bad. Apart from the shabby employment practices, the toxic merchandise and the condor egg omelets, Krusty’s just a normal guy right? Well, while Krusty might be a seasoned pro, he’s actually one pretty disturbing clown.
6. Zombie Clown (Derek Graf), Zombieland
Which takes us to this fellow, who quite simply wants to eat your brains. While he doesn’t say much, ‘zombie clown’ certainly is petrifying – if you can get over zombies, you can get over clowns. Just don’t leave this fella with children, the elderly or anyone who doesn’t have access to some heavy, blunt-edged instruments.
5. James Bond with clown make-up (Roger Moore), Octopussy
The horror, the ignominy. A generation before Pierce Brosnan soiled his tux while driving in an invisible car, Roger Moore was attempting to destroy the 007 brand by dressing up as a clown, in order to infiltrate a circus. Octopussy or no, dressing up as a clown won’t go down well with the ladies. After all, would Jason Bourne dress up as a clown? Would he infiltrate a circus? We think not.
4. Shakes the Clown (Bobcat Goldthwait), Shakes the Clown
While Shakes isn’t from hell and he doesn’t want to gnaw on your brains, he’s one step worse; he’s a genuine children’s entertainer who happens to be a depressive alcoholic. Sure, he won’t destroy a city block but he might start a fist fight at your 5-year-old’s birthday party. And that’s really mean.
3. Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), House of 1000 Corpses / The Devil’s Rejects
The patriarch of the murderous Firefly family, Captain Spaulding is a homicidal clown who also happens to run a gas station and a museum of the strange – neatly ticking off a whole slew of slasher movie clichés. He’s also one who doesn’t take kindly to criticism of clowns – but what did you expect when you heard he was the patriarch of an entire murderous family?
2. Tito (Lon Chaney), Laugh, Clown, Laugh
Laugh, Clown, Laugh is a partially lost silent movie that features a love triangle between Tito, a clown, his adoptive daughter, Simonetta (who he raises at the circus) and a man called Luigi, who suffers from uncontrollable fits of laughter after being rejected by Simonetta. Now, as a clown who is in love with his daughter, Tito really is at the creepy end of clowning. In the film’s original ending it takes Tito’s death for Simonetta and Luigi to be allowed to live happily ever after. Shhh! The clowns are loose!
1. Pennywise (Tim Curry), It
The one, the only, it’s Pennywise, the supernatural monster who made the point that clowns are terrifying. Also known as Bob Gray and It, Pennywise the Dancing Clown was in fact an ageless, shape changing beast from beyond the bounds of our universe, who had spent millions of years awaiting the arrival of man in a small New England town. When the locals did arrive, Pennywise took the form of a clown, with added teeth and claws, to periodically murder the children of the townsfolk. It’s enough to say that Pennywise would not go down well at a kids’ party.