The clown's reputation has shifted dramatically in recent years. Once a harmless staple at birthdays and circuses, the clown is now as synonymous with horror as ghosts and vampires. They incite fear in a way that actual monsters don't.
The origin of the evil clown varies. Some credit the Italian opera Pagliacci as the source of the subversion, whereas others claim it's serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Regardless, the evil clown is an enduring archetype in the media. Their image is easily twisted. To prove how creepy clowns can be, here is a list of ten from film and television.
The average millennial tends to exaggerate the fearfulness of Nickelodeon's horror anthology Are You Afraid of the Dark. But they weren't lying about one episode. In "The Tale of Laughing in the Dark", the Midnight Society shares an unnerving story about a boy, a carnival funhouse, and a clown named Zeebo. What makes Zeebo the Clown so scary is his potential to do something. Anything. He pops out from a trap door, but otherwise, he never gives chase or attacks. Rather, what the mind imagines Zeebo is capable of is far more frightening than what's actually seen in the episode.
Count yourself lucky if you didn't see The Brave Little Toaster as a kid. This indie animation financed by Disney is a sentimental drama. Except for one sequence that doubles as nightmare fuel. In the film, a group of sentient appliances go in search of their young master. Along the way, the toaster has a fever dream of a clown dressed up as a fireman. That might not sound too alarming, but the toaster's nightmare is reminiscent of all those ones you had growing up. Not a whole lot about the bad dream makes sense. Yet it leaves you terrified.
Movies are inclined to make dolls absurdly scary-looking. As if the fact that they're dolls isn't enough to make one's skin crawl upon seeing them blink or twitch. Sometimes the most horrifying doll, however, is the kind you'd least expect to hurt you. In Tobe Hooper's 1982 film Poltergeist, a family is tormented by an evil presence in their new home. The malevolent spirit's energy then spreads to a suspicious-looking clown toy in the son's room. The sequence that follows haunts viewers to this day. It sounds ridiculous, but the scene taps into a universal childhood fear we all had.
Supernatural has been investigating the paranormal for over a decade. Since then, the Winchester Brothers have come across a slew of bizarre things that go bump in the night. One of their most unsettling encounters was with the Rakshasa. In the season 2 episode "Everybody Loves a Clown", Dean and Sam look into a a bizarre series of murders. The aforesaid Rakshasa — from a race of shapeshifting imps in Hindu mythology — tricks children into inviting him into their homes. He then murders and consumes their parents. This particular Rakshasa fools the kids by dressing up like an average circus clown.
Scarecrows are unnerving enough as it is. Now, imagine if they all looked like clowns. "Four-Sided Triangle" is one of the most bizarre episodes in Tales from the Crypt. Patricia Arquette stars as a young woman who believes her farm's scarecrow has come to life following a traumatic incident. Her delusion encourages her to think the clown-masked scarecrow is also her lover. Frankly, "Four-Sided Triangle" is more of a tragic love story than horror. It explores carnal desire and a need for escapism when freedom isn't available. There isn't a killer clown anywhere in sight, but this is an eerie offering nonetheless.
There's a relatively recent urban legend that goes like this: a babysitter's charge tells her she can't sleep because the clown in her room is talking to her. The babysitter thinks the child is simply scared of a clown statue in the room. After calling the parents, the babysitter learns the family doesn't own any clown statues. This myth surely inspired one of the three segments in the slasher anthology Amusement. The killer — dubbed The Laugh — pretends to be a large clown sitting in a room full of clown dolls. His victim doesn't realize the truth until it's too late.
You'll never look at cotton candy the same way after watching Killer Klowns from Outer Space. This cult horror-comedy finds a town under siege by a clan of extraterrestrial clowns who feed on humans. These monsters shouldn't be able to pass themselves off as run-of-the-mill clowns, but the characters' willingness to look past that fact is all part of the movie's charm. There's a lot of humor — intentional or not — to be found here. So much that it effectively undercuts any chance of suspense. Although if you're watching a movie about bloodsucking alien clowns, it's likely you're not after scares.
In the 1983 whodunnit The House on Sorority Row, a group of recent college graduates accidentally murder their irritable house mom during a prank. They then hide the body on the grounds before throwing a party at their house. That's when an unseen guest picks them off one by one. It's true the House on Sorority Row killer is hardly shown on screen; the director employed the POV shot to great effect. Nevertheless, the villain finally appears dressed as a jester in the film's tense conclusion. What makes this scene so successful is how the antagonist hides in plain sight.
In the 2014 body horror movie Clown, a young boy's birthday party loses its entertainment due to a scheduling conflict. So, his father wears a clown costume he found in a house he's flipping. Big mistake. What he thought was a costume is really the hair and skin of a mythological demon called the Cloyne. Once someone puts the "costume" on, they gradually transform into the child-eating Cloyne. The movie isn't without its flaws. The tone is inconsistent, and there's a considerable lack of excitement. It's when Clown succumbs to its own dark nature that there's really something worth watching.
The 1990 miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's It is probably to blame for so many people's coulrophobia (fear of clowns). Tim Curry's version of Pennywise scarred an older generation while Bill Skarsgård's is now striking terror into another. The Losers' Club's sworn nemesis is an ancient, otherworldly evil referred to simply as It. The monster hibernates for roughly thirty years before waking up to feed. When active, It wreaks havoc and inflicts fear. His most assumed form is Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The Losers' Club managed to defeat him once as children, but as adults, they must face Pennywise again.