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Bekah’s Top Evil Clowns

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Recently, a seemingly evil clown has been touring the Northampton area of the United Kingdom (see our item here). The mysterious appearance of the singular being has created frenzy on the Internet with millions loudly professing a deep fear of clowns.

The technical term is “coulrophobia”.  No one really knows what’s sparked it, but over the past few decades, legions of people have declared their personal fear of the entertainers. Clowns have been around since the dawn of man, most likely stuffing themselves in mass into tiny primitive chariots. But yet, the documented “fear of clowns” did not became a psychiatric trend until the late 70s/early 80s.

I think we can all point to one evil clown that amplified the nation’s fear: John Wayne Gacy, who from 1972-1978 killed more than 33 boys when he wasn’t performing as Pogo the Clown. Yup, that’s enough to fuck up the entire nation’s psyche. Then, the countless clinical research studies began, all trying to determine why folks find fear in our baggy pants-wearing brethren. The primary results of the studies were that clowns are scary because the painted faces mask real human emotion underneath. Really, it took multiple studies and large research grants to figure that out?  I actually even found multiple books on the topic—the thick academic type with tons of footnotes and no pictures. This is a serious cultural, mental phenomenon. Though the epidemic-sized confessional of clown fears only surfaced within the past few decades, the appearances of evil clowns in our creative endeavors entertainment go back much further.

So, join us as we raise our tiny umbrellas to take a journey through my eleven favorite evil clowns (in chronological order).  Yeah, it’s eleven. I will not conform to “the man’s” designated number for subject-based movie lists.

"Pulcinella," by Joseph Faverot, 1894

“Pulcinella,” by Joseph Faverot, 1894

• Pulcinella (17th century stock character) Also known as “Punch”, this well-used popular caricature was a rather obese clown with a beak-like nose. He usually had little concern for his fellow man, but was very engaged in food, sex, and psychically hurting others. He also usually spoke about himself in the third person. The best contemporary example of this character I could locate  (thanks Comedia del’Arte Homepage) is “Homey the Clown” from the 90’s sketch show IN LIVING COLOR. I.e.- “Homey don’t play that”.

• “Hop-frog” (Edgar Allen Poe, 1849)  Poe was doing the evil clown thing long before bow ties could spin. “Hop-frog” is a short story about a royal jester who endures abuse from the king. So the clowning chap sets the king and his entire court on fire. Oh, the evil merriment!

• The Joker (1940, created by DC Comics)  The Joker appeared in “Batman #1” ready to use his fiendish tricks against the caped crusader. Even up to our modern day DARK KNIGHT-style recreation of the character, The Joker is still evil personified and has become one of our society’ s most established villains.

• HALLOWEEN (1978, John Carpenter) Though only on screen for a brief second, let’s all remember that long before Michael Myers donned the white mask and jumpsuit, he chose to dress like a clown… a murderous little clown.

• Toy clown from POLTERGEIST (1982, Tobe Hooper)  Remember that scene where Robbie’s toy clown attacks him. Of course you do, most of us will never be able to forget it. Spielberg wrote the scene because of his own fear of clowns. The actual prop clown doll is now on display at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, disturbing tourists while they eat their burgers.

PolterClown

• KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988, The Chiodo Brothers) Alien clowns who eat people, but not until after encasing them in giant cotton candy cocoons? Makes perfect sense. Though the film had a mixed reception on its original release, it has now become a cult favorite among genre fans. Rumors have been circling for years that the Chiodos’ are working on a KLOWN sequel.  Hopefully it will have just as much popcorn, cotton candy, and bloodletting as its predecessor.

• Pennywise the Dancing Clown from IT (1990, from a 1986 novel by Stephen King) Pennywise traumatized many of us in the 80s. I made the mistake of convincing my parents that since IT was on television, IT should be perfectly fine for my adolescent self to watch this obviously family friendly mini-series. I still find myself staring deeply into storm drains expecting to see balloons.

Pennywise

• Doink the Clown (1992-1996, featured on WWF) I spent the bulk of my teen years submerged in horror films and wrestling. So finally this is my chance to spew some of my wrestling knowledge, no matter how briefly. Doink was a heel. He would often play cruel tricks on his opponents, even attacking them with a fake arm. He later got a little person sidekick named Dink for tag team matches. Fans eventually tired of the Doink/Dink storyline, chanting “kill the clown” multiple times throughout the 1997 Slammy Awards, which concluded with Stone Cold Steve Austin taking Doink down.

• FUNNYMAN (1994, directed by Simon Sprackling) – This film may take some digging to find, but it’s well worth the effort. A wealthy and elite Christopher Lee mistakenly awakens a clown-like demon that terrorizes his family. Exceptionally disturbing and hilarious!

• Captain Spaulding (pictured, above) Portrayed by Sid Haig, Captain Spaulding first appeared in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES and then returned to lead the Firefly clan once more in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. Spaulding has since become an iconic horror character, even getting his own Museum of Monsters and Madmen Haunted House during Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights 2011 and this year’s Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare.

• Zombie Clown from ZOMBIELAND (2009, directed by Ruban Fleischer) He is a zombie and a clown. All he needs to do is throw live spiders at people to complete the nightmare subject-matter trifecta.

For more clownish merriment, check out “Clowny Clown Clown,” a music video by Crispin Glover. Don’t ask me what it means. I haven’t a clue. But it does feature a clowny clown clown, and it is pretty damn disturbing.

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About the author
Rebekah McKendry
Rebekah McKendry is the Director of Marketing for Fangoria Entertainment, and additionally she is a college professor teaching classes focused on film history and horror films. She is also an award-winning filmmaker. She has Bachelor's Degrees in Film and English, a MA in Media Education, a MFA in Film, and she is currently completing her PhD in Media Theory focused on horror and exploitation cinema. She is especially passionate about grindhouse films, video nasties, and rare or lost titles.
  • Justin Graves

    Great list.

    I’d also recommend the truly unsettling clown sequence from the otherwise awful anthology, Amusement.

    Additionally, the gory short film Terrifier (soon to be expanded into a full length feature entitled All Hallows’ Eve) contains a VERY scary clown stalking a lone motorists on Halloween night. It’s a wonderfully creepy 20 minutes that is somewhat soured by a mean spirited final note, but don’t let that stop you from checking it out on Youtube (if you haven’t already).

    The surrealist indie Closed for the Season has some noteworthy, spooky clown business and actually is a pretty cool little film despite being let down ultimately by its low budget and not a lack of imagination.

    While terribly flawed and oftentimes a chore to sit through, the evil clown from 100 Tears definitely leaves an impression.

    Anyways, just a few off the top of my head.

    • Rebekah McKendry

      Great titles Justin. I too found some good points in 100 Tears. It’s a rough around the edges but it did leave me thinking if nothing else.

  • w_maas

    Maybe you don’t want to support Victor Salva, which would be understandable, but I think Clownhouse really belongs on this list. Despite the fucking awful and tragic story behind it, it is one of the only slashers that rises above the genre and becomes something truly creepy and aesthetically accomplished.

  • will derkson

    Love Sid!! booyah boy!

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