Top 10 Killer Clown Movies
Stephen King has been quoted as saying, “nobody likes a clown at midnight.” As something of an authority on the hate of harlequins, the Master of Suspense is correct in his assessment. However, we would like to amend that quote, with all due respect. Nobody likes a clown…period. There’s just something about that painted façade, no doubt hiding sinister intentions, that turns even the bravest among us into piles of melted ice cream. Filmmakers know this, and they exploit it, to various levels of success. There’s the good (IT…for the most part), the bad (Killjoy), and the ugly (Killjoy Goes to Hell). For some reason, when these films hit, we can’t look away. Coulrophobia has affected thousands, whether via television, movies or my 6th birthday party when my parents thought it would be “so funny” to hire Puddles The Clown as the entertainment and I got so scared I threw up cake all over Katie Jones and I never lived it down and was forever known as “clowncakes.”
To Catch a Killer (1992)
To be fair, this 1992 made-for-TV movie is not very good. It’s rather boorish way too long. But what it lacks in, well, everything, it makes up for in the one shining aspect — Brian Dennehy’s performance as John Wayne Gacy, the so-called ‘Killer Clown.’ To Catch a Killer tells the story of Michael Riley’s Lt. Joe Kozenczak tracking Dennehy’s Gacy because he’s convinced that Gacy is a serial killer that has murdered over 30 young men and buried them under his crawlspace. Gacy, naturally, is outraged and the fact that you’re almost kinda rooting for him to “stick it to the authority” speaks volumes to the quality of Dennehy’s performance. The problem, clearly, is that Gacy actually is a serial killer that murdered over 30 young men and buried them under his crawlspace.
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Speaking of John Wayne Gacy, there’s this 2003 film, starring Mark Holton. Like its predecessor, this is not a very good film. But if you’ve ever wanted to see Frances from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure dress up like a clown and murder people, this film is for you. The film focuses a bit more on Gacy’s life before that whole “serial killer thing.” It paints Gacy as a “family man” who loved his mother and hated his father. The movie makes it seem as though the abuse Gacy suffered at the hands of his father, both physically and emotionally, somehow contributed to his actions in later years. Holton does an admirable job as the titular character. He’s actually a creepier John Wayne Gacy than John Wayne Gacy, especially when he’s dressed as the infamous Pogo the Clown. You actually do feel for the guy a little bit, though. You can see his loneliness and desperation and part of you wants to hurt for him a little bit, but as soon as you let your guard down, that’s when he snaps on the handcuffs and suddenly you’re on the wrong end of a Pogo stick.
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This isn’t a “killer clown movie,” per say. But it is potentially best remembered for that scene. You know which one I’m talking about. Children have never looked at clown dolls the same way since. I’d rather take on a hundred poltergeists than one scary clown doll. Carol Anne can worry about her damn self.
The scene in question takes place in the bedroom of the aforementioned Carol Anne and her poor, poor brother Robbie. You see, Robbie has a thing about clowns. He doesn’t like them. Nobody blames him. For some reason, however, his parents think that giving him an almost life-sized clown doll is a good idea. The clown looms over the entire movie, until the climax. The Freeling family had exorcized their house and saved Carol Anne, or so they thought. But poltergeists are nothing if not resilient, and they return with a vengeance. There are houses shaking and skeletons swimming and trees grabbing but all of that pales in comparison to the moment that poor, poor Robbie’s clown doll comes to life and tries to murder him. It is at the precise moment that the viewer realizes they are not just watching a movie; they’re watching a nightmare that has been brought to life by the man who we thought we trusted because of E.T (yeah, we know it was “directed” by Tobe Hooper but…was it? Was it really?).
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When you make a horror-cum-comedy film, you have to walk a pretty thin line. You don’t want to be overly scary, so as to overshadow the comedy and vice-versa. Very few films get this right. Shaun of the Dead and Cabin in the Woods are two prime examples of how to do it right. Stitches, a 2012 British film starring comedian Ross Noble is another example of how to do it right. While we subscribe to the idea that clowns just simply aren’t funny, Ross Noble’s performance as Stitches comes damn close. Whether it’s turning somebody’s intestines into a balloon animal or making sweet, sweet love to a woman while she yells out “f*ck me clown, f*ck me clown!” Stitches had us in stitches throughout the entire movie. But don’t let the humor fool you; Stitches is still damn creepy. There are some genuinely scary scenes in this movie, especially if you’re a coulrophobe.
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Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
Some would say that Killer Klowns From Outer Space is the one that started it all. Those people are correct. Killer Klowns were killer clowns before being a killer clown was cool. How’s that for alliteration? This film represents all that is good and right about 80’s schlocky B-movie goodness. It has everything you could ever want in a B-movie: outrageous effects, terrible acting and a self-awareness that we just don’t see enough of nowadays. The brothers Chiodo, who directed this film, made a piece of art that will forever be remembered in the same way that Rocky Horror Picture Show is. It’s a cult classic that reminds us of simpler, happier times.
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The Clown at Midnight (1999)
As previously alluded to, nobody likes a clown at midnight. Similarly, it seems as though nobody likes The Clown at Midnight, but that might just be because nobody has heard of it. This 1998 film starring Christopher Plummer and Tatyana Ali has pretty much gone unnoticed for the almost 20 years it has existed. It shouldn’t. While the acting isn’t top notch, other than Plummer and a surprisingly short turn from Margot Kidder, it’s still serviceable. Sarah Lassez plays a decent lead heroine as Kate, the daughter of an opera singer who was murdered on the closing night of Paggliaci, by the star-crossed lover who played the titular character. Kate returns to the scene of the crime years later, as her acting class is restoring the old theater. It is at this theater that Kate comes face to face with her demons, both emotionally and in the greasepaint-applied flesh. You’ll see “the twist” coming from a mile away, but there are some legit jump scares and it really is one of the best creepy clown movies around. It’s just a shame that more people haven’t heard of it.
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The newest addition to the “Killer Clown” genre is a spin-off from 2013’s ‘All Hallow’s Eve.’ It focuses on a mute clown stalking a bunch of random girls, to various degrees of creepiness. The best part of Terrifier is that the clown seemingly has no motive, which makes that that much more, forgive us here, terrifying. He shows up, kills some people, and then is defeated (unless he wasn’t), It’s reminiscent of a little independent film from the 70’s called Halloween. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. The titular clown in Terrifier, Art the Clown, is one of the creepiest clowns of all time, too. The actor behind the greasepaint does a phenomenal job using his body language and his mannerisms to convey just how scary he is. If this movie was any indication, we haven’t seen the last of Terrifier.
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The standard-bearer for the creepy clown genre, IT is an island unto itself. As a made-for-TV movie derived from the Stephen King-penned book of the same name, IT is what most people cite as the cause of their coulrophobia. I know it’s the reason for mine.
IT tells the story of 7 children who come together to fight a monster that is older than time itself. IT’s been here since the beginning, feeding off our fears, and it is up to these 7 kids, dubbed “The Losers Club,” to stop IT. They do, or so they thought. But 30 years later IT comes back and now The Losers must come together again to stop IT once and for all. As the old adage goes, “the book is much better than the movie,” but despite a rather lackluster ending, this film still holds up as the blueprint for how to make a scary clown movie. The cast, for the most part, is excellent, including the likes of Richard Thomas, John Ritter, and Seth Green. The real star of the show, however, is Tim Curry, who played Pennywise The Dancing Clown. You can see the immense joy Curry brought to this role. Frank’N’Furter on steroids and dipped in greasepaint, Pennywise is truly the stuff that nightmares are made of.
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IT shouldn’t have worked. It wasn’t supposed to. When the updated version of IT was first announced, it was met with a ‘meh.’ Then, the trailer dropped, got a bazillion views on YouTube and, suddenly, people cared about a clown. The 2017 version of IT (we’re not calling it a remake) blew up the box office and in a matter of moments, horror movies were cool again and Pennywise The Dancing Clown was turning a whole new generation of theater-goers into coulrophobes. Speaking of, remember how everyone was worried about Heath Ledger filling Jack Nicholson’s shoes in The Dark Knight, but Ledger just got a new pair of shoes instead and made the part of The Joker his own? That’s exactly what Bill Skaarsgard did with Pennywise. He wasn’t trying to compete with Tim Curry and he wasn’t trying to fill his proverbial ‘Clown Shoes.’ He just created his own version of Pennywise and completely lost himself in the funhouse, providing a unique take on Mr. Bob Gray.
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Clownhouse is the creepiest clown movie of all time. There are multiple reasons for this. Maybe it’s the Halloween-time setting. Maybe it’s Sam Rockwell’s haircut. Maybe it’s the fact that director Victor Salva molested his underage male star and knowing that makes you want to scrub yourself clean. The story is a simple one. Three men escape from an insane asylum, dress up like clowns, and stalk three brothers in a big house. It’s an easy story to tell because it’s one that could conceivably happen in real life. There are no aliens, no zombies, no dolls. It’s just three crazy guys that dress up like clowns and want to kill kids. Victor Salva is a pedophile and a monster in his own right, but if should you choose to watch, Clownhouse is an unsettling film.
Clownhouse is available in its entirety on YouTube but be forewarned; this is not a movie to watch by yourself. You never know who might be lurking outside, just waiting for you to turn out the lights.
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