The scares are coming fast and furious on streaming networks and with zombies, vampires, werewolves and possessed kids. Is there anything else that can really give us a fright? Yep, clowns. You know, those guys with oversized shoes, bulbous red noses and multi-colored hair?
Clowns might not always be the center of attention, but whenever a clown shows up in a horror show they are nothing to laugh at. If anything, they are the epitome of evil as proven by so many clown sightings seen on the news. For your uncomfortable viewing displeasure may I present ten fine examples of unfunny madness that will provide hours of insomnia with the promise of one of these bright-colored creatures hiding under your bed with a horn and a hacksaw.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space
As far as I’m concerned, this is the grandfather of all demented clown movies. It’s goofy, weird, creepy, and very creative. The Chiodo Brothers came up with some of the best makeup effects for the frightful funny men and delivered a story that harkens back to ’50s sci-fi creature features. The production design (for a low budget) is very impressive, and the acting (although bad at times) does somehow fit with all the outrageous antics. This is a great Halloween party film.
American Horror Story: Freak Show
Yes, it’s TV, and the show is a mixed bag of thrills that sometimes does not always deliver. but the introduction of Twisty the Clown has to go down as one of the most macabre mad men ever to set a giant floppy shoe on the big or small screen. Twisty’s design is the stuff nightmares are made of, and every time he makes an appearance the fright factor shoots up tenfold. The show had its share of freaks, but nothing less human and fearsome as the loathsome Twisty the clown from hell.
Stephen King’s It
Once again, another small scream example, but what sets this one apart from all the rest is Stephen King’s legendary Pennywise, played with ghoulish glee by none other than Tim Curry. In fact, Mr. Curry elevates the production as a whole, which does not hold up as you would hope. For me, he comes a very close second to Twisty from AHSfor sheer terror. Twisty’s makeup effects are far superior, but it was also produced years later that It. But Curry delivers more personality to his role, which will probably remain legendary even after the new feature is released with the young Bill Skarsgard (Hemlock Grove) as the new Pennywise.
House of 1000 Corpses
The clown everyone loves to hate, the fried chicken lovin’ redneck peckerwood, Captain Spaulding. Rob Zombie’s first film is a mixed bag of ghoulish delights that harkens back to the ’70s grindhouse movies and owes much gratitude to Tobe Hooper’s, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Sid Haig plays the titular villain with a grim and grimy comical edge that catches us off guard. With 143 credits to his name, Haig’s portrayal of Spaulding puts him on the short list of infamy alongside Freddy, Jason, Michael and Chucky.
Mind you, the clown is not even human or a main character, but that damn doll has scarred many a child thanks to nice guy, Steven Spielberg. Sure, the credits state Tobe Hooper as director, but way too many people know otherwise. The proof is in the production as a whole when you check out all of Hooper’s other productions (TCM, Eaten Alive, The Funhouse). That damn doll had to be one of the creepiest toys ever to sit on a shelf, and later to only find that dreadful thing under the bed is enough to keep anyone awake all night with the lights on.
It’s the briefest of appearances, but what an impression – the only thing worse than a zombie is a clown. Worse than that, having one greet you in a bathroom stall! God, the sight of it still haunts me.
Okay, so this one is mistaken along with the rest of the ravagers as a zombie. But neither these people or Tony Rago’s “The Clown” are brain dead. In fact, they don’t discriminate, they’ll eat anyone, even their own. Just when you think some of the antics in Alex Drummond’s Killer Party are getting creepy, in walks “The Clown”. At first, he is creepy and annoying, and that’s just his makeup! Rago relishes getting under our skin playing off his clown persona to the hilt all for killer laughs and his own amusement, which in itself is chilling.
The Houses October Built
This unsettling first-person film follows the exploits of guerilla-style filmmakers out to find the ultimate Halloween haunted attraction. Sometimes all it takes is somebody just standing there like Michael Meyers in Halloween or the wife standing over her husband rocking back-and-forth in Paranormal Activity. Just the sightings in this film are enough to have one jump. It’s an eerie affair that makes you want to keep the lights on, turn down that funhouse music, and grab something to protect yourself.
Here is a ghastly little tidbit of tomfoolery. This movie is all kinds of wrong. Director Jon Watts (Cop Car, Spider-Man: Homecoming) surprises us with what clowns are really about…eating children! The tale of a father putting on a clown costume in order to save his kid’s birthday only to discover the costume is cursed sounds like it’s straight out of the mind of Stephen King. Believe me, it provides all the nastiness that one can come up with. An interesting thing, director Watts does not indulge in graphic possibilities. A lot of the violence is off-screen, letting this macabre story develop into something really cringe-worthy. The real cool part is Watts pays homage to the suffering of Larry Talbot (The Wolf Man). There is no clowning around with this one.
The Last Circus
If Killer Klowns (as mentioned first) is the grandfather of all demented clown movies, then The Last Circus is a very close runner-up. Where KK may beat it in sheer quantity of clownies and their design, TLC far exceeds that film in quality. The wunderkind writer/director of Spain, Alex de la Iglesia provides us with his most ambitious film involving the love triangle between a stunning trapeze artist and the two circus clowns she is torn between. Her lust for the happy clown clouds his abuse to her, and the woman’s surprising affection for the sad clown has her questioning her judgment.
But this is far more than a demented love story. The setting spans Spain from the Spanish Civil War to 1973 and how the times affect the country, and one victim, in particular, our sad clown. The film is a beautifully shot tragic parable that has influences aplenty including Fellini (Satyricon), Ken Russell (The Devils, Altered States), Hitchcock (North By Northwest), Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo, Holy Mountain) and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Black Narcissus.
The writer/director introduces us to a circus troupe that is forced to fight with the Republican Militia. One of the clowns is eventually captured after their loss, and echoes the word to his son that can turn a sad clown into a happy clown, “revenge.” This word eventually becomes the impetus that drives our sad clown insane. With its powerful visuals, hard-driving musical score, and downright threatening clowns, this is a powerhouse of a clown movie. Just one of my favorite lines sums it all up: A clown with a machete. You’ll scare the shit out of them. This is clowning on a grand scale with the horrors of war, love, and insanity.
A special mention to the 1997 film, Spawn with its attention to detail to John Leguizamo’s Clown/Violator. The make-up effects are great along with Leguizamo’s performance, which other than Spawn’s cape may be the best part of the movie. The actor is both repulsive, funny, and frightful. We can only hope a reboot is imminent, and that Clown is spawned again.
Visit Ray’s blog at themonsterinmyhead.com
This article was originally published in 2016.