Talk about clown characters on screen, and they’re almost always antagonists. It’s rare to see a clown character that’s not out to murder someone (Fizbo the Clown, Cam’s clowning alter-ego in Modern Family, comes to mind as one of the rare non-evil clowns) in film and television, and they’ve somehow been associated with fear even though they’re supposed to make us laugh.

Here are some of the most frightening clowns we’ve ever seen on screen. We bet you’re not going to sleep tight after you’ve seen how terrifying all these clowns can be.

 

1. Pennywise the Dancing Clown (from 1990’s It miniseries)

 

Played by Tim Curry, the first onscreen version of Pennywise had a nasty, throaty voice that signalled you to that something was not quite right about him. Then there was his hair, which exposed just a bit too much of his head. It looked like he was balding, and in turn, Pennywise had the appearance of a balding old man who was trying to appeal to younger children – which was uncomfortably paedophilic in nature.

Pennywise always appeared in the sewers, which again, was incongruous with where a clown should be. Clowns should be somewhere fun and safe, and when Pennywise emerged to devour Billy, our worst fears were realised.

 

2. Twisty the Clown (American Horror Story)

Twisty the Clown, like most clowns, had unusual and exaggerated physical qualities, which aren’t creepy in and of themselves. But the way they were exaggerated was what made him so horrifying. His teeth were prominently and disconcertingly enlarged – the way a predator bears its fangs at prey. And there are so many subtle (and obvious) clues that something is wrong.

His mask has been ripped off (as his victim points out in the scene above), and he’s all dirty and unkempt. His very first appearance signalled to us that this was a clown gone wrong, and as seen from how he goes after his victims, Twisty is a clown who’s gone very, very wrong.

 

3. Violator/the Clown (Spawn)

In a film like Spawn, you knew that there would be demonic creatures aplenty. So when we saw the Clown (who is actually the Violator, one of Spawn’s enemies) in his guise as a regular clown, we were just waiting for his eventual reveal. There were plenty of things that gave him away in his appearance as a normal red-haired clown – the way he cackled (he didn’t laugh or guffaw, he cackled), his lumbering gait (he looks like he’s chasing something), and his malicious grin (he’s not just smiling, you can tell he’s delighting in something).

Then he revealed his true form (okay, semi-true form) as a nasty blue-white clown demon, and we knew for sure that he was evil and terrifying.

 

4. Joker (The Dark Knight)

 

Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight has been lauded as one of the best onscreen portrayals of the Joker. Joker’s creepiness comes from his horrible makeup.

It’s not just that it’s intentionally badly applied. It’s the fact that it partially obscures his face and expressions, so we never really know how much of the Joker we can really see. You can’t see what his scars are actually like, and neither can you clearly see his eyebrows and eye movements that clearly – but you can see there’s some movement and you can tell when he’s smiling or pouting.

This mask is what makes many clowns scary, because it’s innately unnerving. It’s because of this concept known as the uncanny, which Freud explained as something that’s distorted but still recognisable, resulting it in becoming unsettling for us. In the Joker’s case, the uncanniness very, very apparent.

 

5. Pineapple the Clown/Pineoctopus (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers)

Even the very first season of Power Rangers had a scary clown. In the episode No Clowning Around, Rita Repulsa disguises her monster, the Pineoctopus, as a clown to lure the Power Rangers into a trap. It’s pretty obvious that he’s an evil clown, and his movements are similar to the large, exaggerated movements that Rita Repulsa’s monsters always have. Then there’s that hair and overacting which make it quite clear he’s insane.

Pineapple the Clown is arguably more scary than his true form as Pineoctopus.

 

6. Pennywise (2017’s It)

 

In 2017’s It, Pennywise is redesigned to make him even scarier. Thee lines around his eyes are emphasised, making them catlike and savage. His hair doesn’t look like it’s balding as much, but the sides are upturned, again evoking the idea of a predator (much like Wolverine’s hair does). And he’s always almost looking at you with a downturned face, like a carnivore stalking its prey.

The worst part? The spine-tingling giggle of his. Listen to it at 0:39.

It. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

It. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

How terrifying is the new Pennywise in It? Well, even the producers were terrified during Bill Skarsgard’s audition for the role of Pennywise, with Dan Lin (one of the producers) describing how “Bill came in and created this character that frankly freaked us out.” If even the makers of It were scared of Pennywise, how terrifying would he be in full costume?

You’ll have to catch It to find out.

Credits: Golden Village Cinemas