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Get a load of these 5 scariest movie clowns

By J. Scott Wilson, Staff writer
Published On: Sep 27 2011 11:03:59 AM CDT
Updated On: Oct 15 2013 09:53:54 AM CDT
evil scary clown

iStock/cipella

Who hasn't been scared by a clown at some point? For me, it was at age 4, when some well-meaning family friend took me to a parade in Fredonia, N.Y. As I sat on the curb noshing on popcorn, I was treated to a dose of pants-wetting terror by the grisly, grease-painted visage of a clown who had stopped to "entertain" me.

I love circus clowns, as long as I'm several rows back. Their acrobatics and antics are hilarious, from a safe distance. No front-row seats for me, thanks.

Savvy horror movie makers have known for years that evil clowns make for boffo viewership. Put an ax in the hand of a guy with an Emmett Kelley makeup job and you're guaranteed to fill seats.

In this article, we'll look at five of the most bloodthirsty, terrifying and nightmare-inducing clowns in movie history. Coulrophobics, advance at your own risk!

Our first suspects aren't just any clowns: they're out of this world ...

Killer Klowns from Outer Space image

No. 5: Alien Klowns from "Killer Klowns From Outer Space"

"Killer Klowns From Outer Space" is nobody's idea of great cinema. The special effects are laughable, the monsters painfully obvious and the heroes and victims of the tale so clueless that you find yourself believing they almost deserve their fates.

But those fates, my friends, are the stuff of many sleepless nights. Ever wondered what it might be like to be cocooned in cotton candy? What if that cotton candy slowly dissolved your flesh? How about a circus tent containing horrors beyond earthly ken?

The heroes of our tale mount their counterattack using an ice cream truck, which is one of the only vehicles scarier than a clown if you lived in the right neighborhood.

I can safely guarantee that you will never, ever laugh when you see someone get nailed in the face with a cream pie in quite the same way again after you've seen this movie.

Next up on our grease-paint smeared countdown? An inanimate clown that comes to life with real spirit ...

clown doll from movie Poltergeist

No. 4: Clown Doll from "Poltergeist"

Was there ever a scarier haunted house movie than "Poltergeist?" If you grew up in the '80s, the answer is very likely a head-under-the-covers "No."

Face it, this is movie that gave an entire generation sleepless nights.

You just have to wonder how many parents threw out their kids' clown dolls after watching the scenes in which the creepy movie doll, possessed by the house's evil spirits, tries to feed Carol Ann and her brother to the boogeymen.

Steven Spielberg needs to get back to horror. In case you forgot, he's the guy who wrote "Poltergeist," turning his soft, fuzzy understanding of family dynamics into a harrowing trip the dark side. In this twisted world, that thing under the bed just might wear a clown suit and be trying to drag you to hell.

Our next clown may be less familiar, but far more bloody ...

Captain Spaulding from The Devil's Rejects

No. 3: Captain Spaulding

You kind of have to wonder what studio head in his or her right mind would finance a movie made by someone named Rob Zombie. Some of you might even watch his two tours de force, "House of 1000 Corpses" and "The Devil's Rejects," and still wonder.

But Captain Spaulding, evil clown and patriarch of the Firefly family, whose twisted, perverted, homicidal denizens populate both movies, is worth the DVD rental fee by himself. He's an evil clown who gets stabby when people disrespect clowns, giving him a bizarre "defender of the faith" vibe that somehow makes him even creepier.

"House of 1000 Corpses" is really the good captain's best show, with his Museum of Monsters and Madness tourist attraction proving the drawing card for a pack of victims, er, tourists whose readiness for slaughter is exceeded only by their ability to scream for what sounds like minutes on end without pausing for breath.

It's not great filmmaking by any stretch, but Captain Spaulding is a great evil clown.

But even Spaulding pales in comparison to our penultimate jester ...

Jack Nicholson as The Joker in Batman

No. 2: The Joker

I really argued with myself about putting Patch Adams on this list. Anyone who's seen Robin Williams inhabit that character knows its soul-destroying power.

But I had to go with The Joker. Whether you prefer the "Jack Nicholson as The Joker" version or Heath Ledger's immersive performance in "The Dark Knight," Batman's greatest nemesis sets the standard for supervillains with panache.

The Joker, as played by Ledger, pulls off the brilliant trick of sucking us into the old saw about clowns having a tortured childhood only to mock it and spin different versions of it, making us wonder if he's "so serious" at all or simply delivering another killing joke.

But it's Nicholson's Joker who inhabits the evil clown mantle best, with his snazzy purple duds and Jack's manic, 1,000-watt personality shining through the clown makeup. You can easily see that you'd be laughing right until he jammed the stiletto painted like a candy cane through your throat.

But, The Joker doesn't float ...

Pennywise the clown from It

No. 1: Pennywise from Stephen King's "It"

For those who read Stephen King's "It," a novel that seemed giant at the time but which pales compared to his more recent doorstop-sized works, Pennywise the Clown was a metaphysical evil, linked to another dimension and somehow ephemeral and solidly menacing at the same time.

Scary enough, right?

Then came Tim Curry, cast as Pennywise in the miniseries (hey, it's LIKE a movie) version of the book, and all bets were off.

Those of us who only knew him as Dr. Frankenfurter of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" fame were treated to a whole new side, where Frank's sly come-ons gained a razor's edge, beckoning children to come down to the sewer, saying "We all float down here."

I haven't been able to walk by a storm sewer opening since then without simultaneously looking down and stepping sideways, and just the sight of a kid playing with a paper boat in flood water can make me catatonic with fear. Pennywise is the baddest of the bad.

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