17 Scary-Clown Movies That'll Give You Nightmares for Days
The clown profession is all about bringing some much-needed joy to the world, but we’d be remiss not to point out all the terrifying clowns in classic horror movies. After all, how could those red noses and devilish grins not warrant some suspicion?
Freaky-clown cinema includes blockbuster classics like Stephen King’s “It,” which has been adapted twice for the screen – once in 1990 and again in 2017. Both versions feature the horrifying exploits of Pennywise, a demonic clown entity who’ll make you forever averse to storm drains and red balloons. On the other end of the spectrum, the genre is filled with low-budget cult favorites – think “All Hallows’ Eve,” which inspired the Terrifier slasher cinematic universe featuring Art the Clown.
While the creepy-clown character isn’t as prevalent in horror films as are ghosts and demons, it’s a well-established, varied genre. You’ll come across a wide range of clowns who, at times, reveal truths about the human condition. Clowns like Arthur Fleck from “Joker” have more complicated motives grounded in social dysfunction, while others, like Pennywise, are simply manifestations of evil. Clearly, most movie clowns aren’t just there to clown around.
Ahead, take a look at the scariest clown movies the horror genre has to offer. Get ready for some seriously maniacal makeup and high-pitched laughter. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Before Bill Skarsgård took the reins as Pennywise, there was Tim Curry’s take on the terrifying dancing clown in 1990. While technically a miniseries, the project only consists of two episodes with a total running time of 192 minutes. Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, the story is similar to the “It” remakes but takes a few more creative liberties. The film opens with Georgie falling prey to Pennywise’s horrifying schemes one rainy day in Derry. Although the film’s slot on network TV came with content restrictions, the production team got creative with the scares and didn’t steer away from heavy topics such as childhood trauma and racism.
Scary clowns were under the radar for a while – until Andrés Muschietti’s 2017 film reintroduced Stephen King’s Pennywise (and, consequently, killer clowns) to general audiences. With upswept red hair and an unsettling grin, Bill Skarsgård follows Tim Curry’s infamous footsteps as the shape-shifting evil clown. Both a coming-of-age tale and a psychological horror story, the movie follows seven young outcasts as they piece together clues about Pennywise one summer in Derry, ME. It centres on Bill (Jaeden Martell), whose brother, Georgie, is viciously killed by the deranged clown. That said, it’s not only Bill’s circus. Viewers get to see how each child’s individual fear manifests, as the group bands together to confront Pennywise.
"It Chapter Two"
While the first installation of the “It” remake takes place in the late ’80s, “It Chapter Two” is set in 2016, flash-forwarding 27 years after the first film. This time, the members of the Losers Club are all grown up, and they return to Derry after Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) tells everyone that Pennywise is terrorizing the town again. Instead of the young cast members (who are still seen in flashbacks), the film features stars such as Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain, and James McAvoy as the adult versions of the children from the first movie. Ruthless killings, creepy rituals, and horrifying manifestations of deep-seated fears appear as the deranged clown returns once more.
In the creepy original “Poltergeist,” ghosts communicate with a California family through their television. Eventually, the youngest daughter, Carol Anne, gets transported into the spirit realm. As the title suggests, the 1982 movie directed by Tobe Hooper is more about spirits, but there’s a creepy cameo from a clown doll, which the ghosts use as a distraction to abduct the girl. If you’re looking for more clown terror, the 2015 remake of the film features a box of murderous clown dolls. The same abduction unfolds, and the daughter likewise gets transported into the spirit world. The clowns, however, play a more prominent role.
The Joker is perhaps the most famous clown in pop culture. Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the Joker hails from the famous DC character, but the Todd Phillips film has an undeniable element of psychological terror that makes the character less playful and more horrifying. Phoenix stars as Arthur Fleck, a failed clown and standup comedian who descends into madness while getting by in Gotham City. While clownish jump scares are sparse, murder and violence are prevalent throughout the movie. And with the Joker at the centre of this film, be prepared for plenty of unnerving clownery.
"Killer Klowns From Outer Space"
In the mood for a weird cult classic? Consider “Killer Klowns From Outer Space.” As the title suggests, this notorious 1988 film is about a group of killer clowns who terrorize a small, quiet town after they crash land from outer space. That’s right – these bloodthirsty aliens resemble literal circus clowns. Two teens try to warn the town’s adults about the clowns’ plan to abduct people, but they’re forced to take matters into their own hands when nobody listens to them. Despite the ’80s campiness, the clowns are pretty freaky, with their wrinkly faces and fanged chompers.
"Wrinkles the Clown"
Yes, scary clowns do exist in real life! “Wrinkles the Clown” is a documentary about an actual clown from Naples, FL, who would scare children for a few hundred dollars. Parents started enlisting Wrinkles the Clown to creep out their children after a video of him went viral. Akin to Bloody Mary, he became the stuff of legend as stickers of his face started popping up all over Florida. Wrinkles agreed to be documented by the crew, and it turns out he was just an elderly man living in his van in the woods outside of Naples.
Consisting of six flicks in total, the cult Killjoy franchise certainly made its mark on the freaky monster-clown genre. In the first movie, a young man named Michael avenges his brutal murder by summoning a demonic clown called Killjoy. Unsurprisingly, Killjoy and his antics are much more than Michael – or rather, Michael’s spirit – can juggle. From vaporising characters to repelling bullets, Killjoy could give Pennywise a run for his money. Despite receiving divided reviews among critics, Craig Ross Jr.’s campy film and its subsequent sequels are worth watching if you enjoy digging into low-budget horror flicks.
In “The Premonition,” a clinically insane pianist named Andrea (Ellen Barber) is released from an institution. She asks her boyfriend, Jude (Richard Lynch), a professional clown, to track down her biological daughter Janie so they can be the perfect family together. After a fight with Andrea, Janie’s adoptive mother Sheri (Sharon Ferrell) starts having paranormal visions – premonitions, if you will – about Janie being kidnapped, possibly as a result of a supernatural connection between her, her daughter, and Andrea. As the film progresses, Jude proves to be an increasingly menacing presence.
"Carnival of Souls" (1998)
This 1998 movie is a remake of the famous 1962 film of the same name, but it bears little resemblance to the original – and there’s a lot more clown terror that goes on. “Carnival of Souls” starts with a girl named Alex (Bobbie Phillips) witnessing Louis Seagram (Larry Miller), a professional clown, assaulting and murdering her mother at a carnival. 27 years later, both Alex and Seagram cross paths once more. In a twisted turn of events, a dangerous game of cat and mouse takes place as Seagram hunts down Alex at the same carnival where he brutally took her mother’s life.
Clive Saunders’s “Gacy” is technically a biopic that follows the titular, real-life serial killer John Wayne Gacy. While he committed heinous crimes, Gacy fronted a reputation as a wholesome family man and business owner – he even entertained kids as a local clown. Portrayed by Mark Holton in the movie, Gacy hid an insidious pastime of killing young men, whose bodies he hid in the crawl spaces underneath his house. The crime horror film shows us Gacy’s troubled family history as well as the investigation authorities built around his twisted case.
Set in 1976 on Halloween night, “31” follows five carnival employees who are abducted by a group of maniacal clowns called The Heads, who consist of Sick-Head, Psycho-Head, Schizo-Head, Death-Head, and Sex-Head. The clowns force the hapless workers to play a survival game called 31, in which they’re trapped inside a dangerous maze for 12 hours while being chased by the clowns. If captured, the players are subject to murder and torture. A gruesome slasher story unfolds as the workers fight for their lives in this sick and twisted game. If you love survival horror, give “31” a watch to see who makes it out alive.
"The Clown Murders"
Released in 1976, Martin Burke’s “The Clown Murders” is one of the late John Candy’s earliest onscreen performances. On Halloween night, four young friends dress up as clowns and kidnap a businessman’s wife to prevent him from closing a real-estate deal on a farm. The abduction is meant to be a practical joke, but the scheme – to keep her until morning – takes a deadly turn. It turns out another figure, also dressed in a clown costume, is actually stalking the group – and not for laughs, either. With murder on their mind, this killer clown is ready to pick each member off one by one.
In “Drive-Thru,” Hella Burger’s mascot, Horny the Clown (yes, that’s really his name), goes around wreaking havoc on youngsters with a meat cleaver. There’s a bit of a “Gossip Girl” reunion here, with both Leighton Meister and Penn Badgley starring in this horror flick. At the centre is Meester’s character, Mackenzie, who discovers brutal killings in her developed photos and suddenly finds herself targeted by the sinister clown. The clown starts to murder her friends one by one, but no one seems to believe Mackenzie’s pleas for help. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say that the clown has unfinished business with some of those closest to the teenage girl.
Like “Joker,” “Spawn” is a comic-based movie with a sinister clown in the lead. However, it leans more into fantasy elements. The titular character, a former assassin, (Michael Jai White), strikes a deal with the Devil to become a servant of Hell in order to return to Earth and reunite with his fiancée. Working for the Underworld, he’s ordered by a clown-like demon, the Violator (John Leguizamo), to kill his former boss. Leguizamo really committed to his role as the sinister clown, even resorting to eating live maggots while shooting the movie.
"He Who Gets Slapped"
The 1924 silent psychological thriller film “He Who Gets Slapped” arguably kicked off the scary-clown movie genre. In the film, a scientist named Paul (Lon Chaney) gets one of his ideas stolen by his patron (Marc McDermott). Paul ends up working as a clown who calls himself “He Who Gets Slapped,” with his dark schtick involving other clowns slapping him (which is what the patron did when he stole Paul’s idea). Eventually, Paul and the patron fall for the same woman, Consuelo (Norma Shearer), and Paul will do whatever it takes to stop the patron from making a move.
"The Devil's Rejects"
In Rob Zombie’s “House of 1000 Corpses,” Sid Haig stars as Captain Spaulding, a killer clown who owns a gas station and a horror museum space. But Haig’s character doesn’t really take off until the sequel, “The Devil’s Rejects,” which takes place seven months after the first movie. In this second film, Spaulding takes on a more prominent role as he and the homicidal Firefly family hit the road in an attempt to evade capture. Texas sheriff John Quincey Wydell and his brigade of state troopers are set on capturing members of the Firefly family, who have been found responsible for 75 murders and disappearances.