The Clowns Go Marching – Ten Killer Clown Movies To Juggle Into Your Viewing Schedule

Years before the ‘Killer Clown‘ moral panic from Fall 2016 and Twisty the Clown from Season 4 of American Horror Story, author Stephen King popularized the ‘evil clown’ in mainstream circles with Pennywise from his novel, It. Of course the idea of killer clowns has a long history going back as far as the Italian opera, Pagliacci. Real-life serial killer John Wayne Gacy infamously performed at children’s birthdays dressed as a clown. There’s even an official term for fear of clowns – coulrophobia. Apparently, quite a few people are terrified of the red-buttoned nose mirth-makers. From Pennywise to Killer Klowns From Outer Space to Art the Clown, there’s several good examples of ‘killer clowns’ in the horror genre. Below are 10 of the more noteworthy – and, in some cases, obscure – examples of Killer Clown movies.

Poltergeist (1982)

Okay, Poltergeist – the 80s haunted house classic – isn’t about killer clowns. In fact, the toy clown only makes a couple of brief appearances amongst a whole lot of paranormal phenomenon. But what a couple of scenes. If you grew up in the 1980s, that scene may be the reason you’re scared of clowns in the first place. Early in Poltergeist, director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) teases the audience, using the clown as a distraction. Once the finale ramps up, however, Hooper draws out the suspense to uncomfortable levels before delivering one of the best jump scares in horror. Like the rest of the movie, the scene works because it plays on common fears and anxieties.

Blood Harvest (1987)

Anyone who’s not a Baby Boomer likely won’t recognize singer Tiny Tim. Regardless the man who sang ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’ wasn’t the obvious choice for this obscure 1987 slasher movie. Blood Harvest finds college student Jill Robinson returning to her hometown to find her family home vandalized, her parents missing, and most of the residents pretty angry at her father whose bank has been foreclosing on local farms. But an old boyfriend is happy to see her -and so is his odd brother, Marvelous Mervo the Clown. To say Blood Harvest is a weird movie would be an understatement. Nasty, cheaplooking, and poor acted, this oddity likely will appeal to only the most diehard slasher fans.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

Somehow this little B-movie homage has grew its audiences since its original release. Clearly, Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the sci-fi/horror classics from the 1950’s. And it’s very tongue-in-cheek. Just the premise itself riffs on some of the era’s more silly concepts, like The Blob, that took themselves much more seriously. Yet In spite of its topsy-turvy premise, the Chiodo Brothers clearly have an affection for these old B-movies. In addition to following the same basic plot structure, Killer Klowns from Outer Space revels in old-fashioned, low-budget inventiveness. Convincing? Not really. Convincingly fun. Absolutely. Grotesque, cartoonish “Klowns” liquify townsfolk and slurp them up through straws. In one scene, a clown captures several people with a shadow puppet. It’s almost impossible not to admire the sheer out-of-control creativity behind Killer Klowns from Outer Space.

House of 1000 Corpses (2003), The Devil Rejects (2006), and 3 From Hell (2019)

Take your pick of Rob Zombie’s Firefly Trilogy for your favourite Captain Spaulding appearance. Veteran character actor, the late Sid Haig, brought the psychopathic clown to life in Zombie’s debut effort, House of 1000 Corpses. Though it’s more a supporting role, Haig made the maniacal clown memorable. And The Devil’s Rejects saw Captain Spaulding take on a much larger role. And it’s the sequel that earned Zombie some of the best critical praise he’s received as a filmmaker. Sadly, Haig’s health was in decline during the making of 3 From Hell, which resulted in a reduced role. Not surprisingly, 3 From Hell is weakest entry of the trilogy. But Haig’s Captain Spaulding remains one of the most disturbing horror villains.

Stitches (2012)

In this mix of comedy and slasher, a birthday clown rises from the dead to seek revenge on the obnoxious kids (now teens) who caused his death. In spite of its low budget, Stitches is a neo-slasher that understands what made “Golden Era’ slashers from the 80s work so well. Not all the humor hits the mark. Nonetheless, director Conor McMahon stages a few fun – and pretty gory – death scenes. In fact, Stitches may fall short of a certain other killer clown movie on this list, but it’s certainly not light on the yucky, practical gore effects. This is a surprisingly fun slasher that should find cult status someday.

Clown (2014)

Don’t confuse Clown with Stitches – this Eli Roth-produced indie horror is not a horror-comedy. Before Kevin Feige tapped him to direct the MCU Spider-Man movies, Jon Watts directed this story of a father who wears an old clown suit for his son’s birthday only to discover it won’t come off. Something of an odd movie, Clown overcomes some its more derivative elements with a focus on gruesome body horror. No one’s going to mistake this one for a genre classic. But anyone who’s genuinely creeped out by clowns may feel their skin crawl. Like many decent indie horror movies, Clown benefits from its lower budget, which adds to the overall atmosphere.

31 (2016)

Here’s a movie that should have worked as an off-the-wall Grindhouse effort. Rob Zombie was coming off the underrated Lords of Salem. And the premise of carnival workers fighting off killer clowns in some twisted version of ‘The Hunger Games’ had cult classic written all over it. Yes, 31 has its moments here and there. Yet it falls so short of its potential. In addition to being a dark and ugly-looking movie, 31 is crammed with all of Zombie’s worst excesses. Its characters are uniformly foul-mouthed, unlikable hicks. Brutal and mean-spirited violence replace tension and scares. Jerky camera work and poor lighting lose much of the action. Richard Brake, as Doom-Head, is the lone bright spot. His psychopathic killer is equal parts charismatic and menacing.

Terrifier (2016) and Terrifier 2 (2022)

If it wasn’t for the recent sequel, Damien Leone’s Terrifier would be the most disturbing killer clown movie ever made. As it stands, Terrifier remains a grimy and disturbing slasher that pushes hard on the boundaries of good taste. No offence to Pennywise the Clown and It, but Art the Clown is the most terrifying ‘killer clown’ in horror. There’s not necessarily anything new with how Terrifier sets about its business. In fact, there’s really no story of which to mention. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, Terrifier is basically an extended cat-and-mouse game that’s soaked in a lot of blood. Yet Leone’s simple story works in large part due to its relentless scares, tension, and idiosyncratic atmosphere.

It (2017) and It Chapter Two (2019)

Though Tim Curry’s version of Pennywise remains a classic, the 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s It stands out as the superior movie. Director Andy Muschietti (Mama) completely nails King’s classic epic novel. In part, Muschietti benefits from a much larger budget and the big screen. But the 2017 version of It makes much better use of the novel excising some unnecessary scenes for a lean, scary movie. That opening scene is both heartbreaking and terrifying. All of the child actors are perfectly cast. Moreover, Bill Skarsgard makes Pennywise his own – both the character design and performance are creepy. Too bad Muschietti couldn’t catch lightning in a bottle twice. That is, It Chapter Two mostly disappointed despite an equally impressive cast.

Wrinkles the Clown (2019)

At the end of our list, Wrinkles the Clown may be the most interesting movie on this list. From director Michael Beach Nichols, Wrinkles the Clown is an experimental documentary following a Florida man who dresses as a clown and ‘rents’ himself out to families looking to scare their misbehaving kids. Following on the heels of the killer clown moral panic, Nichols certainly does some timely work. The documentary explores the history clowns as figures of horror, the role of viral social media, and even the clown panic itself. Though it’s maybe a bit long and unfocused, Wrinkles the Clown has creepy moments, offers an interesting twist, and raises some interesting questions.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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