Whoever thought that a pale-faced near-human with oversized hands and feet, a bulbous red nose, and the unnerving habit of laughing incessantly equated to good times and hearty guffaws is as depraved as their own creations. Clowns have been terrifying children with their pratfalls and overall horrific appearance since ancient Egypt, leaving their mark in the form of innumerable piss-soaked togas, robes and pantaloons — and a socially crippling case of adulthood coulrophobia — throughout recorded history. Even today, the clowns’ reign of terror continues on through the new millennium, even though action has been taken to curtail their stranglehold on mankind. For example, the small victory that was the successful lobbying of Congress to have Kaboom cereal pulled from supermarket shelves and discontinued. Nevertheless, there are some unscrupulous individuals in the entertainment industry — or more appropriately traitors to our species — that exploit coulrophobia for financial gain.
Characters such as Pennywise from Stephen King’s It and the doll from Poltergeist are some of the most renowned and feared clowns of mainstream popular culture, but that isn’t to say that more underground cultures, namely those of the nerdy variety, are safe from these gussied-up beings of pure nightmare. The circus must be in town, because the seven most terrifying clowns of nerd-dom are breaking into your house to do god knows what!
7) Bingo, Aqua Teen Hunger Force
It’s unsettling to think that in an unexplored cosmos possibly inhabited by innumerable sentient lifeforms, one of them is a race of disembodied, techno-organic clown heads capable of turning other beings into said abomination via an ancient bacteria carried in a cheesy wig (of which is made completely out of animal hair and looks so real you couldn’t even tell). Bingo and his brothers in the Clown Society’s ultimate endgame with the bacteria was never elaborated upon — you weren’t expecting consistency and resolution in Aqua Teen Hunger Force, were you? — but it did raise awareness that clowns are vectors of disease, even if it was at the expense of the Aqua Teens’ neighbor and master ladies man, Carl. Symptoms include compulsive juggling, honking a horn to speak, and the appearance of a bow tie-shaped growth at the neck among other physical and behavioral abnormalities.
6) Proto Clown, The Tick
The ’90s were known for two things: Saturday morning cartoons that were pushing the envelope of innuendo and generally questionable content, and writers mining the film Jurassic Park for as many jokes and sight gags as feasibly possible. So it really does go without saying that the show to follow these trends was the underground-comic-turned-cartoon-series The Tick. And in keeping with the spirit of this daily list, one particular episode accomplished this centered around the topic of terrifying clowns. In “The Tick Vs. The Proto Clown,” the Tick and his fellow super heroes are hard-pressed to defeat the Proto Clown: a clownish satire of the Incredible Hulk that grows angrier when laughed at. But a clown with a temper that’s partial to whaling on people isn’t the scary part. That doesn’t occur until the Proto Clown’s creator, Dr. Bud Frontier, shows up.
In an unnerving flashback sequence, we learn that Dr. Frontier has an obsessive passion for clowns and believed that creating a giant-sized clown means giant-sized laughs — and would the perfect gift to the world. But what we also learn, to our collective dismay, is that clowns can be genetically engineered en masse and hatch from eggs velociraptor-style (all while the doctor has that look of a proud papa on his face). So while this no doubt scarred children (and some adults) for the rest of their lives, it also left them with the mental image of some clown in the back of a circus building a nest and laying eggs.
5) Krusty Doll, The Simpsons
If there’s anything worse than a diminutive toy with a bloodlust, it’s one that’s modeled to look like a certain clownish children’s entertainer of dubious moral fiber. Based on Talky Tina of The Twilight Zone fame — back when pop culture references on The Simpsons were smart and relevant to the situation at hand — Homer finds himself the target of a homicidal and sharp-toothed Krusty the Clown doll (kind of the price one pays for purchasing an otherwise run-of-he-mill toy from a store specializing in the purveyance of cursed and esoteric curios). To the writers’ credit, they flawlessly managed to combine mankind’s two greatest inherent fears in one character: the fear of clowns and being attacked by a malicious plaything from seemingly out of nowhere. One can only wonder how many young Simpsons fans at the time were putting cinderblocks and other items of considerable weight on top of their toy chests as a precautionary measure.
4) The Joker, Batman
There was once a wholesome time in the Joker’s colorful career when the “Clown Prince of Crime” more than lived up to his name; a jovial rascal that enjoyed pulling
the occasional boner and hiding a palpable mustache under a layer of white face makeup. But once DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series reshaped the entirety of their in-universe continuity, writers began to emphasis the Joker’s murderous psychosis, placed on a canvas of clownish whimsy that resulted in a nightmarish irony. In a span of few years — thanks to the contributions of writers such as Jim Starlin and Alan Moore — the Joker became a sidekick-killing lunatic that relished in his own cathartic insanity. And it’s the latter that makes him a real terror. His detachment from the rigors of society in addition to the fact he emphatically embraced it is nothing short of disturbing — and provides a plausible reason as to why clowns in the real world behave the way they do.
3) Clown/Violator, Spawn
It’s a common misconception of the general public that the Clown and Violator are two separate characters. But maybe if they actually picked up a comic book instead of denouncing the medium, they’d realize that the two are actually one and the same. That’s right, a demon takes the form of a schlubby clown (that sort of resembles Danny DeVito in Halloween makeup) when walking the earthly plane to mentor his Hellspawn charge, Spawn. And why not? Instead of masquerading as, say, a schoolboy or guy in a suit with slick-back hair — like other pedestrian demons tend to do — why not make it something that won’t arouse too much suspicion yet still manage to creep people out at the same time? In essence, the Clown/Violator is a matryoshka doll from Hell: open up the clown and a demon comes out. Still, there’s only one thing more frightening than the Clown/Violator and that’s John Leguizamo’s portrayal of the character in 1997’s unforgivable Spawn movie.
2) Clown Doctor, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
Next to clowns, the one thing that small children fear most is a doctor. In their eyes they’re demented, lying psychopaths with a PhD in stabbing people with syringes to make them “feel better.” So what’s the worst possible thing one can do? Combine the two into one mentally scarring amalgamation and pretty much throw it at an unsuspecting audience in the least likely of films: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Looking back, this was a real rotten trick to play on people. How were they, back then, even supposed to know that director Tim Burton (somewhat of an unknown at the time) has a penchant for creatively expressing his childhood fear of clowns in his work? We’re also pretty sure that the younger members of the audience weren’t even given enough time to recuperate from Large Marge before the clown doctor pulled down his surgical mask, revealing a horrendous rictus grin. Granted, this scene did teach kids a harshly valuable lesson: roving clown doctors — aside from street punks and junkies — will run off with your bike if you don’t chain it down properly.
1) Killer Klowns, Killer Klowns from Outer Space
We take back what we said about that alien race of techno-organic clown heads from Aqua Teen Hunger Force in the seventh entry of this list. Contracting a transformative clown disease beats getting hunted down and eaten by them any day of the week in our opinion. Hailed as a masterpiece of schlocky ’80s horror comedy films, Killer Klowns from Outer Space is what it is: an alien race that, by sheer coincidence, look and behave like clowns on a mission to feast on the human race. Not only making clowns scary, the film even turned a family outing to the circus into a frightening prospect. After seeing Killer Klowns, who wouldn’t be on edge at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey out of fear of being ensnared in a cotton candy cocoon, bludgeoned to death with colorful baseball bats, or taken away in their circus-tent-shaped spacecraft? But any warmongering alien races out there that plan on conquering Earth in the near future should take note! Why brandish high-tech weaponry and don fearsome body armor when clown noses and rainbow wigs can bring humanity to its knees even faster?