Just in time for the new adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘It,’ watch these 5 terrifying movies to test your resilience to scary clowns.
Sufferers of coulrophobia have a specific fear of clowns. And after the scary clown panic of 2016, the number of people affected by it may have risen. Clowns are meant to evoke amusement and laughter with their actions, but the painted face of a clown can do just the opposite — a smile can be maniacal, after all. My fear of clowns began during childhood. Once, I ran across a busy street to avoid a clown on stilts that was walking toward me — I’m not proud. At some point, though, you realize it’s time to get over a phobia, even if it means revisiting the trauma that caused it. In my case, movies with scary clowns.
I’ve narrowed down the top-five movies featuring scary clowns that could potentially give someone coulrophobia, just in time for the new adaptation of Stephen King’s novel It, the holy grail of scary clown stories, to hit theaters.
Fair warning: If you haven’t seen all of these, spoilers ahead!
Zombieland is one of the best horror-comedies ever made, and it just happens to have a terrifying clown; its inclusion only makes the zombie apocalypse more frightening. And the film’s antihero, Columbus, has coulrophobia — perfect! The big brute of a clown that Columbus must fight is devoid of any amusement. His eyes don’t have a spark of delight in them; they’re on the hunt for prey. Add in the bloody gouges on his face and the overabundant salivating he’s experiencing (who doesn’t want to see blood-tinged spit ooze from a zombie clown’s mouth?) plus a mean growl, and you’ve got one heck of a scary clown. Columbus does to the clown what all of us clown-phobics have dreamed of: bashes his head in. The squeak of his nose as the bones crush in his face lends a comedic effect to the grisly, satisfying affair.
If you have a puppet, you might already be capable of freaking people out with ventriloquist tricks. If the puppet resembles a clown, the fear factor doubles. In Saw, the sick-and-twisted Jigsaw uses his clown-faced puppet to torment his victims. It’s beyond effective. Saw is an incredibly scary movie, only multiplied by the use of Billy the puppet to deliver messages to victims that give them hope for survival. Because everyone trusts a clown, right? In a later installment of the franchise, audiences learned that Jigsaw planned Billy’s clownish look, as any decent serial killer would, in order to terrify his victims even more than a reverse bear trap around their neck ever could.
Saw 3D made audiences assume Billy died in an explosion. Then the Saw 8: Jigsaw (also Saw 8: Legacy) trailer debuted with him featured in quite a regal pose. Clearly, the fun’s not over yet.
3. He Who Gets Slapped
The legendary Lon Chaney played more than one clown during his career, but none as memorable as HE in the silent film He Who Gets Slapped. Scorned by his cheating wife, betrayed by his benefactor the Baron, and humiliated in front of colleagues, scientist Paul Beaumont runs off and joins a Parisian circus. Paul becomes HE, the clown who gets slapped. Years later the Baron comes to see him perform, and things take a dark turn.
Chaney’s HE is from the start a member of the scary clowns club. His smile and laugh exude lunacy. With a cruel stare and wide mischievous grin, HE unleashes a lion on the Baron. The promise of death to his nemesis makes him a joy-filled, crazed animal. He Who Gets Slapped is perfect psychodramatic horror, made possible because of Chaney’s spot-on pantomime and unwavering dedication to clownish insanity.
And if just HE wasn’t enough, the film features dozens of other clowns. It’s a perfect source for achieving coulrophobia.
When Steven Spielberg came up with the story for Poltergeist, you have to wonder if he knew the clown scene would become infamous (it actually caused my coulrophobia). From the beginning of Poltergeist, the grinning, creepiness-personified child-size clown doll taunts the family’s son Robbie but remains lifeless, until everyone thinks the worst has passed.
The clown in Poltergeist gets his unforgettable moment at the end of the film, as the true climax begins. It’s a clear use of a standard horror trope: you should never assume the worst has passed, because there’s always something more to come. For Robbie, it’s being attacked by a clown, and the setup couldn’t be more perfect. Noticing that the clown is not in his normal chair, a fearful Robbie pulls up his blanket to peek under the bed, only to reveal an empty space. As the camera pans up, the clown grabs Robbie from behind and a fight for his life ensues. Robbie comes out victorious against the possessed clown and exacts his vengeance by screaming, “I hate you,” while gutting the clown of its stuffing. Well done, Robbie.
Twenty-seven years ago, It premiered as a TV miniseries. Being on television, it had to go easy on the gore, but it’s the psychological effects that stay with you for years. Therefore, it’s still the most terrifying scary clown movie that has ever existed. From the opening scene, when Pennywise the Dancing Clown, played marvelously by Tim Curry, smiles at a young girl, only to change his expression to one that will provoke nightmares before killing her, It is consistently frightening. And when Pennywise looks up from the sewer grate asking for a hello, you quiver with fear.
Pennywise creates such a large amount of uneasiness because he looks like a birthday-party-friendly clown, has a gentle way of speaking and is funny, creating a juxtaposition with his evil murderous actions that effectively develop distress. And those teeth! Curry’s fear-inducing performance as Pennywise is regarded as one of the best ever in a horror movie, and rightfully so. One can only hope he still uses the laugh to scare away solicitors or overzealous fans.
The Second Coming of It Means a New Member of the Scary Clowns Club
Lucky us, there’s an R-rated It remake coming to the big screen September 8, 2017, titled It: Part 1 – The Losers’ Club. Stephen King wrote on Twitter after viewing an early cut of the film that it “succeeds beyond my expectations. Relax. Wait. And enjoy.” When the trailer dropped for the film, it broke YouTube records. The masses clearly want scary clowns in their lives. Clowns, though, aren’t very happy about the It remake. “Clowns are pissed at me,” King tweeted. “Sorry, most are great. BUT…kids have always been scared of clowns. Don’t kill the messengers for the message.” (Pennywise clearly influenced or added to that fear, King, and you know it.)
Watching movies with scary clowns is a perfect way to test your resilience to a phobia that can stay with you for life. Just don’t expect it to cure you — I’m still suffering. But I’m also going to see the It remake — who’s a sucker for punishment?
Do you have a favorite movie featuring scary clowns? Share it with us in the comments.