Terrifying clown movies you never knew existed

In Stephen King's It, the demonic clown Pennywise has always been a presence in the town of Derry, terrorizing its children for as long as humans have lived in the area. This year, a new version of It is coming to the big screen, featuring Bill Skarsgård as the immortal evil being, a role previously associated with legendary actor Tim Curry, who played the part in the 1990 TV miniseries.

But just as Pennywise has many faces, the terrifying monster clown is too big an idea for just one franchise, and creepy clowns have appeared in a wide variety of movies over the years. Sometimes, it's just a human killer in makeup; sometimes, like in It, it's a demonic force. Some of the clowns are even aliens. And in some movies, you might find yourself rooting for the clown as he pursues people who deserve his wrath.

So without further ado, here are some more movies featuring deadly clowns you might not have met—and who may haunt your nightmares once you do.

Clown

Kent's just a regular guy, but when his son's birthday party is almost ruined after the clown cancels, Kent puts on an old suit and plays the role himself. Unfortunately, the suit is cursed; not only can he not take it off, but he starts transforming into a demonic clown with an insatiable need to eat the flesh of children. As the clown takes over, all traces of Kent disappear and he becomes a truly terrifying creature, complete with white skin, red nose, and multi-colored hair.

Brought to you by future Spider-Man: Homecoming director Jon Watts, Clown was shot in 2012, but it took until 2016 to find distribution in the U.S. It's a genuinely disturbing film, featuring one of the most terrifyingly inhuman clowns ever to appear onscreen.

Stitches

Stitches wasn't a very good clown to begin with, but his career—and his life—ended when some kids tied his shoelaces together and he fell onto an upturned knife and died. Six years later, those kids are teenagers having a party in the same house, and Stitches rises again to take his revenge. He has the same bad attitude he always did, but now he's a lot more murderous.

An Irish production directed by Conor McMahon, Stitches was released in 2012. The part of the sarcastic undead clown was played by successful UK comedian Ross Noble.

All Hallows' Eve

Art the Clown is a force for chaos and evil, his human origin (if he has one) unknown. In one segment of the anthology All Hallows' Eve, he's a literal agent of Satan. In another, he's just an image that looms over an assault by aliens. And in the third, he's a mysterious killer obsessed with dismembering his victims. He also appears in the framing sequence of the movie, in which a babysitter working on Halloween finds a videotape of Art's ghoulish deeds in a kid's Trick or Treat bag.

All Hallows' Eve director Damien Leone created Art years before the movie's 2013 release; the monstrous clown, as played by Mike Gianelli, appeared in Leone's short films Terrifier and The 9th Circle, both of which he then incorporated into All Hallow's Eve, with the addition of a third short segment and a framing sequence. Art the Clown is set to return in Leone's next film, a feature-length version of Terrifier.

Amusement

Before he became the masked clown known only as the Laugh, this movie's main character was a psychologically unbalanced child who faced bullying at the hands of three girls who made fun of him. Now that they're all grown, he's dressed as a clown to hunt them down and take revenge. Amusement, a 2008 film directed by John Simpson, is split into sections focusing on each of the girls attempting to escape from the Laugh's violent wrath. Only at the end of the film does their childhood connection come to light. Keir O'Donnell's face is hidden, but it's his actual laugh that runs through the film as an unmistakable presence.

Prank

Prank, an indie film from 2013, comes at the murderous clown idea from a very different direction. In this one, it's the protagonists who dress up like clowns to take revenge on their bullies from high school. As the title implies, it was only ever supposed to be a prank, but when a bully dies, things rapidly spiral out of control. Facing a killer clown is one thing, but how would it feel to have to face the fact that you've inadvertently become one yourself? Director Yiuwing Lam forces the viewer to put themselves in the blood-soaked clown shoes.

Clownhouse

Cheezo, Bippo, and Dippo are just regular clowns—albeit ones who are murdered by three escaped mental patients, who then don their costumes and makeup. The trio of murderous counterfeit clowns follow three young brothers home from the circus and stalk them while they're alone in their isolated house. One of the brothers even calls the cops, but "the clowns from the circus are coming to get me!" doesn't sound very believable. It's basically the perfect setup for a low-budget 1989 horror movie: three killer clowns versus three teenage brothers in one big empty house. Hence, Clownhouse.

Unfortunately, the real-life circumstances of Clownhouse's production turned out to be far more disturbing than its story. Director Victor Salva was convicted of sexually abusing the actor who played the youngest brother, which took place while the movie was shooting, and the story resurfaced when Salva, after a brief prison stay, was hired by Disney to direct Powder in 1995. Anyone who knows the story is understandably going to find Clownhouse hard to watch. There are much worse things in the real world, it turns out, than psycho clowns.

Blood Harvest

Mervo the Marvelous is unique among the clowns on this list—he's not necessarily the killer in Blood Harvest, he's just hanging around, being incredibly creepy, in the town where the killings are happening. (He's also played by Tiny Tim, the falsetto-singing ukulele player best known for performing "Tiptoe Through the Tulips.") Mervo is the older brother of the ex-boyfriend of Jill, the film's protagonist. When everyone she cares about starts dying, Mervo is only one of the possible suspects, although when people are mysteriously dropping dead, being the town eccentric who always wears clown facepaint is not a great look.

Director Bill Rebane approached Tiny Tim about appearing in a horror film after seeing him perform live. Blood Harvest turned out to be more of a footnote than a bright spot in the strange performer's unusual career, but it's certainly weird enough to be worth a look for enthusiasts of the clown horror subgenre.

Vulgar

Vulgar the Clown is probably best remembered as an animated mascot who appeared in the original logo for View Askew Productions, writer-director Kevin Smith's production company. When the lingerie-clad clown eventually got his own film in 2000, it turned out to be a truly dark and twisted affair. When Vulgar decides to commit murder, it's for very sympathetic reasons, as he's planning revenge on the men who sexually assaulted him and are now extorting him. The real question, as the film reaches its climax, is whether Vulgar is ready to let himself because a truly murderous clown, or whether he can hold on to his humanity despite his trauma.

Vulgar was produced by Kevin Smith, directed by Bryan Johnson, and stars Brian O'Halloran, best known as Dante from Clerks, in the title role. It's a very dark blip in the early history of View Askew, which otherwise specialized in stoner comedies until Smith started exploring the horror genre himself with 2011's Red State.

The Clown at Midnight

Pagliacci is an opera about a clown, and the lead in that opera supposedly murdered opera singer Lorraine Sedgewick years ago, which is still giving her now-teenage daughter Kate nightmares about killer clowns. Kate's friend Monica convinces her to help restore the opera house where her mother was killed, but of course they and they're friends are stalked by a murderous figure in the Pagliacci costume, because the basic premise of a slasher movie is that the killer will always come back.

The Clown at Midnight was directed by Jean Pellerin, a filmmaker best known for heavy metal videos, and features Tatyana Ali, better known as Ashley Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Killer Klowns from Outer Space became a cult classic after its 1988 release, but it's not as widely remembered or beloved as it once was. As the title implies, it tells the story of clownlike aliens who arrive on Earth in flying saucers that look like circus tents and begin massacring and even devouring all the humans they find, often in ridiculous ways that resemble circus performances. Only a young man named Mike and his gang of friends have a chance of stopping the monstrous clowns, but the creatures prove terribly resilient.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space was the only film written and directed by the Chiodo Brothers, special effects artists who also created the titular monsters for the Critters movies as well as providing Large Marge's memorable monster face in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.

Gacy

John Wayne Gacy is perhaps the scariest killer clown of all, for the simple reason that he actually existed. A family man and respected community member, Gacy turned out to have the bodies of more than 30 men and boys buried underneath his house, having murdered them usually after first sexually assaulting and sometimes torturing them. He owned a construction company, but also performed as a clown on a volunteer basis. It's the images of Gacy as a clown that have become ubiquitous in discussions of the murders, for the simple fact that clowns are so unnerving.

The biopic Gacy came out in 2003, directed by Clive Saunders and starring Mark Holton. It's not a widely remembered or popular film, but if you're interested in true crime or killer clowns, it's a must-see.

He Who Gets Slapped

He Who Gets Slapped is a 1924 silent film starring Lon Chaney as the titular clown, whose entire act is being slapped and humiliated by the other clowns. He was once an inventor, but had his ideas stolen and his career ruined, leading to his new job as a constant object of humiliation. When the man who originally betrayed him arrives at the circus with designs on the woman he loves, the clown realizes his time for revenge has arrived.

Victor Sjöström directed He Who Gets Slapped as an old-fashioned melodrama, but horror legend Lon Chaney brings an unspeakably creepy quality to the revenge-obsessed clown at the story's center. He might not have been the first terrifying clown in cinema history, but he's certainly a memorable one, and proves that the archetype has been around for very, very long time.