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These Clowns Are More Terrifying Than Pennywise

Some say that Stephen King's It made kids afraid of clowns, but clowns were terrifying people long before Pennywise came along, and the evil clown as an archetype has a reach that's much wider than It's particular story of an extra-dimensional monster in the shape of a clown that haunts a small Maine town. 

And even though Pennywise brags about being everything you're afraid of, some clowns may even be scarier than him. After all, a murderous human whose motivations make no sense can often be scarier than an abstract Lovecraftian terror. And even in the realm of the supernatural, there are more frightening ideas. So with that in mind, here are 11 other clowns guaranteed to give you nightmares.

Needles Kane

Needles Kane is a clown. A serial killer clown, specifically, who drives an armed-to-the-teeth ice cream truck named Sweet Tooth in an apocalyptic demolition derby. He's been driving that truck since the first Twisted Metal game in 1995, and he's only gotten creepier with each new version. In the original game, he was a pretty standard killer clown with green hair. Twisted Metal 2: World Tour in 1996 introduced the idea that his head was perpetually on fire, although no reason was given. Twisted Metal: Black in 2001, the fifth game in the series, revealed that he was cursed by a preacher to burn forever in the fires of hell, just as he was about to be executed. But he escaped the execution, so he carries the fires of hell around with him. That's just creepy.

The 2012 version of Twisted Metal gives Needles Kane a fuller backstory. He was an ice cream man with a family and seemingly happy domestic life, but he had a deeply buried resentment of the mundanity of his existence, which grew into a chaotic and evil second personality. Eventually that side of him took over, and he donned the clown mask, hellfire bursting from his head as he did so, and murdered his family. His daughter, however, escaped, and he spent years trying to find her and finish the job, killing many other people along the way.

The Joker

The Joker is a force of pure chaos, which is why he's the greatest enemy of Batman, whose purpose is to maintain order. He's had various origin stories over the years and they tend to involve falling into a vat of chemicals while trying to escape Batman, but who he was before that is up in the air. 

In his original origin he was already a supervillain known as the Red Hood. In the influential Batman: The Killing Joke graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, he was a young aspiring comedian who had only turned to crime to support his pregnant wife, who was killed in a freak accident that same day. But even within that book, this sympathetic backstory is called into question, with the Joker saying that he prefers his past to be "multiple choice." In Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, he's a hardened criminal named Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), whereas in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, the chemical origin is abandoned entirely in favor of a Joker (Heath Ledger) with a Glasgow smile and multiple stories of how he got it.

The lack of a definitive origin—or even a clear identity—is key to the nature of the Joker. He's dedicated to the idea that the world makes no sense, and particularly obsessed with proving that premise to Batman. He will murder, maim, and mutilate anyone who crosses his path, not just for no reason, but to illustrate that there are no reasons. He's not just a mad clown, he's a clown that embodies madness.


Few clowns have ever been as visually frightening as Twisty, the deranged killer featured in Freak Show, the fourth season of Ryan Murphy's FX anthology series American Horror Story. In fact, Murphy has said that members of the crew would leave when they were film Twisty's scenes because he was so frightening. Over the course of the season, Twisty's backstory is revealed, but at no point does he get less terrifying.

Twisty was once a circus clown who loved to entertain children, but his career was ruined by false rumors of pedophilia. He then attempted a new career as a toymaker, but failed at that as well. He then failed at committing suicide with a shotgun, but succeeded in blowing off his lower jaw. That's why he's wearing the half-mask with the terrifying smile, but what's underneath it is even more horrific. 

Leaving reality entirely behind, Twisty begins kidnapping children in a supposed effort to save them from their oppressive parents. He's convinced children still love him and long to be entertained by his antics, even as every child (and every adult) who sees him screams and runs away.


What clown could be scarier than Death itself? In his influential film The Seventh Seal, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman styled Death (Bengt Ekerot) as a mirthless white clown. The sort of European clown he was building on is different from the colorful version we're used to—something more like a mime. As Bergman explained, "white clowns have a multiple, ambiguous symbolism: they are beautiful, cruel, dangerous, balancing on the border between death and destructive sexuality." 

Regardless of whether you agree with Bergman about the destructive sexuality of clowns, there's no denying that his film, in which a Medieval knight plays chess with death, revolutionized pop culture portrayals of Death. Just look at Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, where William Sadler plays a Death virtually identical to the Seventh Seal version.

Death, in this vision, is a figure who cannot be reasoned with, cannot be persuaded or won over. But he will play games with you, if you're willing to take the risk. When you think about it, that is clownlike, and creepy on a whole different level from the monsters and maniacs that make up most of this list.


Madcap is a Marvel supervillain, technically, but he's so chaotic that it's hard to judge his actions by the usual supervillain standards. He first appeared in Captain America #307, by Mark Gruenwald and Paul Neary, but unlike most villains he never felt restricted to one hero or team. In fact, he doesn't seem to care much about superheroes at all, until the point when they get in the way of his goal of spreading chaos wherever he goes.

Madcap has two superpowers, and they seem unrelated except for how scary they make him. First, he can't be hurt or killed. Any injury he suffers heals instantly, and if he dies he immediately resurrects. Even if you cut his arms off, they'll rejoin his body (and he somehow keeps moving them in the meantime). And second, he can make other people behave irrationally by making eye contact with them. Basically, anyone he infects with this power begins behaving just as chaotically as he does. But they don't receive his invulnerability, which means they're putting themselves in danger, dancing through traffic and even leaping off of buildings. 

A clown who will kill you is scary, but a clown who makes you lose your mind so you kill yourself is even scarier.

John Wayne Gacy

Look at this photo of Pogo the Clown. At first glance, to anyone who's not a clown or an expert on clowns, he looks pretty standard. But notice the red around his mouth, and the way it comes to sharp points. If you compare that to most clowns (not the ones on this list), you'll see that's not normal. Standard clown practice is to use round edges, because it looks less creepy to kids. Pogo probably wasn't trying to look creepy, but that little detail feels significant, because Pogo might be the creepiest real clown to ever live.

As you probably know by now, Pogo the Clown was the alter ego of John Wayne Gacy, a notorious serial killer who murdered at least 33 young men and boys in the 1970s and was eventually executed for his crimes. With all the real death and pain Gacy caused, it would be in poor taste to recount his crimes on a light-hearted list like this. But no list of terrifying clowns would be complete without John Wayne Gacy, because no killer clown can be scarier than one who really existed.

Captain Spaulding

Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), who is one of the anti-heroes of House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, may not be the most chaotic or even the most evil clown on this list, but while he first appears as little more than a weirdo who owns a gas station, by the second film he's right in the middle of all the violence

Captain Spaulding lives in a particularly terrifying world, in which murder and most other crimes are treated casually. It's a world in which police officers are just as amoral and bloodthirsty as the criminals they're after, and the very concept of morality is a quickly dismissed joke. In other words, it's a world that looks all too much like our own, and that only makes Spaulding and the other agents of chaos that surround him all the more terrifying.

The Poltergeist clown doll

Dolls, particularly old fashioned dolls, can be just as creepy as clowns. And clown dolls, like the one in Poltergeist, are twice as creepy, even before they start moving on their own and try to kill you. 

The original Poltergeist from 1982 is one of the all-time greatest haunted house movies and, as the title implies, a lot of the horror early in the film comes from inanimate objects moving on their own. So when young Robbie (Oliver Robins) notices late at night that the clown doll that was sitting in a chair by his bed has suddenly disappeared, that's already scary. Then he starts looking for it under the bed, but the doll appears in the bed with him and wraps its arm around him. It drags him under the bed as he screams, and to make matters worse, his mother hears him screaming, but can't run to help because the same invisible spirits that are animating the clown doll are dragging her across the walls and ceiling of her bedroom.

The 2015 Poltergeist remake overdoes its attempt to one-up this scene, with multiple clown dolls in a much darker room, but nothing in that film measures up to the scares of the original.


Violator is a demon whose preferred earthly form is a short, squat clown with creepy blue makeup and an evil grin. He's the main antagonist, as well as the main supporting character, in Todd McFarlane's Spawn comics. He also appeared in the 1997 Spawn movie, in which John Leguizamo was impressively transformed by a fat suit and extensive makeup to look exactly like the comics version. 

Spawn himself is a superhero of a sort, who was given his powers by the forces of Hell, but those powers are finite and when they run out he must return to Hell and serve in the devil's army for all eternity. So the role of Violator is not just to tempt and corrupt Spawn into doing evil (as demons do to most humans), it's to manipulate him into using his powers recklessly, thus accelerating his return to Hell. Violator is no mere murderous clown—he's here to shepherd a soul toward eternal damnation, and he does it with a grin.

Pint-Sized Slasher

Tranquility Lane is a seemingly idyllic, Pleasantville-esque simulation of old-fashioned suburbia that exists within the futuristic world of Fallout 3. The player character, known as the Lone Wanderer, enters this world in the form of a young boy and meets a young girl named Betty, who tells the Wanderer what he must do to escape the simulation. Betty's tasks are increasingly unsettling: make a child cry, then break up a marriage, then murder a woman. But it's the final task that's truly disturbing.

The only thing that everyone in Tranquility Lane is afraid of is the Pint-Sized Slasher, a child in a clown mask who kills indiscriminately. And for Betty's amusement, the Wanderer must become the Slasher, donning the terrifying mask and killing everyone in the simulation. Pop culture is full of murderous clowns, but Fallout 3 is unique in leading its player to become the murderous clown, killing everyone in sight while they attempt to flee in terror.


Perhaps no clown ever created is as terrifying as the creature at the center of Clown, the feature debut by Jon Watts, who went on to direct Spider-Man: Homecoming. The Clown, or Clöyne as it was originally called, is an ancient demon that devours children. It takes over anyone who puts on the cursed clown costume made from its skin and hair. In the film, this happens to Kent (Andy Powers), a regular dad who's just trying to provide last-minute entertainment at his son's birthday party. But once he puts on the suit, he begins transforming into an inhuman monster that can only be satisfied by eating kids.

At first, the horror of Clown comes from Kent's loss of control as the demon takes him over. But by the end of the film, there's no saving him, and the horror comes from the rampaging monster clown that he's become. Of all the monstrous clowns in the history of movies, this is the scariest.