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Psycho Circus: It's All Clowning Around Until Someone Gets Killed
(A CineManiac's Introduction To Killer Clowns In Cinema)
By: Mickael
There’s an old comedy formula that has worked for ages: the clown in a courtroom. Seeing a clown in a circus tent is expected and often more annoying than funny. You put that same clown into a very serious environment, like a courtroom, and now all of his antics are elevated because of their disruptive quality and the reactions he gets from the very stern judge, the overworked prosecutor, and the weasley defense attorney. These are called "straight men". This formula, in some form or another, has been utilized in almost every comedy you’ve seen.
Often, they don't use literal clowns but characters that are clown-like. Happy Gilmore is the story of a clownish individual disrupting a golf tournament. Anchorman is a clownish dude disrupting a newsroom. Bruce Almighty is a clownish man disrupting Buffalo with the powers of God. Both Mrs. Doubtfire and Liar Liar are basically clowns dealing with divorce, when the relationship is complicated by having young children. These are all serious topics (or professions that people take seriously) and thereby aren't inherently funny, until you insert a clown. Every Mel Brooks movie basically boils down to taking a popular genre of movie that takes itself too seriously and casting clowns as the leads. Blazing Saddles is a classic western, Young Frankenstein is a horror movie, Spaceballs is a Sci Fi flick, Robin Hood: Men In Tights is an adventure film, and so on. People love taking clowns out of the circus and putting them into dire situations. Another thing people love to do, it seems, is to take the circus out of the clown...
When you take the classic image of a friendly and jovial clown but you make him rude, mean, or sinister; you've created something that is uniquely subversive. You've taken an icon of childhood, a bastion of goodwill, and turned it into something you can't trust. Bobcat Goldthwait did this with Shakes The Clown, it's what Stephen King did with Pennywise, and it's similar to what Billy Bob Thornton did in Bad Santa. Jerry Lewis infamously directed and co-wrote a film called The Day The Clown Cried in 1972, which he has refused to release. In the film, Jerry plays a washed up German clown named Helmut Doork who is arrested by the Gestapo for mocking Adolf Hitler while drinking in a bar. While in the Nazi prison camp, he begins performing for Jewish children that are also being held prisoner. Eventually, the prison's commandant decides to use Helmut as a Pied Piper to lure more Jewish children onto the trains that lead them to Auschwitz and, ultimately, to the showers where they'll be killed. To this day, the film has only been seen by a few dozen people; however, the Library of Congress has received a print this August and plans to screen it in 10 years (2025).
Personally, when I grew up I was terrified of clowns. My mother had a couple of these "sad clown" collectible plates that she hung on the wall of my bedroom, along with a circus-themed wallpaper border. Every time I entered my room, I was face-to-face with the disapproving glares of several unhappy clowns. They had five o'clock shadows and face paint that accentuated their frowns into ridiculously large visages of depression. I hated those damn clowns. Every year, there was a parade in downtown for Veteran's Day. My parents would plop me right down on the curb of 47th Street, as close as you can get to the procession. There would be marching bands, veterans (of course), fire trucks, and clowns. The clowns would reach into large sacks and throw candy at the kids as they walked by, tempting them, and if you went closer to get some candy a clown may just stop and hug you, pick you up, and probably kidnap you for their perverted entertainment. Many a parade ended in tears. As I grew older and larger, I no longer feared clowns. I grew to loathe them. I want to fight a clown.
One clown I wouldn't want to fight, though, is the most famous of the killer clowns: The Joker. The baddest of Batman's rogues gallery, The Joker has terrorized Gotham for 75 years and has been portrayed by the likes of Cesar Romero, Mark Hamill, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and even Frank Welker! In the comics and cartoons he's killed Robin, paralyzed Batgirl, and turned his psychiatrist into his girlfriend/sidekick Harley Quinn. He's the most unstable and unpredicable of Batman's villains, having racked up the largest body count in the DC Universe while still cracking bad jokes. In real life, it's hard to imagine a villain such as that. Just then, John Wayne Gacy enters the room. John was an upstanding member of his community who often organized gatherings and even performed as a clown at children's parties. After being accused numerous time of sexual assault by teenage boys, and spending 2 years in jail, Gacy decided that the best way to be free from scrutiny was to leave no witnesses. Between 1972 and 1978, Gacy killed 33 young boys, burying many of them under his home. Sometimes, he dressed as his character, Pogo The Clown, during his assaults.
Clowns as antagonists began with the Italian opera Pagliacci in 1892. It's essentially a love triangle between 3 actors in a play, ending with the jealous husband, Canio (who plays the clown Pagliacci in the play-within-a-play), murdering his wife Nedda and her lover Silvio on-stage in the final act. Unlike previous entries in our series of subgenre examinations (Nunsploitation and Cannibals), the Italians may have originated the concept but, in film, it has been uniquely dominated by American releases. Over the years, killer clowns have morphed form from jealous husbands to demonic beings, from space invaders to serial killers. If John Wayne Gacy is any evidence, truth can often be more frightening than fiction. Let's hope that's not the case as we unveil the following 69 crazy killer clown flicks:
PosterTitleYearDirectorMore InfoCountry

The Clown Murders1976Martyn BurkeIMDb

Buy @ Amazon
Canada

Terror On Tour
(aka Demon Rock)

A rock group named The Clowns is suspected of murdering hookers! Also on our list of "genre musicals".
1980Don Edmonds

USA

The Funhouse
(aka Carnival Of Terror)
1981Tobe HooperIMDb

Buy @ Amazon

USA

Blood Harvest
(aka The Marvelous Mervo)

Starring Tiny Tim and a young Peter Krause!
1987Bill RebaneIMDb

Buy @ Amazon
USA

Funland1987Michael A. SimpsonIMDb

Buy @ Amazon
USA

Killer Klowns From Outer Space
(aka Space Invaders, Killer Klowns)
1988Stephen ChiodoIMDb

Buy @ Amazon
USA

Out Of The Dark

Starring Karen Black and Divine!
1988Michael SchroederIMDb

Buy @ Amazon
USA

Clownhouse

Starring a young Sam Rockwell!
1989Victor Salva

USA

Stephen King's IT

An awesome performance by Tim Curry as Pennywise!
1990Tommy Lee Wallace

USA
Canada

To Catch A Killer

A TV movie starring Brian Dennehy as John Wayne Gacy! Co-starring Meg Foster and Margot Kidder.
1992Eric Till

Canada
USA

Funny Man

With Christopher Lee!
1994Simon Sprackling

UK

Spawn

John Leguizamo plays Clown / Violator opposite Michael Jai White's fantastic Spawn!
1997Mark A.Z. Dippe

USA

Carnival Of Souls
(aka Wes Craven Presents Carnival Of Souls)
1998Adam Grossman

USA

Clown At Midnight

Starring Christopher Plummer, Margot Kidder, and Tatyana Ali!
1999Jean Pellerin

Canada

Camp Blood2000
Brad Sykes

USA

Camp Blood 2
(aka Camp Blood II: The Revenge)
2000Brad Sykes

USA

Killjoy2000Craig Ross, Jr.

USA

Vulgar

A Kevin Smith and View Askew produced film starring Smith regulars Brian O'Halloran, Ethan Suplee, and Bryan Johnson!
2000Bryan Johnson

USA

Killjoy 2: Deliverance Frm Evil2002Tammi Sutton

USA

Urban Massacre2002Dale Resteghini

USA

Gacy
(aka The Crawl Space)
2003Clive Saunders

USA

House Of 1,000 Corpses2003Rob Zombie

USA

S.I.C.K. Serial Insane Clown Killer
(aka Grim Weekend)
2003Bob Willems

USA

Dead Clowns2004Steve Sessions

USA

Fear Of Clowns2004Kevin Kangas

USA

Hellbreeder2004James Eaves, Johannes Roberts

UK

DeadHouse2005Pablo Macho Maysonet IV, Brian Rivera

USA

The Devil's Rejects
(aka House Of 1,000 Corpses 2)
2005Rob Zombie

USA
Germany

Within The Woods
(aka Camp Blood 3)
2005Brad Sykes

USA

Mr. Jingles
(aka 2 S.I.C.K.)
2006Tommy Brunswick

USA

100 Tears
(aka The Clown)
2007Marcus Koch

USA

Clown
(aka The Clown Movie)
2007Robert Newman

USA

Drive Thru
(aka Hellaburger, Death Burger, Burger Kill, Drive Thru: Fast Food Kills!)

Starring Leighton Meester and Morgan Spurlock!
2007Brendan Cowles, Shane Kuhn

USA

Fear Of Clowns 22007Kevin KangasIMDb

Buy @ Amazon
USA

Final Draft
(aka Punchy, Paranoia)

Starring James Van Der Beek!
2007Jonathan Dueck

Canada

Fraternity Massacre At Hell Island2007Mark JonesIMDb

Buy @ Amazon
USA

Frayed2007Norbert Caoili, Rob Portmann

USA

The Fun Park2007Rick Walker

USA

Hellscape2007Rennie Cowan

USA

Masters Of Horror: We All Scream For Ice Cream2007
Tom Holland

USA
Canada

Secrets Of The Clown2007Ryan BadalamentiIMDb

Buy @ Amazon
USA

Amusement2008John Simpson

USA

Clown Hunt2008Barry TubbIMDb

Buy @ Amazon
USA

Puppet Show2008Jay Gowey

USA

Clownstrophobia2009Geraldine Winters

USA

Jingles The Clown2009Tommy BrunswickIMDb

Buy @ Amazon
USA

Dahmer vs. Gacy2010Ford Austin

USA

Dear Mr. Gacy
(aka The Last Victim)
2010Svetozar RistovskyIMDb

Buy @ Amazon
Canada

Killjoy 3
(aka Killjoy's Revenge!)
2010John LechagoIMDb

Buy @ Amazon
USA
China

Klown Kamp Massacre2010Philip Gunn, David Valdez


USA

The Last Circus
(aka Balada Triste De Trompeta, A Sad Trumpet Ballad)
2010Alex de la Iglesia


Spain
France

The Cuckoo Clocks Of Hell2011Ron Atkins


USA

All Dark Places2012Nicholas Reiner


USA

Killjoy Goes To Hell
(aka Killer Clown)
2012John Lechago


USA

The Pogo Film Project2012Pete Jacelone


USA

Scary Or Die
(aka The Crossing)
2012Michael Emanuel, Bob Badway, Igor Meglic


USA

Slasher House
(aka The Sinister House)
2012Mj Dixon


UK

Sloppy The Psychotic2012Mike O'Mahony


USA

Stitches
(aka Dark Clown)

Starring Ross Noble!
2012Conor McMahon


Ireland

All Hallow's Eve2013Damien Leone


USA

Gingerclown

Tim Curry, Brad Dourif, Sean Young, Michael Winslow, and Lance Henriksen star!
2013Balazs Hatvani


Hungary

Bongo: Killer Clown2014Geraldine Winters


USA

Camp Blood: First Slaughter
(aka Camp Blood III 3D)
2014Mark PoloniaIMDb

Buy @ Amazon
USA

Circus Of The Dead2014Billy "Bloody Bill" Pon


USA

Clown

Starring Peter Stormare as a demon clown hunter in this fun flick produced by Eli Roth!
2014Jon Watts


USA
Canada

Clowns2014Alexander Kane


No Buying Link Available...
USA

Death Factory
(aka The Butchers, The Factory)

Six serial killers return from the dead in this horror / fantasy film.
2014Steven Judd


No Buying Link Available...
USA

Mockingbird2014Bryan Bertino


USA

Kruel2015Robert Henderson


USA
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