Coulrophobia aka “fear of clowns” appears to be gripping the land these days. But as we all know clowns (whose intended purpose is to make us laugh) have long been a source of terror for many. Consider “Twisty” on American Horror Story: Freakshow. Consider the numerous iterations of “The Joker,” on screen or on page. Or watch any of the following films…if you dare.
Poltergeist (1982) William Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) directed this instant horror masterpiece that was written and produced by none other than Steven Spielberg himself. While the movie’s main focus is on the evil ghosts that kidnap the Freeling family’s youngest child, added frights come from a possessed clown doll who attacks the family son. It has an 88% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes, was nominated for three Academy Awards, and made AFI’s 100 Years…100 Thrills list.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988) This is the sole film written AND directed by the notorious Chido Brothers who did the puppets and effect work for such movies as Critters and Team America: World Police. Starring Grant Cramer (An Inconvenient Woman, Raptor) and Suzanne Snyder (Weird Science, Night of the Creeps). Evil aliens descend on a small town planning to capture, kill, and harvest the human population. The twist is that for some unknown reason, the aliens all look like circus clowns. It has since become a cult hit with a 71% fresh rating on the Tomatometer.
Clownhouse (1989) Written and directed by Victor Salva (Jeepers Creepers) and starring Nathan Forrest Winters, Brian McHugh, and Sam Rockwell in his film debut. Three young brothers are left alone one night while their mother is visiting relatives and so they visit a circus despite the youngest boys coulrophobia. Of course pretty soon all three of them will have coulrophobia when their home is invaded by three homicidal, escaped mental patients disguised as clowns. It was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
It (1990) This supernatural horror mini-series based on the Stephen King bestseller of the same name originally aired on ABC to good reviews. The story revolves around an inter-dimensional evil lifeform who can transform into people’s worst fears. It’s most popular form though is that of Pennywise (Tim Curry whose performance was widely praised) a sardonic, sadistic clown. A group of misfit kids known as the Losers Club discover Pennywise and vow to destroy him; first attempting to do as children and then later as adults. Also starring Annette O’ Toole, John Ritter, Tim Reid, Michael Cole and Dennis Christopher. Richard Bellis received an Emmy Award for his work on the musical score.
Saw (2004) The cult hit that kicked off one of the biggest modern horror franchises owed its success to many factors. It’s pioneering efforts in how graphic on screen violence could be, Tobin Bell’s performance as the cunning and sadistic Jigsaw Killer John Kramer, and also for its use of “Billy” the malevolent little clown puppet, that Kramer uses as his ‘voice.’
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