black and white clown

The Terrifying Truth Behind the Power of Scary Clown Movies

In 2016, the United States was gripped by what seemed like a terrifying national phenomenon: strangers in killer clown costumes were being spotted in various places. These strange clown sightings whipped up a frenzy of media attention and generated a lot of buzz.

Thanks to the sightings, clown movies and monster clown outfits became a huge deal over the next few years.

Clown horror movies became more frightening to viewers than either shark movies or space horror flicks.

Although it may seem like a simple question, people are still bothered by how frightening they find clowns and clown-related media.

What is it about clowns that people find scary? Who started the fear of monster clowns? And what are the best clown movies to watch during the spooky season?

Why Do People Find Clowns Frightening?

clown with big red nose
Monster clowns can be eerie just by their makeup.

There is a difference between being afraid of clowns and being phobic of clowns. The former is just a temporary response that may not impact the way you live. A phobia of clowns, also known as coulrophobia, is a life-changing and potentially harmful mental condition.

Whether you are simply spooked by scary clown movies or have a genuine phobia, you may want to know what is it about these children’s entertainers you find so eerie.

  • Exaggerated Expression

Clowns, from monstrous clowns to regular party entertainers, express themselves in an exaggerated manner. Their laughs are louder and jollier, their sadness is extreme and their faces are painted to showcase these intense emotions. They often have droopy frowns and wide grins to better communicate what they’re feeling. People can find this openness and extreme emotion upsetting and maybe even unnatural.

  • Unnatural Pigments

Appearances can be deceiving, whether you’re a fictional character like Fat Thor or a real person like a clown. Unfortunately, clowns have to wear makeup that makes them look unnatural, thus evoking an uncanny air about them. The pale skin evokes the drained look of dead bodies. Red lips and deeply shaded eyes make them look vampiric. And the multicolored hair adds another layer of confusion to the viewer.

  • Adult Fears

People have grown up on baseless fears that clowns will perpetuate horrors and crimes. This is especially a concern because clowns primarily work with children. Parents are already wary about strangers who come near their kids and they may easily believe that a clown can garner the trust of the children for entirely the wrong reasons.

  • Distrust in Disguises

Finally, whether a clown is wearing an ordinary outfit or a killer clown costume, it’s still a disguise. People are inherently distrustful and so a little scared of people in disguises. The uncanny appearances of a clown makeup and their outfits just adds more fuel to the distrust.

What Started the Scary Clown Trend?

John Wayne Gacy
John Wayne Gacy, as Pogo the Clown, may have established the killer clown stereotype.

Clowns haven’t been around very long, only taking off in popularity within the last hundred to two hundred years. And yet it seems like people have been afraid of them even before the more recent clown movies painted them as monsters or killers. But where did the fear of clowns come from?

Below are a few possibilities that may explain why clown horror movies are popular.

  • Springheeled Jack

Springheeled Jack is not a clown, but he certainly dressed uncannily and outlandishly enough. An urban legend that plagued Victorian London, he was said to be dressed in shimmering white suit with a red-lined cape and had a very pale face with scarlet lips.

Springheeled Jack was said to leap incredibly high, just like how clowns do acrobatic tricks. Stories of women being waylaid and terrified by this strange figure persisted for months.

  • John Wayne Gacy

Perhaps the progenitor of all killer clown costumes, John Wayne Gacy was a real-life monster who was responsible for the gruesome deaths of approximately 33 men and even boys. The actual victim count is unclear.

What cemented Gacy as the antecedent for all clown movies with monstrous antagonists is that he regularly performed as a clown named Pogo or Patches. After his incarceration, he also painted clowns to pass the time.

  • “It”

Stephen King’s 1986 horror novel “It” introduced the world to the most famous of all monster clowns. The extradimensional horror and child-eating monster haunting the streets of Derry is mostly in the guise of Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

Pennywise himself was also partially based on John Wayne Gacy but has since eclipsed the serial killer as the face of terrifying clown movies.

What are the Best Clown Movies for Halloween?

Pennywise the clown
Pennywise is the most famous of all clown movie villains.

Whenever Halloween is just around the corner, you may want to watch movies with terrifying figures like Hannibal Lecter or Dracula. But if you want to indulge your yen for clown movies with monstrous antagonists, the films below can help honk your horn.

  • “It” (2017 and 2019)

What better scary clown movie to watch than the ones based on the monster clown novel? Bill Skarsgard shines as the monstrous Pennywise, the uncanny expression of the clown helped by his natural ability to point his eyes in opposing directions.

  • “Clown” (2014)

A combination of tragedy and fear makes this an independent horror movie must-see. When a loving and devoted father wears an abandoned clown attire, he is unaware that they are literally a killer clown costume. The movie follows his struggles as he tries to resist the evil of the costume and protect his family.

  • “Zombieland” (2009)

This gory comedy isn’t strictly a clown movie but it does feature the appearance of a zombified clown in the climax. The lead protagonist of the movie himself suffers from coulrophobia and the monster clown serves as a major hurdle for him in the final fight.

Clown movies exaggerate the fear around clowns and may have negatively impacted the livelihood of hundreds of people. Understanding where the fear of clowns comes form can help you learn to trust these entertainers once again.

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