Not to be confused with Monster Clowns


Although clowns are originally comic performers and characterized to humor and entertain people, the image of the evil clown is a development in popular culture, in which the playful trope of the clown is rendered as disturbing through the use of horror elements and dark humor.


The modern archetype of the evil clown has unclear origins; the stock character appeared infrequently during the 19th Century, in such works as Edgar Allan Poe's Hop-Frog, which is believed by Jack Morgan, of the University of Missouri-Rolla, to draw upon an earlier incident "at a masquerade ball," in the 14th Century, during which "the king and his frivolous party, costumed—in highly flammable materials—as simian creatures, were ignited by a flambeau and incinerated, the King narrowly escaping in the actual case." Evil clowns also occupied a small niche in drama, appearing in the 1874 work La femme de Tabarin by Catulle Mendès and in Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci (accused of being a plagiarism of Mendès' piece), both works featuring murderous clowns as central characters.

The modern stock character of the evil clown was popularized by Stephen King's novel "It", which was the first to introduce the fear of an evil clown to a modern audience. In which the clown kills. Another one of the first appearances of the concept is that of John Wayne Gacy, an American serial killer and rapist who became known as the Killer Clown after it was discovered that he performed as Pogo the Clown at children's parties and other events. The public nature of his trial made the imprint of his character on American culture noteworthy, including his association with his clown persona.

The evil clown archetype plays strongly off the sense of dislike caused by inherent elements of coulrophobia; however, it has been suggested by Joseph Durwin that the concept of evil clowns have an independent position in popular culture, arguing that "the concept of evil clowns and the widespread hostility it induces is a cultural phenomenon which transcends just the phobia alone". A study by the University of Sheffield concluded "that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them quite frightening and unknowable." This may be because of the nature of clowns' makeup hiding their faces, making them potential threats in disguise; as a psychology professor at California State University, Northridge stated, young children are "very reactive to a familiar body type with an unfamiliar face". This natural disliking of clowns makes them effective to use in a literary or fictional context, as the antagonistic threat perceived in clowns is desirable in a villainous character.


The concept of the evil clown is related to the irrational fear of clowns, known as coulrophobia. The cultural critic Mark Dery has theorized the postmodern archetype of the evil clown in "Cotton Candy Autopsy: Deconstructing Psycho-Killer Clowns" (a chapter in his cultural critique The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink).

Tracking the image of the demented or deviant clown across popular culture, Dery analyzes the "Pogo the Clown" persona of the serial killer John Wayne Gacy; the obscene clowns of the neo-situationist Cacophony Society; the Joker (of "Batman" Fame); the grotesque art of R.K. Sloane; the sick-funny Bobcat Goldthwaite comedy Shakes the Clown; and Pennywise the Dancing Clown from Stephen King's It.

Using Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of the carnivalesque, Jungian and historical writings on the images of the fool in myth and history, and ruminations on the mingling of ecstasy and dread in the Information Age, Dery asserts the evil clown is an icon of our times. Clowns are often depicted as murderous psychopaths at many American haunted houses.

Wolfgang M. Zucker points out the similarities between a clown's appearance and the cultural depictions of demons and other infernal creatures, noting "[the clown's] chalk-white face in which the eyes almost disappear, while the mouth is enlarged to a ghoulish bigness looks like the mask of death."

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Modern society pranksters are playing with people with coulrophobia by posting threatening messages and dressing up as clowns and scaring people in the woods and other vacant, secluded places. The post next to this text was posted by clowns attempting to scare students and teachers with a menacing message.

Notable depictions of evil clowns

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  • The Joker, a notable enemy in the Batman franchise whose key features are a clown-like disguise, clown-like disfigured face, and permanent smile.
  • It/Pennywise the Dancing Clown, a common form taken by the mysterious monster in Stephen King's novel It and its film adaptations. He often uses corny humor as he taunts his victims.
  • Jokerz, are a fictional gang in the DC animated universe, featured in Batman Beyond.They are a large street gang 40 years in the future of Gotham City that take their inspiration from the Joker, Batman's archnemesis. They tend to dress in clownish costumes and make-up as did their namesake, but have none of the style or humor of the original.
  • Shakes the Clown, a depressed, alcoholic clown framed for murder and coming into conflict with other clowns, in the eponymous film by Bobcat Goldthwait.
  • Rakshasa, in Supernatural episode, "Everybody Loves a Clown", a demon of Hindu mythology has been taking the form of an evil clown and tricking children into inviting it into their homes so that it can eat their parents.
  • Plucky Pennywhistle, in another Supernatural episode, "Plucky Pennywhistle's Magical Menagerie", killer clowns beset Sam Winchester (a childhood fear of his) as the Wincester Brothers investigate a play-oriented restaurant that resembles Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza.
  • Red Bastard, a bouffon clown created and portrayed by Eric Davis.
  • The Bicycle Doctor, a laughing, malevolent clown disguised as a doctor who destroys the protagonist's beloved bicycle after feigning attempts to repair it in a nightmare experienced by Pee-Wee Herman in the film Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.
  • Captain Spaulding, a gas-station owner, museum operator, and patriarch of the murderous Firefly family, featured in the Rob Zombie films House of 1000 Corpses and its sequel, The Devil's Rejects. Captain Spaulding is portrayed by actor Sid Haig.
  • Violator, a demon from hell who takes the appearance of a balding, middle-aged man with face paint, and an enemy of Spawn in the comic franchise by Todd McFarlane.
  • The Crimson Clown, a clown puppet that comes to life and terrorizes a little boy who gets away with everything and gets taught a lesson of right and wrong, in the Are You Afraid of the dark episode tale of the Crimson Clown.
  • Doink the Clown, a professional wrestling character portrayed by a number of wrestlers. He is frequently depicted as malevolent, playing malicious pranks and cheating in unusual ways to win.
  • Kefka Palazzo, the main antagonist of Final Fantasy VI, a nihilistic psychopath with the outfit and mannerisms of an insane jester.
  • Zeebo The Clown, the spirit of a thief that stole the circuses whole payroll of 20,000 dollars in the 1920s who terrorizes the main protagonist, because of the theft of his nose by said protagonist in the Are You Afraid Of The dark episode The Tale of Laughing In the dark.
  • Sweet Tooth, a sociopathic serial killer who is a primary anti-hero in the Twisted Metal franchise.
  • Poltergeist Clown, the 1982 supernatural movie from Tobe Hooper features a clown doll in several scenes. During the finale, this doll becomes possessed by a demonic presence and attempts to strangle a young boy.
  • Killjoy, a demonic clown who is summoned to assist revenge plots.
  • Clownhouse, three mental patients escape and stalk a young boy home from the circus dressed in clown costumes.
  • Odd Bob the Clown, an evil alien clown based on the legendary Pied Piper of Hamelin from Sarah Jane Adventures that feeds on children's fears (in the episode The Day of the Clown).
  • Craig Russell wrote a novel The carnival master about the hunt after a clown who comes out every Cologne carnival to kill women.
  • Shaco the Demon Jester, A champion and playable character in League of Legends, an assassin of possible supernatural origin who has taken on the guise of a court jester.
  • Piedmon, a mega-level Digimon from Digimon franchise and one of the Dark Masters designed based on evil clowns.
  • Buggy the Clown, a recurring antagonist from One Piece who desires revenge on Monkey D. Luffy and to become Pirate King.
  • Donbalon, one of the bosses featured in NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams.
  • The Robot Clowns from the 1988-1989 Doctor Who Serial The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
  • Sideshow Bob, a clown on The Simpsons that constantly tries to kill Bart Simpson but normally ends up failing and back in jail. Unlike traditional clowns, he does not wear any sort of make-up.
  • The Clown Bed - On The Simpsons, Homer poorly builds a clown-shaped bed for Bart. The bed turns out so scary for him that it becomes alive in his mind and haunts him (from the episode Lisa's First Word).
  • The Clowns from The Cabin in the Woods.
  • Pierrot, a villain boss resembling a clown from the Japanese animation Smile PreCure!
  • Adam MacIntyre, a psychopathic clown saddened by the loss of his audience from the Capcom video game Dead Rising. Also has a psychopathic brother with similar job role in Dead Rising 2: Off the Record called Evan MacIntyre.
  • Gamzee Makara from the webcomic Homestuck is initially a carefree, friendly alien clown but a combination of withdrawal, mental instability and a faith crisis causes him to go on a murderous rampage, killing two of his friends before he is subdued.
  • Dr. Rockso, the drug-addicted "rock and roll clown" character from the show Metalocalypse.
  • Javier Granados as el payaso triste ("the sad clown") who metamorphoses into el payaso vengador ("the avenging clown") in The Last Circus.

See also