Ryan Murphy claims his new AHS: Freakshow villain is the scariest clown ever; we present the competition
Credit: Everett

This week, the latest chapter of American Horror Story unleashed a new monster upon pop culture: Twisty the Clown.

Check out the final moments of the American Horror Story: Freak Show trailer and get a clear idea about what kind of nightmare series creator Ryan Murphy cooked up.

Murphy has already dubbed Twisty “the most terrifying clown ever.” The fact that he’s played by actor John Carroll Lynch spoke volumes – Lynch played the title killer in Zodiac and Mimi’s husband on The Drew Carey Show, which combine to make great training for a homicidal clown.

But Twisty nonetheless has a lot to live up to. Trigger warning to all you coulrophobes out there: We’re looking at the scariest clowns in pop culture.

1. Pennywise the Dancing Clown

The big baddie from Stephen King’s It may not be the first, but he’s arguably the most famous of the evil clowns – the demonic standard for evil clowning worldwide, you might say. It makes perfect sense that a primordial embodiment of evil that can look like anyone’s deepest fear would spend most of the movie looking like a clown, right?

2. Michael Myers

Though he may have stalked babysitters through nine separate movies with other masks on, young Michael Myers got his start with a clown mask. In the first few moments of the original Halloween, a six-year-old Michael, back from trick-or-treating and still clad in his clown costume, offs his older sister. We blame the clown costume.

3. The Joker

Batman probably has the most disturbed gallery of rogues of any superhero, and even they’re scared of The Joker. In their respective Batman films, Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger both tap into a certain kind of Joker madness, but maybe the freakiest performance of all is Mark Hamill’s on the 1990s animated series, where he redefined the character’s gleefully dark persona – on a kids’ show, no less.

4. The Clowns from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure

It’s not just the horror genre that offers impressionable children a lesson in fearing clowns. Even supposedly family-friendly fare deliver a clown car’s worth of nightmares. What other lesson should we have taken from Pee-Wee’s nightmare sequence other than that clowns are evil?

5. Krinkles

“Who?” you may be asking. Oh, it’s just a clown from a 1960s-era commercial for Post’s Sugar Rice Krinkles who proves you need not be demonic in order to terrify. This video became a viral hit in recent years, with people marveling how off-putting Krinkles seems even though he’s not doing anything specifically scary. It’s the dilemma all clowns face – or so we’d guess, if we weren’t too afraid of clowns to dwell on the subject.

6. The Killer Klowns from Outer Space

It’s a movie about alien clowns whose ray guns turn people into giant cotton candy cocoons. Any adult hearing this premise could immediately recognize Killer Klowns from Outer Space for what it is: a ludicrous B movie. However, to a certain future pop culture writer who, at seven years old, was browsing through the video store and saw the clowns’ grotesque appearance on the VHS box, this was, instantly, the scariest thing in the world.

7. The Toy Clown from Poltergeist

For many ’80s babies, this was the first horror movie they ever saw, mostly likely because Poltergeist bore the Steven Spielberg seal of approval and an inexplicable PG rating. And this clown scene, then, was the first “jump” scene – screaming string section, menacing clown and all.

8. Ronald McDonald (classic version)

No, really. The fast food chain toned down their mascot as years went by, but in the beginning, when TV weatherman Willard Scott was wearing Ronald’s floppy shoes, he looked kind of freaky. With those wild eyes, those flame-shaped points around his mouth and general appearance of someone who crawled out of a McDonald’s dumpster, vintage Ronald was chilling enough to make a kid ask for a salad instead.

9. Bart Simpson’s Evil Clown Bed

The fourth-season Simpsons episode “Lisa’s First Word” flashes back to, among other things, a two-year-old Bart jealous of his new baby sister. In an effort to comfort Bart, Homer makes him a “big boy” bed that hits every mark on the evil clown checklist. Bart is not consoled.

10. Captain Spaulding

Perhaps you’ve seen Rob Zombie’s two Halloween remakes and concluded, “Hey, these could really benefit from a scary clown.” Good news! Zombie’s other horror pair – the evocatively titled House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects – feature veteran character actor Sid Haig as Captain Spaulding, one of the more scummier, nastier, murderous clowns in pop culture. So that’s neat.

11. Zeebo from Are You Afraid of the Dark?

For a slightly more PG take on the terror of evil clowns, there’s the second-ever episode of the show, “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark.” It’s maybe also the creepiest. Its moral? Don’t steal a clown’s nose, but you really shouldn’t have needed Nickelodeon to teach you this lesson.

12. The Zombieland Zombie Clown

Need an easy way to twist the “evil clown” motif? Transform clowns into zombie-clowns for instant, additional terror. In this scene, Jesse Eisenberg’s character, a professed coulrophobe, teaches all how to overcome our fear of clowns: just off a zombie version of one. Easy as pie, clown pun intended.

13. John Wayne Gacy

The first item in this list called Stephen King’s Pennywise the most famous evil clown. But if you include the handful of real-life evil clowns, that title should probably go to serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who before his arrest entertained children as Pogo the Clown. This would be one of those moments when real life plays out more horribly than anything any fiction writer could dream up. Oof.

Now, after all that, you deserve to think about something less ghastly and non-clown-related. Here, enjoy!

Want more stories like this?

Sign up for our newsletter and other special offers:

Thank you for signing up!