Features | Written by STARBURST 25/01/2021

NO LAUGHING MATTER: 36 ESSENTIAL CLOWNS

“What’s the matter, don’t you like clowns? Don’t we make you laugh? AREN’T WE FUCKING FUNNY?” - Captain Spaulding, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS

To the millions of coulrophobia* sufferers around the world, the answer to that question is a resounding “NO!” on all three counts, so at the risk of further alienating half of our readership, it’s time to take a trip to the Big Top to meet the best of the best! Read on for STARBURST’s guide to our favourite face-painted pranksters, from the benevolent children’s entertainers of our youth to the murderous stars of many a slasher film, and worse. Are you down to clown?

CAPTAIN SPAULDING

The creation of musician turned filmmaker Rob Zombie, this foul-mouthed clown was first introduced in House of 1000 Corpses as the patriarch of the infamous Firefly family and was named after a character in the 1930s Marx Brothers movie Animal Crackers. He owns and runs a gas station/museum/haunted house ride that focuses on serial killers, sideshow freaks, and the local legend of Dr Satan. When a group of teens arrive at the gas station and go on the ride, Captain Spaulding gives them directions to where Dr Satan was reportedly hung, but unbeknownst to them, they end up heading straight into the Firefly residence, which houses a family of serial killers and maniacs. Two of the Firefly family joined Captain Spaulding in the 2003 sequel The Devil’s Rejects, and all three are set to make a return later this year in 3 From Hell. As Captain Spaulding himself would say, “Howdy folk! You like blood? Violence? Freaks of nature? Well then come on down to Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen. See the Alligator Boy, ride my famous murder ride. Most of all, don’t forget to take home some of my tasty fried chicken. It just tastes so darn good!” | SP

BUBBLES

There is a generation of people who, after waking up on the sofa in the wee small hours, will forever be haunted by the transmission tone of Bubbles the Clown, the sidekick who accompanied little girl Carole Hersee on the Test Card used by the BBC during broadcast shutdowns. Originally included to test the use of secondary colours when they were first introduced in 1967, up until BBC1 went 24 hours in 1997, Bubbles’ frozen grin creeped out unexpecting viewers during the dead of night for thirty years. Bubbles briefly reappeared with the Test Girl during the BBC’s time travel cop show Life on Mars to haunt John Simm’s detective Sam Tyler, losing absolutely NONE of his creepiness! | NB

BOBBLES

Bobbles is introduced in the 2014 Alan Moore scripted-anthology Show Pieces in a sequence where he describes his broken-down marriage. Yet this tragic story is somehow amusing, a brilliant example of black comedy that only someone dressed like a clown could pull off. He takes great joy in his sick jokes and taunts, grinning with yellowed teeth and dreaming up sexual encounters with his latest prisoner, Jimmy (Darrel D’Silva). Played with menace but often for laughs by a fantastic Andrew Buckley, Bobbles emerges as Show Pieces’ highlight; the demented and strangely funny centrepiece of Alan Moore’s first purpose-written film project. He looks, acts and sounds exactly the way a dungeon clown should, skulking around the low places of Nightampton with nothing more than clownish decadence on his mind. | JH

SHAKES

The titular Shakes from Bobcat Goldthwait’s movie Shakes The Clown is less a figure of terror and more one of pity. The movie (which has been described as ‘the Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies’) is mostly a thinly veiled snark at the American stand-up comedy scene. Shakes also gets framed for murder and, of course, no one is surprised by the idea of a killer clown! | EF

DOINK

Weirdly the brainchild of Road Warrior Hawk, Doink the Clown debuted in the World Wrestling Federation in late 1992; a somewhat sinister clown, Doink would play pranks on his opponents and the announcers, to the delight of the audiences both live and at home, but to the dismay of his victims. After establishing his position, Doink – initially played by regional veteran grappler Matt Borne – turned babyface, attacking Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler and acquiring a midget sidekick, Dink. Around this time, Borne was fired for repeated drug abuse, and the gimmick passed to Ray Apollo, who didn’t quite have the skills, and Doink faded away by mid-1995. He has made sporadic returns since, and is prime material for cheap imitations on two-bit outlaw shows, including one very specific version, Alabama Doink, who sadly passed away earlier this year. | AB

CHIEF CLOWN

Doctor Who was on its knees towards the end of the 1980s, unloved by the BBC and unwatched by the British public, but it was still capable of moments of inspiration even in its dying days. In the 1988 serial The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Ian Reddington delivered a memorable turn as the eerie, expressive Chief Clown, given to cruising the duney surface of the planet Segonax in a hearse with his robot henchmen in search of victims for the surreal Psychic Circus. Almost makes the catastrophic Seventh Doctor era worth a revisit. Almost. | PM

STITCHES

If there’s one thing worse than an incompetent bumbling clown, it’s an incompetent, bumbling clown who’s come back from the dead to wreak a hideous vengeance on a bunch of kids who wronged him in life and whose cruelty led to his premature expiration. This is Stitches, Conor McMahon’s 2012 comedy horror film, which saw Ross Noble’s undead clown resurrected and running riot at a sixteenth birthday party. Heads explode, brains are removed, heads are skewered by umbrellas. Maybe not recommended for those troubled by balloon animals and terrified by cars whose doors fall off. | PM

JOHN WAYNE GACY

Serial killers are prime material for popular culture but rarely do they package themselves so finely before they reach the silver screen or written page as scumbag rapist and murderer John Wayne Gacy. Gacy had a gimmick; he was a clown. Now there’s no proof that Gacy ever killed while dressed as the clown – he became Pogo (or Patches) for charitable fundraiser purposes, and even met the first lady in 1978 – but this hasn’t stopped the rumour seeping into pop culture. Gacy raped and killed at least 33 young men in the garage of his suburban home, burying them under the basement. He painted gaudy paintings of clowns, self-portraits really, and these sinister images have cemented the evil clown trope that has been used by many of the other entries in these pages… | AB

YOUNG MICHAEL MYERS

October 31st, 1963: the quiet town of Haddonfield, Illinois was shaken to its core as young teenaged Judith Myers was butchered to death in her own home on Halloween. The murderer was apprehended that same night, kitchen knife still in hand, dripping with the victim’s blood. Michael Myers was an innocent, ordinary six-year-old until that night when he dressed as a clown to go trick or treating – but something triggered him to mercilessly hack and slash his older sister to death. His blank expression made him unreadable, and he maintained his silence for years, patiently biding his time until something unknown summoned him to return to Haddonfield fifteen years later. Haddonfield now has its own bogeyman and the locals live in fear, knowing on All Hallows Eve he could come back again, his expression still as blank under his mask as it was back in 1963… | RP

CHUCKO THE BIRTHDAY CLOWN

Created by Charles M. Runyon, Chucko was a prominent local TV figure during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s in Los Angeles, California. His finely painted face that his wife did the makeup for, his happy-go-lucky laugh, and his spinning merry-go-round hat made him stand out. Kids waited years to appear on his show. Not only did Chucko make kids laugh, but he also promoted Chocks vitamins for good health! Krusty the Clown from The Simpsons was rumoured to be modelled after him. | WSB

ART THE CLOWN

Damien Leone’s Terrifier movies are gloriously uncomplicated in their premise, highlighting as they do the sadistic rampages of a murder clown called Art. This pale-faced horror doesn’t even try to look like a jolly balloon-twisting entertainer of children, with his bloody teeth and mad gleam. He’d much rather slowly whip you to death or stab you repeatedly with something sharp and pointy. With future Terrifier movies planned, except to see a lot of this monochrome horror for some time to come. | EF

ERIC

While Eric, the developmentally disabled and physically deformed son of Thea Pi house mother, Mrs Slater, is only seen in the waning moments of Mark Rosman’s 1983 slasher, The House on Sorority Row, it’s certainly an effective appearance. When Eric initially appears to take revenge on the sorority sisters he saw accidentally murder his mother, he’s only seen in shadows or dimly-lit profile, if at all. For most of the movie, he’s the bog-standard hack-and-slash shape, but when Katey (Katherine McNeil) ventures into his attic room, Eric appears full-dressed as his Jack in the Box clown, and it’s fairly terrifying. Obviously, Katey gets the drop on him and he’s out, but the ending leaves things open for a potential sequel that never happened. The movie was remade in 2009 as Sorority Row, but no creepy clown time took place in that film. | NS

KRUSTY

Krusty the Clown was originally conceived by Matt Groening as an alter-ego for Homer Simpson – the big twist reveal being that the father to whom Bart never showed any respect was also, unbeknownst to him, his biggest hero. That’s why Krusty and Homer’s visual designs are so similar and also, presumably, why they’re both voiced by Dan Castellaneta. Of course, this (along with many of Groening’s other bizarre original plans for the show) was quickly discarded as soon as Krusty’s personality began to take shape. Beyond the logistical problems it would cause, it probably wouldn’t sit well with viewers if Homer was quite that self-obsessed and self-destructive. Thankfully, Krusty was given the space to grow into a fully-fledged, three-dimensional member of Springfield and remains one of the most consistently interesting and funny parts of the show to this day. | SH

JANGLES

Lurking in Riley’s subconscious, Inside Out’s Jangles is like a child-friendly(?) version of Pennywise but without the carnivorous streak. Voiced with disconcerting pantomime by the film’s writer Josh Cooley, Jangles is a caricature of the nightmare clown. Radioactive green eyes, fat, giant and with freakish make-up, it’s no wonder he did enough to lodge himself in a small child’s nightmares. He is disturbing enough to shake anyone from a deep slumber! Yet you can’t help but feel for ol’ Jangles, who, as the credits sequence reveals, went through six intense years of drama school and really deserves better. Maybe it serves him right for being creepy. Anyway, who’s the birthday girl?! | JH

MR JELLY

In the wonderfully warped filmography of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, the short-lived (it only had two series and a Halloween special) Psychoville gets sadly overlooked. The genius minds behind Inside No. 9 and The League of Gentlemen were on great form in this show, as a fantastic cast went all-in with some deranged characters - one of the very best being Shearsmith himself as Mr Jelly. Always being infuriatingly mistaken for his children’s entertainer rival Mr Jolly, Jelly has a dark past that lost him his hand and led to his act falling on hard times, and Shearsmith is an absolute joy in the part. Whether showing kids his “red raw stump”, insulting bewildered parents, or breaking up a Punch and Judy show with his fists, Jelly is a bonkers, angry, and hilarious creation, made even funnier by his eventual unlikely pairing with Vilma Hollingbery’s care home resident Claudia Wren. | JB

#6

In the late ‘90s, Slipknot exploded onto the metal scene armed with a slasher film aesthetic, a blistering debut album and a chaotic, violent live show. The media was rife with stories of backstage fighting, vomit-filled masks and carcass huffing - Hanson they were not. While their horror façade was worshipped by some and eschewed by others, there was one member that immediately stuck out – the Clown. ‘Clown’ (aka #6 or Shawn Crahan) was not only the band’s ‘unstable’ baseball bat-wielding percussionist and backing vocalist, but their unofficial spokesperson. While the music may not be to everyone’s taste, there is no doubting #6’s creepy persona or intensity on stage. For many of a certain age, he is THE quintessential clown of the last 20 years. | JB

BOZO THE CLOWN

One of the most popular clowns in history, countless performers played Bozo the Clown over the years. The character was created in the late 1940s by Alan W. Livingston and was first portrayed by vaudeville actor Pinto Colvig. At one time, there were over a hundred variations of the show, such as Bozo’s Circus and The Bozo Super Sunday Show. Performer Larry Harmon eventually bought the rights to the character and took the clown global. The show consisted of kids playing games in order to win prizes, circus performances, comedy sketches, and local entertainment. There was even an animated cartoon series. | WSB

RONALD MCDONALD

How have The Banana Splits got a horror movie before Ronald McDonald?! A legendary name in the fast food industry, Ronald became a mascot for the corporate giant way back in 1963, first portrayed on a series of TV spots by radio personality Willard Scott. But it was in 1966 that Michael ‘Coco the Clown’ Polakovs’ Donald first donned the now-classic yellow costume. Since then he’s appeared on numerous ads and been portrayed by hundreds of exhausted and pissed-off workers in Maccie D (that’s what the cool kids call it, we’re reliably informed) joints the world over. Known as Uncle McDonald in China and Donald McDonald in Japan, Ronald even has his own lore as coming from McDonaldland, accompanied on high-calorie escapades by Mayor McCheese, the Hamburglar, Grimace, Birdie the Early Bird, and The Fry Kids (that last one sounds like a threat). Through games, books, and even a Golden Raspberry award for appearing in the universally despised Mac and Me, Ronald has courted controversy. While some see the clown prince of fries as a figure of happiness and charity, others say he encourages childhood obesity and has a predatory look. Despite calls for his retirement by some, Ronald endures and da-da-da-da-da, he’s lovin’ it! | JB

GHOST CLOWN

Appearing in Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, Ghost Clown is one of the most iconic villains that Mystery Inc. came across in the original series. In the episode Bedlam in the Big Top, Harry the Hypnotist is seeking revenge against the circus who caught him stealing and sent him to prison. He then took the persona of the Ghost Clown. Unfortunately for Harry, he is tricked into hypnotising himself by Scooby and Shaggy and is apprehended. A little known fact about Ghost Clown is that he was the first Scooby-Doo villain who actually attempted to kill one of Mystery Inc. “He would have gotten away with too if it wasn’t for those meddling kids!” | SP

TWISTY

American Horror Story’s version of a horror clown. Most clowns smile in some way, but Twisty can’t as he blew off his own jaw in an attempted suicide, so now he wears a terrifying ‘grinning’ prosthetic. He roams the Earth in his filthy clown costume, looking for mean parents to punish in order to free children from their oppressors. Only an idiot would hire him for a kids’ party, and you’re likely to get brained with one of his special juggling clubs if you try. | EF

DAVID BOWIE

Following his death in 2016, David Bowie’s back catalogue was critically re-evaluated, not just audibly but visually as well. Amidst the style that pushed social boundaries throughout the 1970s and 1980s, there was also a streak of his work which was able to creep the shit out of us! Case in point, the music video to Ashes to Ashes (1980), which features Bowie as a Pierrot clown. The expressionless stare of Bowie’s clown added an unnerving tone to an already haunting song. The Pierrot clown also featured as a character in the 2008 series of the same name, stalking Keeley Hawes throughout the entire first series as an Angel of Death. If you didn’t fear clowns before, this one may become a matter of life and death! | NB

THE NORTHAMPTON CLOWN

Despite token famous denizen Alan Moore’s belief that Northampton is at the centre of everything, the town hasn’t been in the news for too much in the past couple of centuries, since one of the borough’s MPs became the only Prime Minister ever to be assassinated. That all changed, for a moment at least, in the summer of 2013, when people began reporting sightings of a sinister clown in the town’s Phippsville area. The clown didn’t do much; he just stood, watching, sometimes holding a balloon, like Pennywise in Stephen King’s IT. The clown faded back into obscurity after a few weeks, with an aspiring student filmmaker claiming responsibility, but we may never truly know just who – or what – stalked the streets of Northampton that summer. | AB

INSANE CLOWN POSSE

Imagine a 10k-strong army of clowns at your command; shudder at the kind of chaos one could conjure in a world crippled by coulrophobia. Well, this is the kind of power musicians Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope currently wield, having spent 30 years amassing a formidable fanbase (or Juggalos, as they’re better known) who hang on every word of their horrorcore stylings. Pray the Insane Clown Posse never get tired of music and move into supervillainy instead. It’d be no laughing matter. | KH

OBNOXIO

Legendary comic book writer Larry Hama is responsible for a lot of cool things, such as giving GI Joe/Action Force a cool back-story and inventing Bucky O’Hare. One of his less well-known ideas was Obnoxio the Clown, the slovenly and disgusting mascot of Marvel’s own satirical magazine, Crazy. Save for a few dated one-off gags and a random team-up with the X-Men, Obnoxio has pretty much vanished into obscurity. But you never know, with Disney producing so many Marvel-inspired shows and movies, it may only be a matter of time before they cast someone like Jack Black or Danny Devito in the inevitable MCU movie! | EF

THE ZOMBIE CLOWN

Some people are scared of zombies, some of clowns - so when one of Zombieland’s special infected was a combination of both, it’s no wonder our protagonists were terrified of it! From its face covered in paint and blood to a trademark squeaky nose, this clown is not to be messed with! | JP

CHEEZO, BIPPO, AND DIPPO

Cheeze, Bippo, and Dippo are probably three very nice gentlemen and have brought joy and laughter to a whole generation of children in their travels with a circus. However, those fine gentlemen aren’t our concern. In fact, we never even see them in action during the 1989 film Clownhouse… Instead, on their travels, a local mental institution decides to allow some of the inmates to attend the circus as part of their therapy. Somehow, three of their most dangerous inmates break free of the rest, corner and kill the three defenceless clowns, and take their make-up and clothing. Three young brothers are alone in their isolated farmhouse home; the youngest suffers an acute case of coulrophobia, and has already had the life scared out of him at the circus at the hands of his bullying intolerant brothers. His night of trauma is just beginning, as the new Cheezo, Bippo, and Dippo besiege the house, cutting off the power and phone, silently stalking their prey in their obsession to satisfy their homicidally maniacal urges! | RP

LUCAS’ CLOWN DOLL

Joe Dante’s The Hole 3D is a movie that deserves a much larger audience and proof that a horror movie aimed at a wider family audience can most definitely work. The film’s simple premise of two brothers finding a chained-up hatch in their new home’s basement, which contains truly devastating horrors that use their own fears against them, soon opens up into a chilling, funny throwback to Dante’s earlier work and classic ‘80s genre output. Among the really quite certificate-pushingly strong sequences this movie conjures, the one aspect that stands out above all else is that bloody clown doll. Long before that imposter Annabelle became cinema’s go-to deadly doll, this clown came to town. Technically a jester but far more dementedly clown-like in appearance, this doll terrorises Nathan Gamble’s 10-year-old Lucas relentlessly in the film and preys on his coulrophobia, even going as far as to attack him in a pool and try to drown the poor little bugger! | JB

ODDBOD

Nowadays he’s grieving Graham in the most recent (and next) series of Doctor Who, but cheeky chappie Bradley Walsh has previous form in the show’s expanded TV universe. In Day of the Clown, the second two-part story of the second series of popular children’s spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures, Bradders turned up as Oddbod, borrowing liberally from IT as a sinister, red-balloon-brandishing clown, one of the manifestations of the deadly and legendary Pied Piper who, in fact, is an alien who feeds on fear. Sarah Jane and her junior Bannerman Road gang trap him back in the meteorite that brought him to Earth, doomed to present episodes of The Chase for all eternity. | PM

CLEAVER

Cleaver made his first appearance in the cult indie horror flick Slasher House (2013), as part of the Mycho Universe - an interconnected series of films all set in the same continuity - where he found himself in a Battle Royale against four other Slashers in a fight to the finish. Since then, the grease-painted maniac has gone on to have his own franchise, beginning with Cleaver: Rise of the Killer Clown (2016), uncovering the clown’s origins as he pursues a lonely babysitter on Halloween night, and leading to Cleavers: Killer Clowns (2019), which continues the meat-cleaving monster’s tale as he terrorises an All-American family on a cross-country road trip with his sadistic daughter while being hunted by one of the survivors of the original massacre. | GK

VULGAR

Director Bryan Johnson’s 2000 film featuring Clerks star Brian O’Halloran as a revenging birthday party clown is definitely not something one would expect from the dude who played comics nerd Steve-Dave in a series of Kevin Smith films. Will Carlson’s plans to become a bachelor party clown and make more money are ended when he’s gang-raped and tortured by a motel room of depraved men. After a suicidal Will saves a little girl, he becomes famous, the depraved men blackmail him with video of his attack, and he attempts revenge. It goes poorly, but he makes it out, and by the end, you’re in dire need of a shower. A sequel was announced in 2016, but nothing’s come of it, which is probably for the best. God only knows where it could go. | NS

THE PSYCHO CIRCUS

In the Marvel comic books, Rocket Racoon comes from a place called Halfworld, a colony for the mentally unstable (Rocket was head of security, rather than an inmate). One of the inhabitants of Halfworld was Judson Jakes, a sentient mole with a talent for technology. In a lunatic bid to take over this world-sized asylum, Jakes created a robotic psycho circus. Or to put it another way, an army of robotic clowns, all based on clown-themed children’s toys. This triggered the Toy War, a worldwide apocalypse ushered by pale-faced idiots, giggling and causing havoc. Rocket stopped them of course, but not before they wrecked the place. A timely reminder why clown toys are never a good idea. | EF

ADAM MACINTYRE

When the world went to shit at the Willamette Mall, a party clown completely lost his mind after having to deal with annoying kids - and the undead! Adam the Clown was first featured in Capcom’s hit 2006 video game Dead Rising and if you want to advance to the next level, then you’re going to have to contend with that maniacal laugh and dodge his dual chainsaws to defeat him in one of the title’s toughest boss fights! | JP

ROBBIE’S CLOWN DOLL

In Tobe Hooper’s 1982 film Poltergeist, the scares transcend pissed-off spooks to include a clown doll being possessed and lurking under the bed of the Freeling family’s young son Robbie, waiting to strike. Combining our fear of these painted pests and creepy toys coming to life, this particular clown was quickly etched into horror movie history! | JP

THE KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE

Nobody knows where they came from, but in true fifties sci-fi movie style, the aliens land just outside a small American town with an intolerant bully of a sheriff eager to arrest anybody who crosses his path. But these aliens aren’t just your ordinary extraterrestrials – their ship appears to be a garish circus tent from the outside, and they look like the most grotesque clown caricatures you’ll ever see in your deepest coulrophobic nightmares. Jumbo, Shorty, Rudy, Spikey, Slim, and Chubby will cocoon you in lethal candy floss, they’ll kill you with their deadly popcorn guns, or they’ll chase you down with their balloon dog that comes to life. And their shadow puppet dinosaurs are hungrier than anything we ever saw on Jurassic Park! We’re not sure why they’re here, but we know they’re hungry when they start to liquidise the locals and drink them with their crazy straws. We don’t know what their mission was (maybe they just dropped in while passing for a snack?) but keep watching the skies, folks – it’s been 32 years, but they could come back at any time… | RP

PENNYWISE

The Killer Klowns aren’t the only pasty-faced freaks originating from the furthest-flung regions of outer space, a creature named Glamour once called it home too, many billions of years ago. Here on Earth, however, this shape-shifting alien of the Deadlight species chose the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown so he can appeal to children. And eat them. | KH

JOKER

Created in 1940 and going on to cause chaos in many incarnations over a multitude of mediums, it’s no surprise that the Clown Prince of Crime would have the last laugh on this list. Whether you prefer your Joker prioritising piss-poor puns or wrestling with his troubled mental state while dancing to Gary Glitter, there’s a variation to suit everyone’s tastes. In fact, so fractured has the character been over the last 80-plus years, that his DC Comics overlords have flirted with the idea that there isn’t actually just one Joker that’s been battling with Batman all this time, but three. He’s still only getting one entry though. | KH

Got a favourite clown that we’ve failed to mention? Well keep it to yourself, weirdo! Just kidding, feel free to let us know on Twitter @STARBURST_mag

Words: Jack Bottomley | Robin Pierce | Ed Fortune | Alan Boon | Stephen Pierce | Paul Mount | Kris Heys | Nick Spacek | Nick Blackshaw | James Hanton  | Whitney Scott Bain | James Perkins | Sol Harris | Grant Kempster | James Bridcut

[This article was originally published in issue 464, September 2019.]

 

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