With Pennywise in IT: Chapter Two scaring up a storm and early reports that Joaquin Phoenix has truly nailed Batman’s nemesis in Joker, 2019 seems to be the year of the clown. With that in mind, here are our picks for 6 of the best clown movies to help you get your fill of carnival creepiness.
The Last Circus
Possibly the finest film on this list, and certainly the most insane, this Spanish offering features comedy darker than a murder in a coal mine.
Basque director Álex de la Iglesia‘s film begins during the bloody Spanish civil war, where a clown is drafted into the military. Without time to even remove his make-up, he massacres an entire platoon with a machete. We pick back up in 1973, where the clown’s son Javier (Carlos Areces) wishes to follow in his father’s footsteps (clowning, not machete-killing) but is too morose to play anything other than a ‘sad’ clown. When he joins the circus, he finds himself constantly belittled and brutalised by the ‘happy’ clown Sergio (Antonio de la Torre).
It is difficult to overstate the acid-drenched insanity of this sumptuously shot film. It’s a complex political allegory painted in various shades of blood red. Sex, violence, tragedy and absurdity intermingle as machine-gun-toting clowns and bearded ladies drag the audience through an operatic story of betrayal.
House of 1000 Corpses
Long before Rob Zombie answered the question ‘How can a film about murderous clowns be excruciatingly dull?’ with 31, he gave us the infinitely compelling Captain Spaulding.
Sid Haig’s performance in House of 1000 Corpses is right on the money, and his clown is as folksy and charismatic as it is unsettling and grotty. Luring out-of-towners to his roadside attraction, Spaulding regales them with tales of historical horror. Honestly, if it weren’t for the murderous Firefly family, we’d gladly take a trip to explore his Museum of Monsters and Madmen.
We wish Sid Haig all the best with his recovery from a recent bout of ill health.
For British comedian Ross Noble, Stitches must have felt like an interesting departure from his usual brand of whimsical stand-up. A hapless and irritable birthday clown is killed in a horrific accident when children tie his shoelaces together. Years later, he rises from the grave to take revenge on his now-teenage killers.
Stabs at comedy and some inventive clown-based kills aren’t quite enough to save Stitches from mediocrity. That said, Noble is obviously having a whale of a time picking off the hapless teens and the film is worth a watch for the sheer enthusiasm that he brings to his role.
Back before director Jon Watts was making bank with Spider-Man: Homecoming, he gave us this brutal and bizarre offering. Dutiful father Kent (Andy Powers) dusts off an old clown costume to save his son’s birthday party when the entertainer fails to show up. Of course, no good deed goes unpunished. The suit proves impossible to remove, slowly fusing with him and transforming him into a murderous monster.
It’s not a film for the faint of heart, and many critics found it difficult to stomach, especially when the fiendish clown targets young children. Boasting some impressive practical effects – the kind of gore necessary to satisfy the demands of producer Eli Roth – the film treads a fine line between comedy and subversive horror.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space
Let’s not beat around the bush here: Killer Klowns From Outer Space is not a movie. Conceived by the three Chiodo brothers, a family of special effects experts, Killer Klowns is really a glorified VFX showreel. As a result, the film boasts some pretty sub-par performances and a plot that can only be described as an afterthought.
What it lacks in substance, however, it makes up for in style. The Chiodo brothers clearly had a blast thinking up various different ways that clown aliens could terrorise their victims. The perils here range from being blown up with exploding noses to hunted down with balloon dogs, or having your face melted off with acidic pies.
The latex creations are goofy but also fairly disturbing, and many of the effects still hold up to this day. It’s a tribute to the Chiodo brothers’ technical skills, if not their talent for storytelling.
He Who Gets slapped
The words ‘based on the play from Russian author…’ rarely indicate a laugh-a-minute thrill ride. This certainly holds true for He Who Gets Slapped, a tragic 1924 silent drama from MGM. A professor, humiliated by his wife’s infidelity, decides to become a circus clown whose act mainly involves getting beaten up to raucous laughter.
It would probably have gone unnoticed in horror circles if not for the starring turn from horror legend Lon Cheney Jr. As with everything he touched, Lon Cheney transforms the tale into something uniquely unnerving. The surreal sequences in which he ‘performs’ for jeering crowds are utterly nightmarish.