The Men Who Laugh: 5 evil clowns guaranteed to haunt your dreams

Our five favorite painted-up, gruesomely grinning, absolutely terrifying evil clowns who've made their way into pop culture over the past 25 years.

Growing up, I had a fear of clowns. In my mind, behind the smiles and makeup was something disturbing and unknown. While clowns are made to represent slapstick comedy, the depiction of evil clowns has grown in popular culture in the past few decades.

Throughout many different mediums, there is no clear origin of where evil clowns rose from. In earlier history, Edgar Allen Poe’s short story Hop-Frog incorporated a character in a masquerade ball as a jester hell-bent on revenge. In more recent times, it's serial killer John Wayne Gacy who established that clowns are not what they seem.

With new clown-painted faces on TV and eerie clown-related incidents worldwide, we take a look at the characters who have cemented the “evil clown” icon in the last 25 years. Sweet dreams.

1. Twisty the Clown (American Horror Story):

Twisty used to be a popular clown performer for kids back in the 1940s. Jealous of his popularity, two coworkers told Twisty that children were telling the cops that he was a child molester. He ran away hoping to start fresh but was met with negative publicity by everyone. He tried to commit suicide but failed, disfiguring himself.

What makes Twisty such a unique character is that he is misunderstood. He kidnaps people, feeling attached to them and performing for them hoping his captives approve. He wants to be accepted. This is reminiscent of Boris Karloff’s performance as Frankenstein's monster. Both want respect and want to be liked, but unfortunately the monster takes over, and their tempers lead to murder.

2. The Joker (The Dark Knight):

The Clown Prince of Crime has been a mainstay in comics since his first appearance in 1940. Taking inspiration from Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs, this villain is pure anarchy, and while Jack Nicholson’s performance was solid, it was Heath Ledger’s portrayal that brought chills to the audience.

The character doesn't have a clear origin, which gives him an ominous sense of mystery. The Joker considers himself an agent of chaos and wants to prove to Batman that everyone is corruptible, which really means that anyone can kill.

What is most frightening about The Joker is his unpredictability. You can't plan what he will do; he is that abrupt, even for Batman, the world’s greatest detective. You won’t know if he will give you a pat on the back after a job well done or kill you. He will probably kill you while evoking his iconic sadistic laugh.

3. Pennywise (Stephen King's IT):

No one likes sewers, especially after seeing this film based on Stephen King’s book. This two part miniseries centers on “The Loser Club,” a group of outcast kids who encounter Pennywise and want to take him down. As adults 30 years later, they are called back to defeat Pennywise since he has resurfaced.

Pennywise takes a page out of Freddy Krueger’s book and is able to transform into anything his prey fears. This makes for some creepy supernatural scenes and provides the feeling of multiple dimensions. What makes the movie more unsettling is the carnival music heard while Pennywise does his villainous actions. It truly makes the experience of watching IT uncomfortable.

With such a tormenting performance to give, only Tim Curry could have brought this killer clown to life because of his cruel allurement and raspy voice. Having a diverse range in theater, Curry brought experience, which should be of high importance in any Stephen King adaption, solely out of respect.

4. Sweet Tooth (Twisted Metal video game series):

Twisted Metal is a vehicle combat tournament. It's a fight to the death.

Marcus Kane is one of the main characters in all the Twisted Metal games and got a story reboot in the 2012 remake for PlayStation 3. Kane once had a family and was an ice-cream truck driver. He grew depressed and developed dissociative personality disorder. Kane created a split personality named “Needles." Needles took over what was left of Marcus psyche and renamed himself Sweet Tooth.

Sweet Tooth, with his ice cream truck, adds all types of lethal ammunition, but more importantly he is known for his brute force. Carrying a machete, he is unstoppable and loves to keep tallies of his large body count. For instance, he expresses his joy of having so many prey awaiting his demise: “This would be fun. It was like Christmas morning. Every hallway filled with little gifts. Little, tiny, blood filled gifts.”

5. Captain Spaulding (House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects):

Part of a gang of backwoods murderers, he is the proprietor of a roadside gas station combined with a museum/haunted house ride.

Spaulding is the architect of the horror that occurs, meaning he is the tactician of the group and knows how to lure in drifters and people who are unfortunate enough to stop at this roadside attraction.

While he is extremely intimidating, Spaulding has an endearing insanity. He can act civil and has an unsettling charm, but once you cross “his” line, there is no remorse. He will give you to the rest of his gang for some meat work.

For little kids, he is a nightmare. For teenagers and up, he is a “lovable a------," according to the director of both films, Rob Zombie.

Honorable Mentions:

The clowns from Killer Klowns from Outer Space: Because it’s so bad, it's good.

Doll clown from Poltergeist: This gave us the notion never to look under the bed after dark as kids.

Zombie clown from Zombieland: "Rule #17: Don’t be a Hero." Well, some rules are made to be broken, and it's even more important to conquer your fears.

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