Very little scientific research has been performed on the effects—and thus, the statistics—of coulrophobia, the fear of clowns. According to a 2010 article on about.com’s Health section, 250 children in a University of Sheffield study, ages 4 to 16, expressed a dislike or outright fear of the makeup-covered balloon-animal-makers.
This isn’t nearly enough research, so we did our own, delving into the heart of darkness of clown horror. The results kept us up all night, sweating buckets and constantly checking to make sure that our doors and windows were locked.
Why are people afraid of clowns? We narrowed the reason down to five different pop-culture examples from the 1980s and 1990s.
And for your amusement, we put it in GIF form.
1) Killer Klowns From Outer Space
Everyone thought campy “B” horror movies had died out when the 1950s came to a close. However, the 1988 comedy-horror film Killer Klowns From Outer Space proved the genre to be far from dead.
The plot confronts—and exploits—the core of every coulrophobic: aliens that resemble evil, ugly circus clowns land on Earth and kill everyone in their path. Wrapping them in cotton-candy cocoons, encasing them in bubbles, and even melting them with acidic ice cream pies, the clowns terrify a small community.
2) Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure brought Paul Reubens’s iconic character to audiences everywhere and marked a very successful directorial debut for Tim Burton. The movie, which pays homage to almost every genre of film, follows Pee-Wee Herman as he travels across the western U.S. in search of his prized bicycle, stolen from an envious neighbor.
It was also crawling with evil clowns.
First of all, the seemingly innocent animatronic clown to which Pee-Wee secures his bike begins cackling at him once he discovers the bike has been stolen.
Later on in the film, Pee-Wee has a dream that features horrendously creepy clowns as doctors tending to the pieces of his destroyed bicycle. Appropriately enough, the dream’s setting is Hell.
In perhaps one of the most disturbing images ever committed to celluloid, one of the surgeons makes eye contact with Pee-Wee and removes his surgical mask to evilly laugh at him as he witnesses his beloved bike systematically being further destroyed.
3) Stephen King’s It
From The Shining to Pet Sematary, the works of horror author Stephen King have seen successful film adaptations. Children growing up in the 1980s and 1990s may have been aware of King’s popular works, but the R rating that most of them received kept them out of our reach—until an awesome older brother or cousin showed them to us on a stolen VHS tape.
The adaption of Stephen King’s It, however, was a different story.
Producers decided to make the novel a miniseries, not a restricted movie, and aired it on the ABC network. The same network that aired the family-friendly “TGIF” programming block, full of silly sitcoms like Full House and Step by Step, was now airing an evil, child-killing clown.
The icing on the cake is the fact that the choice to play Pennywise the Clown was none other than Tim Curry. While the Rocky Horror Picture Show star did an excellent job with the role, he is already creepy enough. Slap clown makeup and evil deeds onto him and it becomes a lasting focal point of pure terror.
4) The Simpsons
Krusty the Clown, the resident clown of The Simpsons, isn’t scary. He was a surly, chain-smoking alcoholic, sure, but he wasn’t evil.
The coulrophobia born from The Simpsons can instead be traced to the 1992 episode “Lisa’s First Word.” A large number of viewers tuned in to see the episode, as it was to feature Elizabeth Taylor uttering Maggie Simpson’s first word, “Daddy.”
Most of the episode is a flashback that details life in the Simpsons’ household in the early 1980s. At the time, Bart was a rambunctious toddler and Lisa was a newborn.
Homer decides to build Bart a clown bed since he is a fan of such performers. Unfortunately, his shoddy craftsmanship results in a gap-mouthed, frightening entity that triggers the deepest—and darkest—recesses of young Bart’s imagination.
“Can’t sleep, clown’ll eat me,” Bart says over and over, trance-like.
The bed is so traumatizing that Bart actually prefers a night spent at the Flanders household to it.
We’re aware that the famed Batman villain Joker is not technically a clown, but he sure as hell passed for one—a petrifying one, at that—to young audiences when they helped Batman shatter box office records in 1989.
Like Tim Curry, Jack Nicholson can be scary enough without makeup. When he dons the visage of Joker’s trademark green hair, white face paint, and underlying sense of insanity, it makes things much more worse.
We didn’t want Batman to stop the Joker because he was robbing Gotham City and slaughtering its residents; we wanted the Joker dealt with because he was a creepy clown who made us long for the Penguin or even the Riddler!
GIFs via Tumblr
Photo via Clay Junell/Flickr