Clowns are creepy. Yes, they are. At least, that's the impression I've always gotten from most people I've met when the subject of clowns comes up in conversation. It seems the ratio of people that dislike or who are afraid of clowns far exceeds the number of people that actually enjoy watching their antics.
It makes sense, as it is hard to trust a person in a weird outfit who is hiding his real expression behind his makeup and its big fake smile. Despite generations of clowns being passed off as entertainment for kids, I've rarely met an adult who liked them. In fact, I've met a bunch that are really scared of the colorful bastards.
Of course, this fear of clowns has been exploited to the point of becoming a cliche. Clowns have popped up regularly in horror films for decades, for understandable reasons. When was the last time you saw a clown in a movie that wasn't scary? It doesn't happen often.
Stephen King wrote one of his most popular novels about an evil clown, and, to a lot of people, Pennywise from "It" is one of the horror master's most frightening creations. The preteen gang-bang orgy that occurs late in the book (yes, really) is more disturbing to me than King's monster ever was, but the success of that novel and enduring boogeyman status of Pennywise has proven that a lot of people are really freaked out by creepy clowns.
The idea of a shape-changing, kid-killing clown monster is pretty scary, but there have been many examples of clowns over the years that are bigger doses of nightmare fuel than anything in "It." Let's take a peek into the shadows, and examine a few of these awful clowns more closely.
6. Willard Scott as "The First Ronald McDonald"
McDonald's is famous these days for transforming regular sized people into enormous versions of their former selves, but back in the early '60s, the still young fast food chain was considered a fun place to grab a meal for the whole family. In order to capture the imaginations of kids, the company decided to introduce what may have been its most important creation, the jolly burger-pushing clown, Ronald McDonald.
We are all familiar with the way Ronald has looked for the last several decades - red hair, yellow jumpsuit, the pale, dead looking face. Well, the original Ronald was even worse, a combination of bad clown design elements and fast food containers, looking like he crawled out of some hellish garbage dump more than anything else. Adding to the yuck factor of his unsavory appearance is the fact that "First Ronald" was played by former Today Show weirdo Willard Scott. I don't know why this makes him creepier, but somehow it does.
5. Insane Clown Posse & Juggalos
Juggalos take a lot of flack, and that's understandable. The average person is probably going to have a difficult time relating to guys wearing evil clown makeup and listening to songs about murder. I actually give the subculture credit for finding ways to upset mainstream America. That's pretty hard to do these days, so well played, Juggalos.
Most Juggalos seem to cultivate an odd image that's equal parts jester and "weird stoner guy that got thrown out of high school for exposing himself at lunch." It's an awkward balance of sinister and stupid.
It's hard to assign a truly terrifying quality to a single Juggalo, or even two or three, but an outsider finding himself suddenly surrounded by a large group of serious ICP fans could be forgiven for finding the experience frightening. Hope you like Faygo soda and broken dreams!
4. The Pontchartrain Beach Clown
Pontchartrain Beach was an amusement park located in New Orleans from 1928 until it closed in 1983. The park operated during those 55 years under the watchful eyes of a demonic clown. Perhaps it was a beloved mascot to some, but every representation I've seen of the white faced bastard makes him look like some diabolic Hell spawn greedily waiting to eat the souls of those that enter the park. Maybe this clown had a name, but I have yet to discover it. I would not be surprised if uttering its true name summons the ghastly creature, so I'll pass on that knowledge.
3. Outsider Art Clown Painting
This little slice of Harlequin joy killing is something I stumbled upon accidentally. A friend of mine living in a rural area had a neighbor who was slowly losing his mind, or so the story goes. After he was eventually forced into treatment, the guy's family found a bunch of paintings in his barn. Apparently he'd been painting them on cardboard for years. I ended up with this one. I think it speaks for itself. The creepy wide eyed gaze of these guys is enough to make most people's skin crawl, it certainly looks like they're after more than a hug. They would like to play with you. Forever.
2. 1960s Cereal Commercial Clown
He may have had a side job selling sugar-coated cereal to the kiddies, but one look at this grim faced monster and most of them would've wet themselves, and been awake all night waiting for him to make an appearance from under their beds or inside their closets. Would I ever buy cereal from this guy? No, because his cereal is probably made from the screams of children.
1. Pogo the Clown, A.K.A. John Wayne Gacy
Pretty much a given Gacy would be No. 1 in this list of awful clowns. It doesn't get any more monstrous than being a serial killing scumbag with at least 33 teenaged victims. In the big picture, all of these other clownstrosities are either spooky miscalculations in design, or goobers whose main threat is being creepy.
Gacy was the real deal. A genuinely evil killer clown. Sure, he didn't wear his "Pogo" outfit most of the time, but all we need to know is:
A. He raped and murdered at least 33 young men, burying many of them in the crawl space underneath his home.
B. He at least occasionally liked to dress up like a freaking clown.
Gacy wasn't a scary mascot, or an unsettling artistic representation, he was a psychopath that ruthlessly preyed on young males to satisfy his murderous sexual urges. He was also a part time clown. The nightmares John Wayne Gacy created were all too real, and not something his victims got a chance to wake up from.
Scary clowns have been around for years, centuries probably. The are plenty of them out there, but let's hope that most of them are just there to haunt our dreams, and don't actually kill people. We don't need any more John Wayne Gacys in the world.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.