10 Memorable Clown Moments in Movies and TV (1932-1989)

by Wade Wainio 10 days ago in pop culture

Funny, scary, or sad? Step right up and take your pick!

10 Memorable Clown Moments in Movies and TV (1932-1989)
George A. Romero gifted us with a zombie clown in "Day of the Dead."

Most Popular Clown Movies and TV Shows (1932-1989)

1. Freaks (1932)

There's debate over whether Tod Browning's Freaks is horror or drama. One thing we do know, though: It's got a clown in it. Despite the film focusing largely on characters with birth defects of various kinds, Phroso the clown (Wallace Ford) is considerably more average. He relies on traditional clown gimmicks in his actions throughout the movie. Though he's a relatively minor character, he is potentially memorable and sometimes even wise.

For example, he says, "Don't go out filling your hide with a lot of booze celebrating. 'Cause fun what's got that way never done no one no good. Get me?" Then again, he has some sexist comments here and there. Still, he isn't a villain, and he helps make Freaks more of a nuanced picture while advancing view on clown-kind. As he says, "clowning is an art." Freaks also stars Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova, Roscoe Ates, Henry Victor, Harry and Daisy Earles, and a whole bunch of others.

2. Batman (1966)

Before future installments made us permanently see the Joker as a thoroughly dark character, ABC made the Joker look plainly silly. Cesar Romero's Joker may have been willing to kill Batman, but he was always confounded by that cunning caped crusader! In a way, the 1960s Batma" represents a more innocent era of superhero presentation. Not everything has to be heavy, dark, and almost forcibly epic!

Still, this Joker incarnation was diabolical enough to still be villainous. However, no one who watched this Batman series thinks of him differently from how kids view the ghosts in Scooby-Doo...and that's okay, especially when Batman has crossed paths with Scooby and the gang. Batman also prominently features Adam West, Burt Ward, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, John Astin, Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, Eartha Kitt, and Vincent Price.

3. Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter's Halloween created a classic villain in Michael Myers (AKA "The Shape", played by Nick Castle/Tony Moran). Part of his staying power is due to Myers' iconic, expressionless William Shatner mask. However, let's not forget that, when he was a kid (Will Sandin). Mikey got his start as a killer clown.

When unmasked by his parents after freshly killing his sister (Sandy Johnson), the 6-year-old Michael Myers looks young, innocent, even flustered. Still, we all come to recognize the evil beneath that clown mask. It's a perplexing evil, to be sure, but it is evil. So yes, Michael Myers technically helped to get the ball rolling on this whole "evil clown" thing in modern horror. Way to go, Mike! Halloween also stars Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles,

4. Poltergeist (1982)

What can be said of Poltergeist's clown? For many, it is the freakiest moment out of the whole movie. Indeed, and it's tough to say exactly what kind of ghost/spirit/entity would possess a child's clown and attack him with it...but I'd call that evil ghost a party animal! Granted, it's not the type of party most would want to attend, but the doll sure appears to be having fun!

5. Day of the Dead (1985)

Not every memorable clown takes center stage in a film or TV show's story. That's definitely the case with Day of the Dead's own zombie clown, which was surely peppered in by George A. Romero to liven up the picture. Still, this is definitely a "blink and you might miss it" clown, Zombie clowns do occur in future horror movies, but Romero proved innovative in this department as well.

6. Blood Harvest (1987)

Bill Rebane's Blood Harvest is far from a masterpiece, seemingly destined to be a footnote's footnote in the slasher genre. Nevertheless, Tiny Tim seems at least slightly committed to his performance as Mervo The Clown. Tiny Tim playing an emotionally disturbed clown isn't very surprising, but it's probably the highlight of Blood Harvest. Well, that and the nudity (and don't worry, none of that belongs to Tiny Tim).

7. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

Tony Randel's Hellbound: Hellraiser II is a pretty decent followup to the original Hellraiser. It's a bit confusing, but that's because it's a journey through hell, which is also a journey through the mind. As Dr. Philip Channard explains it: "The mind is a labyrinth, ladies and gentlemen, a puzzle. And while the paths of the brain are plainly visible, its ways deceptively apparent, its destinations are unknown."

In this movie, one of those paths involves a frickin' clown juggling his own bloody eyeballs for kicks. Cool, right? Well, it's one of the freakiest moments in the whole film, honestly, and perhaps the context is best left as a mystery. One interesting question about Hell, though: Are these strange characters supposed to be real or just illusions, or some combination?

8. Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

I've written elsewhere about the Killer Klowns from Outer Space. I've said this: "People will have to judge for themselves whether this is watchable, and I will admit it’s not conventionally good. However, it is killer Klown conventionally good, which is good enough for me!" That still holds. Thankfully, you can frequently find this movie on streaming services, including even Youtube. So, basically, younger generations have many opportunities to see this craziness unfold.

Regarding a possible sequel, I have noted that it's presently stuck in development hell, especially after Disney acquired the rights. That prompted me to ask if Mickey Mouse will ever say: “Okay, I’ve consumed enough of the American cultural landscape now. I’m fat enough. Time to retire in my rathole and leave the world my existing droppings to enjoy." Still, if Disney would come forward with a sequel, I promised that I'd level down my critiques of their all-swallowing media empire for a bit.

9. Batman (1989)

I'll be lazy yet again, as I already wrote about The Joker in this film. Still, I could hardly rephrase myself better than this: "Nicholson, Burton, and Keaton helped take the Batman character and his opponents to newer, darker terrain than the 1960s Batman or Adam West, and it played a big role in changing superhero films since. Very few superhero films even attempt a lighter, sillier tone, and that’s partly attributable to this menacing and often crazy incarnation of The Joker."

I would add that, to some people, this is still the best Batman movie out there. Granted, Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix both went on to deliver powerhouse performances in their own way. However, those performances arguably dominate those movies too much. With Nicholson, you don't forget about Batman as being a central focus. Plus, I'll just say it: Christian Bale's overly dramatic Batman voice sucks and takes away substantially from The Dark Knight (my opinion, but I know some will agree).

10. The Simpsons (1989– )

Finally, let's end with a more lovable character: Krusty the Clown from The Simpsons. Created by Matt Groening and voiced by Dan Castellaneta, Krusty is part of what made The Simpsons an iconic sitcom. Inspired partly by figures like Bozo the Clown and Rusty Nails, Krusty is by no means a run-of-the-mill clown character. In fact, his character does a great deal to humanize clowns on a regular basis, all while making kids (both real and imagined) laugh.

He's also known for being the main purveyor of Itchy & Scratchy. Of course, it's hard to mention Krusty without also mentioning Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammar), who regularly appears as the arch-nemesis of Bart Simpson. In 2006, Kelsey Grammar won an Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance for his performance as Bob in the season 17 episode "The Italian Bob."

Well, that's it for this little look into clown history. There are a lot more clowns one can cover, so there may very well be a part 2 of this list!

pop culture
Wade Wainio
Wade Wainio
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Wade Wainio

Wade Wainio writes stuff for Show Snob, Undead Walking, Pophorror.com, Vents Magazine and Haunted MTL. He is also an artist, musician and college radio DJ for WMTU 91.9 FM Houghton.

See all posts by Wade Wainio