Although clowns are originally comic performers and characterized to humor and entertain people, the image of the evil clown is a development in popular culture, in which the playful trope of the clown is rendered as disturbing through the use of horror elements and dark humor.
The modern archetype of the evil clown has unclear origins, but many believe it all started from Stephen King's Novel "IT". He was the first to introduce the fear of an evil clown. Another one of the first appearances of the concept is that of John Wayne Gacy, an American serial killer and rapist who became known as the Killer Clown after it was discovered that he performed as Pogo the Clown at children's parties and other events. The public nature of his trial made the imprint of his character on American culture noteworthy, including his association with his clown persona.
The evil clown archetype plays strongly off the sense of dislike caused by inherent elements of coulrophobia. A study by the University of Sheffield concluded "that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them quite frightening and unknowable." This may be because of the nature of clowns' makeup hiding their faces, making them potential threats in disguise; as a psychology professor at California State University, Northridge stated, young children are "very reactive to a familiar body type with an unfamiliar face". This natural disliking of clowns makes them effective to use in a literary or fictional context, as the antagonistic threat perceived in clowns is desirable in a villainous character.
The concept of the evil clown is related to the irrational fear of clowns, known as coulrophobia. The cultural critic Mark Dery has theorized the postmodernarchetype of the evil clown in "Cotton Candy Autopsy: Deconstructing Psycho-Killer Clowns" (a chapter in his cultural critique The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink).
Using Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of the carnivalesque, Jungian and historical writings on the images of the fool in myth and history, and ruminations on the mingling of ecstasy and dread in the Information Age, Dery asserts the evil clown is an icon of our times. Clowns are often depicted as murderous psychopaths at many American haunted houses.
Wolfgang M. Zucker points out the similarities between a clown's appearance and the cultural depictions of demons and other infernal creatures, noting "[the clown's] chalk-white face in which the eyes almost disappear, while the mouth is enlarged
to a ghoulish bigness looks like the mask of death.".
Notable evil clowns
The Joker, a notable enemy in the Batman franchise whose key features are a clown-like disguise, clown-like disfigured face, and permanent smile.
Pennywise the Dancing Clown, a common form taken by the mysterious monster in Stephen King's novel It and its film adaptation. He often uses corny humor as he taunts his victims.
The Bicycle Doctor, a laughing, malevolent clown disguised as a doctor who destroys the protagonist's beloved bicycle after feigning attempts to repair it in a nightmare experienced by Pee-Wee Herman in the film Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. The doctor is assisted by several grotesque clowns who act as medical technicians. Earlier in the film, Pee-Wee chains his bicycle to a smiling animatronic clown statue; when the bicycle is stolen, Pee-Wee imagines the clown's smile changing to a grimace as it utters a menacing cackle.
The Ghost Clown, a faux evil supernatural circus clown in an early episode of the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! television show episode Bedlam in the Bigtop circa 1970. He actually is a human criminal working in the circus. He has power over people and Scooby by hyptnotizing them with a magic pendulum. Most notably he puts in a trance Daphne Blake and has her risk her life on a unicycle and high wire.
Killjoy, a demonic clown who is summoned to assist revenge plots.
Clownhouse, three mental patients escape and stalk a young boy home from the circus dressed in clown costumes.
Piedmon, a mega-lvel digimon from Digimon franchise and one of the Dark Masters and designed based on evil clowns.
Freddy Krueger, was a killer clown in his behaviour in the later Nightmare on Elm Street films especially has he used humour to terrorise his victims. He is never referred to as a clown and does not have a clown appearance.