Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Apparently, he had never seen a clown.

Following the runaway success of It, clowns are once again back on top of the (luckily figurative) terror pyramid, and it’s easy to see why. Horrible harbingers of the end times, the worst clowns distort a symbol of childish fun, twisting it into pure nightmare fuel. With every honk of a disturbingly oversized horn or blood-curdling cackle, I’m convinced someone, somewhere loses a piece of their soul. Gaming has its fair share of freaky, creepy, and unnerving clowns, so let’s look terror right in the face and check out the freakiest clowns in the medium.

Kinky Pinky (NARC)
NARC is a violent arcade game from the ‘80s that tasked players with tracking down and killing drug dealers. Although murder isn’t usually the best way to curb drug crime, in one particular case I fully support it: Kinky Pinky. A single psychopathic, knife-wielding clown is already terrifying, but Kinky Pinky is legion. Unlike other bosses in the game, he is a hive mind. Every clown is Kinky Pinky and Kinky Pinky is every clown. With ear-piercing shrieks, this army of horrors won’t hesitate to leap on you and take turns tearing at your flesh with cold steel. Once you’re on the ground, you have no choice but to stare straight into their cold, dead eyes – pools of endless darkness – and witness the terror of creatures that only enjoy death.

The Jester/Arkham (Devil May Cry 3)
Intent on becoming a demon, Arkham manipulates the events of Devil May Cry 3 in order to ensure his victory. To most, he appears as a tall, bald man with two different colored eyes. To demon hunter Dante, he appears as the Jester, a pale-faced, grinning freak decked out in shadowy shades of purple and black. The Jester isn’t outright terrifying. He has an insidious, unnerving intensity, and the kind of smile that promises a stab in the back and a twist of the blade. He’s more likely to slip out of the shadows and steal your soul then chop you up with a machete. And it’s not just his face that will haunt you. The way he moves is otherworldly: He disappears at will, dances around while cackling, and skitters on the ceiling, somehow making spiders less horrifying in the process. His smile is a little too wide, his movements too unpredictable. Everything about the Jester makes him just unnerving enough to haunt your waking hours as well as your dreams. 

Needles Kane (Twisted Metal)
Sometimes you don’t need to be subtle to scare people. Sometimes all you need is a clown with hellfire on his head. Needles Kane – no, his name is not Sweet Tooth – is like a nightmare checklist. Clown? Check. Serial killer? Check. Creepy ice cream truck? Check. Before the Twisted Metal battle royale, Kane was a mass-murdering clown sentenced to death. However, even the electric chair couldn’t keep this clown down. He survived and was cursed to forever feel the pain of hellfire. Even before the curse, Kane was a psychopathic hellspawn stalking and eviscerating the innocent (translation: clown). His hulking frame and array of weapons make him nearly impossible to stop. But worse than that, he’s persistent. In the 2012 Twisted Metal we learn that all he wants is to find the one that got away, the one victim who escaped. Setting off in his signature ice cream truck – all the better to lure in unsuspecting children with – Kane has a mission. Unfortunately, he doesn’t mind taking a couple detours on the way.

Pint-Sized Slasher (Fallout 3)
There are some things that virtual reality should never be used for, and trapping people in the homicidal fantasy of a mad scientist ranks high on that list. The Pint-Sized Slasher is a folktale turned into horrifying (virtual) reality. A grade school serial killer who wears a creepy clown mask and terrorizes the “idyllic” virtual suburbia Tranquility Lane with a butcher knife, the Pint-Sized Slasher serves the sadistic desires of this reality’s designer, Dr. Stanislaus Braun. The good doctor has trapped the “residents” of Tranquility Lane in a cycle of terror and pain. They’re stuck in this reality and all they know is that the Slasher will find them and kill them repeatedly. The killer’s mask – with eyes that pierce your soul and a smile that stretches miles wide – is enough to make anyone run and hide. Unfortunately, in this reality, you can’t hide. You can only wait. 

Beppi the Clown (Cuphead)
Beppi may be new to the creepy clown scene, but he’s already making room for his own brand of terror. Many clowns on this list are freaky, disturbing, or unnerving but at least they follow the basic laws of physics. Beppi shapeshifts and alters reality throughout his brutal encounter with Cuphead. Even as he transforms from an inflatable demon to a carrousel nightmare, Beppi’s devilish smile remains a constant, stuck somewhere between pleasure and pain. Throughout the boss fight, Beppi looks like he takes pleasure in hurting and toying with Cuphead, but cracks start to form at the edges of his ghastly grin. I mean, look at his face.

 He’s not having fun. Every moment he lives is agony and the whole boss fight is his way of trying to alleviate the pain. Only it doesn’t work. His life is empty of everything but pain, so he takes it out on Cuphead and the world. All respect to real clowns, but I’ll pass on the birthday parties and carnivals with this guy.

Kefka (Final Fantasy VI)
Hate. With one word, repeated like a mantra, Kefka transformed from a manic, temperamental general into a cruel, nihilistic sadist hellbent on destroying all mortals. He’s not an actual clown or jester, but it’s hard to read that last sentence and not think, “That sounds like a clown.” For Kefka, a good day involves burning soldiers alive, poisoning the water supply of entire cities, and calling down a death beam to destroy the planet. As Emperor Gestahl’s trusted general, he also has the power to turn his dreams of destruction into reality. He’s a clown with authority, which, as we all know, is pure fantasy. Kefka doesn’t lurk in the shadows, chop up innocent people with machetes, or create a nightmarish, shapeshifting amusement park.

The horror of Kefka comes from his philosophy, his utter disregard for human life, and his complete hatred for everything good. Every time he makes that signature high-pitched, spine-tingling screech of a laugh, it’s a reminder that for him life is one big cosmic joke. In a classic Final Fantasy moment, Kefka asks, “Why do people cling to life, knowing that they must someday die?...Knowing that none of it will have meant anything once they do?” You get the sense that he already knows the answer. A knife-wielding psychopath is terrifying, a twisted circus clown is disturbing, and a cackling jester is unnerving, but a man who smiles while he tells you that life is meaningless and the world will end is all three.

Honorable Mention: ICP (Backyard Wrestling 2: There Goes the Neighborhood)
How did this happen?

Are there any clowns in games that freak you out? Who am I kidding, of course there are! Let me know what clowns you think are the creepiest and make sure to tell me why the Joker should’ve been on the list in the comments below.

For more Halloween-themed horror, check out our list of 13 spooky indie games or a review of the Evil Within 2.