I don’t think it really requires an academic explanation, given that anybody who’s ever seen a clown understands what makes them extremely creepy (in the right context, that is – I have no wish to denigrate actual benevolent clowns, who have suffered enough this century). Nevertheless, the question does have some interest, and the people at ScreenPrism have done a deep dive into that question with Stephen King’s IT: Why Clowns Scare Us.
Stephen King’s IT: Why Clowns Scare Us is a handy guide to the fear quotient of not just Pennywise, but all the scary clowns throughout history. It explores both the TV miniseries and upcoming feature film adaptation of IT as well as King’s original novel, so yeah, it’s got some disturbing images in it. Check it out below, if you dare:
For more trenchant film analysis, much of which does not involve frightening clowns, check out ScreenPrism on YouTube right here.