No. 3: Captain Spaulding

You kind of have to wonder what studio head in his or her right mind would finance a movie made by someone named Rob Zombie. Some of you might even watch his two tours de force, "House of 1000 Corpses" and "The Devil's Rejects," and still wonder.

But Captain Spaulding, evil clown and patriarch of the Firefly family, whose twisted, perverted, homicidal denizens populate both movies, is worth the DVD rental fee by himself. He's an evil clown who gets stabby when people disrespect clowns, giving him a bizarre "defender of the faith" vibe that somehow makes him even creepier.

"House of 1000 Corpses" is really the good captain's best show, with his Museum of Monsters and Madness tourist attraction proving the drawing card for a pack of victims, er, tourists whose readiness for slaughter is exceeded only by their ability to scream for what sounds like minutes on end without pausing for breath.

It's not great filmmaking by any stretch, but Captain Spaulding is a great evil clown.

But even Spaulding pales in comparison to our penultimate jester ...

Jack Nicholson as The Joker in Batman

No. 2: The Joker

I really argued with myself about putting Patch Adams on this list. Anyone who's seen Robin Williams inhabit that character knows its soul-destroying power.

But I had to go with The Joker. Whether you prefer the "Jack Nicholson as The Joker" version or Heath Ledger's immersive performance in "The Dark Knight," Batman's greatest nemesis sets the standard for supervillains with panache.

The Joker, as played by Ledger, pulls off the brilliant trick of sucking us into the old saw about clowns having a tortured childhood only to mock it and spin different versions of it, making us wonder if he's "so serious" at all or simply delivering another killing joke.

But it's Nicholson's Joker who inhabits the evil clown mantle best, with his snazzy purple duds and Jack's manic, 1,000-watt personality shining through the clown makeup. You can easily see that you'd be laughing right until he jammed the stiletto painted like a candy cane through your throat.

But, The Joker doesn't float ...

Pennywise the clown from It

No. 1: Pennywise from Stephen King's "It"

For those who read Stephen King's "It," a novel that seemed giant at the time but which pales compared to his more recent doorstop-sized works, Pennywise the Clown was a metaphysical evil, linked to another dimension and somehow ephemeral and solidly menacing at the same time.

Scary enough, right?

Then came Tim Curry, cast as Pennywise in the miniseries (hey, it's LIKE a movie) version of the book, and all bets were off.

Those of us who only knew him as Dr. Frankenfurter of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" fame were treated to a whole new side, where Frank's sly come-ons gained a razor's edge, beckoning children to come down to the sewer, saying "We all float down here."

I haven't been able to walk by a storm sewer opening since then without simultaneously looking down and stepping sideways, and just the sight of a kid playing with a paper boat in flood water can make me catatonic with fear. Pennywise is the baddest of the bad.