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.

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