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There's something about circus music.

Done straight, it lets everyone within earshot know that they are in a world of fun for children of all ages! However, unless you're in an actual circus, then you are more likely to hear this kind of music slowed way down and played in a minor key. The effect is haunting, scary and maybe even sad and nostalgic. Often it will sound as if it's being played on an old, rusty calliope.

Definitely "Music To Run Away From Really Fast", if ever there was such a thing, as it usually means that there's a Monster Clown somewhere waiting to eat you. Or the circus is haunted. Or both. The other main use of this is as a cue that a character is losing their mind.

Compare Ironic Nursery Tune and Soundtrack Dissonance. See also Circus of Fear and Amusement Park of Doom.

Examples of Creepy Circus Music include:


  • A creepy little number called "Yuuenchi" plays in Cowboy Bebop when Spike Spiegel battles Mad Pierrot at his abandoned amusement park.


  • The theme to Childs Play 2 has [1].
  • The Coraline movie has an excellently creepy scene with the Other Kangaroo Rats. Bonus points for occurring in an actual circus of sorts..
  • The theme music from The Elephant Man uses this to heartbreaking effect.
  • There's a creepy calliope ditty called "To The Shock of Miss Louise" in The Lost Boys.
  • The Carousel Trap music in Saw VI.
  • The title theme to Puppet Master movies sounds like it's played on a well-meaning but thoroughly evil music box.
  • Opening theme to The Funhouse.
  • The 1999 version of The Haunting featured a rotating, mirrored room which played a sprightly circus-type song. While this was justified in-story by Hugh Crain having built and designed his mansion for children to play in, a review of the movie said it best (in paraphrase): "No horror movie can be complete without creepy circus music." As if the original tune isn't unsettling enough, Eleanor later visits the room in the middle of the night while having her requisite freakout, and the imbalanced spinning she suffers is augmented by a very deep, discordant bass line running in counterpoint to the calliope.
  • Logan's Run uses something quite similar to this in the carousel sequences. Not exactly creepy circus music, but definitely demented circus music.
  • Pennywise the Dancing Clown's theme from the film of IT is more Soundtrack Dissonance, but even a happy carnival tune just feels creepy because of the association.
  • The Band's eponymous theme to The Last Waltz is a calliope-accompanied funhouse tune in, yep, waltz time. Instead of creepy, though, the effect is wistful and elegiac. And mighty damned pretty!
  • In A Streetcar Named Desire the Varsouvania Polka is an example of this, showing up every time Blanche loses her mind a little more.

Live Action TV


  • Featured intermittently in Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes.
  • An early hint that something really weird is going on in Full Tilt is "the sound of calliope music and screams."


  • This one's Older Than Television: "Alabama Song" (commonly but mistakenly thought of as "Whiskey Bar") from The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, first performed in 1930. A wasted flapper and a derelict-looking man in a rumpled suit joylessly chant the nihilistic lyrics as they ride in the back of a clunky old pickup truck - and the discordant musical accompaniment is effectively sinister and disreputable in sound, describable only as "circus music being played in a junkyard."
  • "Come See the Meatboy" by Calibretto.
  • "Dark Woods Circus" a Vocaloid song by Machigherita
  • "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!" by The Beatles.
    • Cirque Du Soleil's LOVE takes this to its logical conclusion by making this song the centerpiece of a Circus of Fear, representing the controversies the group triggered in both the U.K. and the U.S. after Beatlemania's initial wave (especially the "more popular than Jesus" comment). As the scene climaxes, the music becomes a distressingly sinister combination of "Helter Skelter" and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)".
  • Taking that standard "Entrance of the Gladiators" theme and making the bass notes chromatically rising and descending tritones makes the piece a lot more creepy, especially if someone does a still-legged clown impression along with it.
  • Creature Feature's "The Greatest Show Unearthed"
  • When Tom Waits isn't doing Creepy Blues, Creepy Bluegrass, or Creepy Jazz, it's usually this. Especially once he gets ahold of that calliope-organ of his.
  • Experiment 16 by Mentally Detached
  • Arc Attack's aptly-titled "Creepy Circus Song" (complete with creepy children laughing)
  • The Dark Cabaret act "Circus Contraption" is, yet again, made of this trope.
  • The Tiger Lillies use this trope quite often.
  • "Lions Roar" by The Hush Sound is a great example.
  • The Doors' "Light My Fire," with Ray Manzarek's keyboard shrieking away for several minutes like some kind of infernal calliope. Robbie Krieger's "Oriental" flamenco guitar only makes the effect more eerie. Other examples from the Doors include "Strange Days", "You're Lost Little Girl", "Unhappy Girl", "People Are Strange", "Not To Touch The Earth", "The Unknown Soldier", "Five To One", and "L'America".
  • The Carny of Mr. Dark by Deathwatch Beetle Repairman.
  • Pink Floyd's "Poles Apart" contains a brief segment composed of this.
  • Many Years Ago by Alice Cooper.
  • Nox Arcana's Carnival of Lost Souls is an ALBUM of this stuff! Example.
  • The Eels song Trouble with Dreams.
  • The Barenaked Ladies' track "Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel" has some major clown-vibes, used to create a sense of eerie detachment from the events of the song. It's a different kind of creepy from the classic Monster Clown effect.
  • David Bowie's "After All" (from 1:56 - 2:18).
  • "Put A Straw Under Baby" by Brian Eno.
  • "Spinning In Daffodils" by Them Crooked Vultures has a very dark circus riff.
  • On "Random 2", a Gary Numan tribute album, somebody uses this to remake "Down in the Park". You know, that song about a combination jail/extermination camp that's also been covered by Marilyn Manson.
  • Nightwish's song Scaretale certainly counts, at least from about 4:10 onwards.


  • Alban Berg's Wozzeck—always a great source for horror music tropes—gestures towards this pretty strongly with the military parade music.

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Western Animation