Whether brandishing a rubber chicken at a children's party or starring as the evil protagonist in a horror film, clowns have long had both the ability to entertain and terrify.
This fear of clowns, dubbed coulrophobia, has swept small towns in Pas-de-Calais in northern France where police report a wave of complaints over people dressed up as the tricksters and threatening passers-by.
A 19-year-old young man was arrested on Friday after waving a stick resembling a long knife while chasing a group of teenagers, who had to seek refuge in a chip stand.
He was also sentenced to 105 hours of community service and banned from carrying a weapon for five years.
After receiving some 20 calls on Friday, police took to social networks to warn citizens to be aware of the trend.
Using fake weapons these "clowns" have been "mostly spotted outside schools, but also on public roads, in bushes, in a square. Their targets are often young children or teenagers, but also adults," a police source told AFP.
"They take their inspiration from American horror movies," the source said, adding that the trend appeared to have started from a Facebook challenge.
The wave of clown threats even prompted the region's local government representative Denis Robin to take to his official Facebook page to condemn "these misdemeanours".
"It is absolutely unacceptable that children are held hostage by such acts," he said, warning that those guilty of using weapons could face three years in jail and a fine of €45,000 ($57,500).