Stephen King is known to be one of the “king”s of literary horror having made over 56 novels and 200 short stories with most all of the being set in Maine, his home state. Because of the area of his stories are connected to his past, he often incorporates his childhood fears and experiences into his tales. One of his most infamous books is IT In 1978, he got an idea while walking across a wooden bridge over a stream in cowboy boots, during the twilight hours after his transmission fall out of the bottom of his car, and thought of the story of the billy goats gruff and the troll that lived under the bridge waiting for food to come by. Pennywise is the troll under the bridge and a terrifying example of how his demeanor can make him dangerous. King himself said why he chose a clown to portray the omnidimensional creature, “Because clowns are scary. There’s just no way around that. Clowns can be as angry as they want, and that’s their right — they’re clowns!”(Mike Reyes). The media that is to be discussed will be the original novel, the TV miniseries, and the movie. I will only be talking about the kids lives as the second Movie for IT has yet to come out about their adult lives.
In all renditions, we follow the lives of several kids in Dairy, Maine, as they go through their lives, but because it is the coincidental year of the harvest, Pennywise comes from the sewers to hunt and spread the good word of what floats, and these kids are caught in an adventure to end this cycle of abductions and murders. Our protagonist is Bill Denbrough, whose brother was killed by Pennywise, and our other characters, who are members of the Losers Club are, Edward Kaspbrak the “bubble boy”, Benjamin Hanscom, the fat kid, Richard Tozier, the joker, Stanley Uris, the Jewish boy, and Beverly Marsh, the girl, as well as, Michael Hanlon, who is a black boy who joins the club during that July in the story. Over the course of the story nearly all of them are terrorized by Pennywise and the roaming group of bullies, or the Bowers Gang, formed by Henry Bowers, and suffer at the hands of both parties throughout the story. The first part comes to a climax in the sewers as Pennywise kills the other members of the Bowers Gang and leaves Henry insane or dead. Beverly ends up injuring Pennywise and he retreats deeper into the sewers to heal. This leads to all of the kids making a pact to return to Dairy if the cosmic horror is to return. This formula is followed throughout its renditions with variations being the quality of acting and detail due to production cost, but the overall story is followed to the point as it does not need to be changed.
As the miniseries is nearly identical to the book, I will use the miniseries and movie describe how he is used in the story, with the book being his backstory and abilities as they are not explicitly stated in the film or series. It goes into detail about Pennywise’s origins showing that he is is a creature from another dimension that came to this dimension to escape from his arch enemy the giant turtle with a planet on his back. Stephen King did say he was on cocaine at the time of writing, so this wouldn’t be truly explained until his Dark Tower series. Pennywise ended up in what would later become Dairy, and when creatures started to exist in the area, he hunted and scared them feeding their fear into his deadlights, which are his true form, causing whoever see them to go insane or turn them into zombies, sustaining him for years. When humans came he did the same to children as they were much easier to attract and were virtually defenseless. His powers include shape shifting, mental diversion, and various other powers given by his form. His weakness however, is that he is weak to whatever his form is weak to, for example, “If he is a vampire he is weak to silver, garlic and holy water.” This also applies to those who are not afraid of him, as they can believe that whatever they use to damage him will damage him, which holds true in all three stories to a varying degree. Although this is a hindrance on his power, he is still a terrifying entity who is near omnipotence and stops at nothing to do as much mental damage to our protagonists and the reader through one of our most basic instincts, fear.
In 1990, there came the first adaptation of Stephen King’s Novel, “IT” directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, that first aired on ABC network as a two part TV miniseries. The episode starts with a child riding a tricycle back to her house as her mom calls her into the house for dinner. Pennywise, played by Tim Curry, has his first appearance two minutes into the film appearing behind bed sheets hanging outside, laughing causing the girl to smile, and then moves in, to kill the girl as the mother comes out seeing the mangled corpse and screams. The next kill comes in a flashback with Billy, as his brother Georgie had been killed in the now infamous sewer seen, in a scene with similar presentation to the first with Georgie being lured in and having his arm ripped off, off screen. He then uses this event to try to hunt Billy, guilt tripping him over the regret of his lost brother, coming back as his brother to lure him close but he never goes close to him. This all continues throughout the movie with each character in the losers club experiencing fears and events happening, through flashbacks, while their parents remain oblivious to their children’s lives or actively seek to separate The final confrontation leads the Bowers Gang all into the barrens where Pennywise lives, getting sucked into a thin pipe back first and just swallowed by light, except Henry himself, who goes insane and was himself blamed for all of the murders later in the series. Pennywise uses all of the fears of the Losers club at once and even grabs Steven breaking the circle of protection. He is only defeated when he is hit by a piece of silver, slung by Beverly, who believed it would kill him and so it did, making him retreat to deeper into the recesses of the sewer.
This was terrifying at the time as it showed that these happy people could be murderous creatures. Although the effects are somewhat dated they still hold up well against today’s standards, while increasing the feeling of fear in some places and being laughably bad in others. Curry’s portrait is very true to the novel, a deep voiced clown who is almost hypnotic in his antics luring kids only to scare and kill them. There is also another nod to the book with deadlights which either store the souls or gathered fear, that feed the creature. Curry spouts one liners and has an energy about him that is hard to not go along with, making it all the more difficult not to react when he causes blood to fly across your entire screen.
In September of 2017, the first of two movies came out for King’s novel, and in this rendition, Pennywise would be played by a new and coming actor Bill Skarsgard. The Georgie scene plays out the same, but with his arm being fully ripped off on screen, rather than with a scene transition, and ends with Georgie dragged into the depths of the sewers. This Pennywise is a lot darker and a large criticism to the film being that kids would not be attracted to this clown due to his derped expression and evil look about his face and throughout the movie he says only about three jokes and often just laughs or disappears. However there are many scenes where the is a slow, almost motionless camera movement. An example of this is in a sewer scene, where one of the Bowers gang has gotten lost in there, armed with only a lighter and a deodorant can slowly losing light until a single solitary balloon floats slowly towards him saying “I Heart Dairy” until popping in his face revealing, the clown, who proceeds to clobber him violently. This scene works because it has next to no music and has a payoff that results in consequence, but you do not know what that consequence is. In the climax of the film, IT causes Henry to become entranced as he watches the television with Pennywise on it making him kill his father and assumably his friends. He then goes after the Losers and is unceremoniously killed when he falls down the well leading to Pennywise’s layer, where they cause the clown to retreat in pain with their “clown beating sticks”.
This movie’s interpretation of Pennywise was an enigma of horror because he is undoubtedly scary his actions and the implications seem that he had prepared and schemed from the very start of the movie, however in all of the scenes I could remember except two, it was fairly hard not to laugh because the way he acted was so serious that it became almost comical. Entire scenes seemed like they were building up tension for a scare just for them to end with what seemed like a punchline. The film makers made it clear throughout the movie Pennywise is in control of the town, with the old lady in the library, the dismissiveness of the parents, and even with Bill Skarsgard making a cameo as a clown on a stage at one point showing that Pennywise is watching always. The two scares in the movie that I thought actually worked were, a scene where Pennywise turns into the warped lady from the painting Stanley was afraid of, and his popping into Beverly’s near rape scene at the hands of her father, where it is assumed that Pennywise was in control. Bower’s transformation into the apathetic murderer was particularly disturbing, using the spring loaded knife without saying a word to is father, releasing the trigger in his neck, as well as, the implication of his friends death at his hands with the inside of his car and clothes coated in blood. This is a lot closer of an explanation of his power of control than in the first adaptation where an old man turns away from Beverly got bullied and she thought then that the town was controlled. Either way it is terrifying to think a whole town of people are controlled by the thing that is eating them.
The fear that these interpretations bring are of cultural fears in general, abduction, fear of being killed, and the biggest part being a fear of clowns,or clautraphobia, being primarily high with children. This comes from the uncanny valley effect or a being with near perfect human features or behavior with variations in such giving people a bad impression of it (MIT). Clowns are humans with painted faces making them particularly unsettling if the person seeing them are younger than an age where they can differentiate between human and non-human. He represents the lack of control that humans actually have in some situations, only defeated by those who sustain and overcome the abuse. An analysis of the horror genre in general says that this type of story is a suspense thriller as the build up to the eventual death is what people come to see or read making it a kind of desire to witness the peril of the prey in the chase (Sipos). He is a creature of malevolence whose very existence relies on the fear of children, but at least he is true to his word allowing them to float. After they die of course.
“Episode One” IT, written by Stephen King, Tommy Lee Wallace, Lawrence D. Cohen, directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, American Broadcast Company, 1990.
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