Pennywise the Dancing Clown: Nightmare Fuel for a Generation

“I’m every nightmare you’ve ever had. I’m your worst dream come true. I’m everything you ever were afraid of.”

In 1990 Stephen King’s novel It, written just five years earlier, was adapted into a TV mini-series, and for four hours, over the course of two nights in November, ABC ruined clowns for kids everywhere. Pennywise the dancing clown was the form taken by the monster that was King’s subject, attempting to lure children to it. And Tim Curry’s epic turn as the devourer of children was enough to redefine for many, the legacy of an actor who previously had played not only the devil, but was the lead in Clue, and headlined the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That’s quite the accomplishment.

Iconic Tim Curry Roles
Darkness in LEGEND – 1985 / Wadsworth in CLUE – 1985 / Dr. Frank-N-Furter in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW – 1975

Now, nearly 25 years later, Pennywise looks to be returning to the fold. Word is the previously rumored project is now actually confirmed to start filming in 2015. Now, the ABC special still creeps me out to this day, and I don’t think it’s necessary to redo it, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not interested in the possibilities. For that interest to transform into optimism however, it’s going to take some convincing. With Curry now likely too old to reprise his show-stealing role, I fear that his replacement will wind up disastrous, like Johnny Depp in the Willy Wonka role made famous on-screen by the great Gene Wilder. Not to be a naysayer, but Curry’s are pretty big shoes to fill.

Aside from the massive hurdle of finding a suitable Pennywise, the potential remake does have one big thing going for it; the involvement of director Cary Fukunaga. At the helm of each first season episode of HBO’s True Detective, Fukunaga has looked brilliant thus far. True Detective carries such an air of foreboding that the style seems perfect for a tale revolving around grizzly violence against children, without the need to be overly graphic. Also, being a feature we would expect a larger budget than the previous incarnation, so perhaps the climax at the end of the movie will have less 1950s cheese to it. Fukunaga’s style should translate nicely here, and hopefully recapture the creepiness of the series.

Producer Don Lin recently spoke with Vulture about the project and had a couple interesting quotes.

On shooting in 2015:

“The idea is to start official prep in March for a summer shoot, Cary likes to develop things for a while, and we’ve been with this for about three or four years, so we’re super excited that he stayed with it. You guys are gonna be really excited.”

On making it in to two movies:

“The book is so epic that we couldn’t tell it all in one movie and service the characters with enough depth,”

On Stephen King:

“The most important thing is that Stephen King gave us his blessing,” said Lin. “We didn’t want to make this unless he felt it was the right way to go, and when we sent him the script, the response that Cary got back was, ‘Go with God, please! This is the version the studio should make.’ So that was really gratifying.”

For those not in the know, (and I wasn’t in as much as I thought) here is a description of the character that Curry totally owned almost 25 years ago…

It (sometimes capitalized as IT), more commonly known as Pennywise the Clown, was the main antagonist of the novel and film of the same name. He was a demonic entity who would disguise himself as a clown or other terrifying things (generally based on the subjects fears) to attract children so he can capture and kill them as they are an easier target.

PennywiseIt apparently originated in a void containing and surrounding the Universe, a place referred to in the novel as the “Macroverse” (a concept similar to the later established Todash Darkness of the Dark Tower Novels). Its real name (if, indeed, It has one) is unknown—although at several points in the novel, It claims its true name to be Robert Gray—and is christened It by the group of children who later confront it. Throughout the book, It is generally referred to as male; however, late in the book, the protagonists come to believe that It may possibly be female (due to Its manifestation as a large female spider). Despite this, Its true form is never truly comprehended. Its final physical body is that of an enormous spider; this is, however, the closest the human mind can get to approximating its actual form. Its natural form exists in a realm beyond the physical, which It calls the “deadlights”. Bill comes dangerously close to seeing the deadlights, but successfully defeats It before this happens. As such, the deadlights are never seen, and Its true form outside the physical realm is never revealed, only described as writhing, destructive orange lights. Coming face to face with the deadlights drives any living being instantly insane (a common H. P. Lovecraft device). The only known person to face the deadlights and survive is Audra Phillips.

Its natural enemy is “The Turtle”, another ancient Macroverse dweller who, eons ago, created our Universe and possibly others. The Turtle shows up again in King’s series The Dark Tower. The book suggests that It, along with the Turtle, are themselves creations of a separate, omnipotent creator referred to as “the Other” (who may be the entity Gan) The Turtle and It are eternal enemies (creation versus consumption). It may in fact be either a twinner of or the actual one of the six greater demon elementals mentioned by Mia in Song of Susannah, as the Spider is not one of the Beam Guardians. It arrived in our world in a massive, cataclysmic event similar to an asteroid impact, in the place that would, in time, become Derry, Maine.

Through the novel It, some events are described through Its point of view, through which It describes himself as the “superior” being, with the Turtle as someone “close to his superiority” and humans as mere “toys”. It describes that it prefers to kill and devour children, not by nature, rather because children’s fears are easier to interpret in a physical form and thus children are easier to fill with terror, which It says is akin to marinating the meat. It is continually surprised by the children’s victories over It and near the end, it begins to question if It is not as superior as It had once thought. However, It never believes that the individual children are strong enough to defeat It, only through “the Other” working through them as a group.

So, looks like the clown is returning to Derry and has a capable director behind the camera. The mini-series had a damn good cast outside of Curry, which included Harry Anderson, Seth Green, Annette O’Toole, Tim Reid, Jonathan Brandis, and John Ritter. The ultimate success of this reboot though will fall on who they find to replace Tim Curry.


Images: ABC, Lorimar Television, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures

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