One of the most horrific movie experiences of my childhood came from an attempt to watch the IT two-part movie while alone one night.
You know the setup – parents are in bed, your brother is somewhere, and IT comes on the TV.
“I’ve got this”, you tell yourself, adding “it’s just a movie.”
It didn’t take long for me to be absolutely terrified. After all, the film opens with the notorious “they float” scene, one that scares me to this day. Enjoy:
It’s my contention that Tim Curry’s brilliant interpretation of Pennywise is one of the main reasons that coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, exists. Needless to say, there are historical precedents – Pagliacci, John Wayne Gacy, and even The Joker come to mind – but ask anyone born after 1980 and I think the answer will be the same: Pennywise.
So naturally I was thrilled when I learnt that an IT remake was on track for release in September 2017. After a spell in development hell (original director Cary Fukunaga, of True Detective fame, quit the project), a new director was found and shooting began.
Heck, they even got the kid from Stranger Things!
So far so good, I thought – until I saw the new look Pennywise. This could be the first, and possibly fatal misstep here. Take a look at the new Pennywise next to the old one and see if you can identify what’s wrong:
Like The Joker in Suicide Squad, who ended up looking like he was going through an emo phase, the new Pennywise has been over-designed into oblivion.
If you don’t believe me, pop over to Entertainment Weekly and see what they had to say about the new-look Dancing Clown, played by Bill Skarsgård:
[T]he filmmaker relied on Emmy-winning costume designer Janie Bryant (Deadwood, Mad Men) who crafted a form-fitting suit that draws upon a number of bygone times – among them Medieval, Renaissance, Elizabethan, and Victorian eras…
While this isn’t the bright and cheery Pennywise, Bryant’s version of the character prefers to camouflage himself and strike rather than lure children with lively plumage.
“It makes him almost like a shadow,” she says.
Try to reimagine the “they float” scene with the new Pennywise. It doesn’t work, because the scariness of that scene depends on the incongruity of seeing a brightly coloured clown in a storm drain. The problem with the new Pennywise is that he would simply blend in.
The original movie was by no means a masterpiece, but it did get that one crucial thing – Pennywise – right. And to be fair, there is already a precedent for a superbly grittier version of a candy-coloured clown. But I would argue that The Joker is a different case entirely.
If you ask me, Pennywise is scary not because he blends in, but because he stands out.