Why do It and Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård/Tim Curry) still hold up, at least for me? Surely it’s because, for the most part, what we commonly call Pennywise the Dancing Clown can really be anything. It’s almost a bit of a cheat for a villain but tempered by the fact that Pennywise is not actually all-powerful. He can tap into people’s general or specific fears but without the stigma of having very few weaknesses (Superman, we’re looking at you, buddy).
For an example of Pennwyise’s impacts, I actually walked home at night after seeing Andy Muschietti’s It for the first time. Somehow I imagined Pennywise popping out from the shadows and, as luck would have it, there were storm drains by my feet as I walked. So, despite almost never being scared by horror films (even some of the deranged ones like Cannibal Holocaust), I must admit my mind played tricks on me that night. As silly as it sounds, Pennywise kind of did that.
More on why Pennywise is effective
My point about the It movies isn’t that they’re the greatest horror films, or even the scariest (though I do like them). No, it’s that the setup to all of these films (especially the 1990 and 2017 versions) lets you know that anything can happen, and taps into that fear of the unknown. It’s like if you hike through a local forest at day versus doing so at night.
During the daytime, you’ll probably have few if any fears, even if you know some animals can be dangerous. However, go there at night and every step seems like fumbling into oblivion, and, if you’re enough of a fraidy-cat, a hooting owl or moving branch becomes a life-or-death scenario.
So, honestly, if there’s any main weakness to the franchise, it’s perhaps that they’re too obsessed with an eerie clown creature, rather than all the other things Pennywise can be (in my opinion, that’s not worth griping about, but I have seen others make the complaint). Nevertheless, if I saw a creep clown like Pennywise arrive in the forest, staring at me and saying some weird-ass stuff, I’d probably hightail it out of there!
Then, of course, you have the more complex dynamics to the saga, like when Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton/Jarred Blancard/Michael Cole) gives chase after the Loser’s Club, and when young Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis/ Emily Perkins) deals with an abusive father (Stephen Bogaert/Frank C. Turner). Pennywise creepily takes advantage of these heightened tensions, finding them tantalizing.
The (Young) Losers Club
Every great villain is threatened by a hero or a team of heroes. Enter the Loser’s Club, a rather informal group of kids initially bonded by being misfits but, ultimately, also united against that shapeshifting clown thing.
In the ’90s version, you have the aforementioned Beverly Marsh plus Bill (Jonathan Brandis/Jaeden Lieberher/), Ben (Brandon Crane/Jeremy Ray Taylor), Richie (Seth Green/Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Adam Faraizl/Jack Dylan Grazer), Mike (Marlon Taylor/Chosen Jacobs), and Stan (Ben Heller/Wyatt Oleff). Many viewers connect with these characters immediately, thanks largely to their on-screen chemistry, which is also thanks to the actors.
In addition to facing Pennywise and Henry Bowers, the Loser’s Club also face Henry’s minions in both versions. In fact, one of the memorable scenes from 2017’s It is when Henry’s pal, Patrick Hockstetter (Owen Teague) gets killed after being misdirected into a sewer, believing Ben was hiding from him in it. Initially, Patrick wanted to torch Ben with a monstrous fireball created with his lighter and an accelerant. However, Patrick was not the only monster in the sewer that day!
Speaking of sewers…
Michael Myers has Haddonfield, Freddy has his boiler room, Jason his precious campground. However, a sewer system is primarily the location of Pennywise’s lair. In fact, the Loser’s Club might be unable to locate it. and stop it anywhere else. It’s a fitting location, too, as who would believe they are safe from attacks while in the sewer? Gross!
Still, it seems to be where Pennywise finds comfort, and also where he stores the boys and girls that he collects. Basically, I can imagine some people developing a newfound fear of the sewer after watching any of the It movies. It’s definitely a gross location, and even creepier during the night. Now just imagine that, on top of that, it’s also a scene of childhood trauma.
The scariest the clown gets?
Some people aren’t afraid of Pennywise at all, and I get it. I can see not being afraid of him, or clowns, or Jason, or Freddy, Chucky, or any of the major modern horror villains. Still, I think people might as well be sporting about it, and able to pinpoint at least one scary (or even semi-scary) part from an entire film franchise, even out of the spirit of general fairness. I’d like to present the 2 moments I consider the scariest, with one from the 1990 film and the other from 2017.
From the 1990 version, I have to go with a conventional option: When Georgie (Tony Dakota) loses his new paper boat in a storm drain, it’s initially just a sad moment. However, when a clown with a large head and face emerges out of nowhere and beckons him to reach for his boat, it’s quite freaky. Sure, I can laugh about this moment and say, “Never talk to clowns in storm drains,” but it’s nevertheless a freaky moment, and Tim Curry sells it pretty well. It’s one more reason to stay away from the sewer (though the Ninja Turtles make that matter complicated).
The minor complaint I’ve heard is that a real kid would probably run away, but I think it’s plausible that, because Pennywise speaks with such a commanding tone and Georgie is such an obedient, good-natured, and all-too-trusting kid. As for the freakiest scene from the 2017 film, I love the scene with Eddie and that disturbing painting coming to life.
Now, what is the least scary moment from either film? Possibly that, in the 1990 version, Pennywise is revealed as some weird, giant spider, and with googly-looking eyes rather than a more convincing tarantula-like thing. Both films have their intentionally funny moments, but that’s one reveal that probably shouldn’t have been so goofy.
What are your thoughts on the two first It films and on Pennywise? Float with us in the comments!