Pennywise the Dancing Clown: Nightmare Fuel for a generation...
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, its attempt 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.
The ABC special still creeps me out to this day, and while I don’t think it’s necessary to redo it, I’d be lying if I said I’m not interested in the possibility. 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 when Johnny Depp
ruined portrayed 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.
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.
It 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.
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 episode of HBO’s True Detective, Fukunaga has been brilliant thus far. True Detective carries such an air of foreboding that the style seems perfect for a tale that revolves 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 Dan Lin, while talking to Collider, had this to say:
“Cary Fukunaga is writing and directing Stephen King’s It for me, and I’m really excited for that. So I’m hoping that’ll be his next movie after the indie he’s shooting in Africa. So I love what he did with True Detective. I think it’s a great sample for Stephen King’s It. So I’m really excited about that.”
This Fukunaga helmed reboot has been rumored for a few years now, and plans to actually be two full length features, finally seems to be on track to happen, No doubt the success of True Detective is fueling it forward, and the idea of two movies will prevent them from having to chop it up too much. We’ll keep you updated on any progress.
Images: ABC, Lorimar Television, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures