A love letter to IT(2017) part 1: Pennywise Lives!

You might have noticed that the last post ended a bit abruptly, and an abrupt end is only justified if it leads up to something bigger. Like with this film, the ending just kinda happens. It’s not like there’s no build up at all, but the fight at the end is something the kid’s don’t really prepare for so when it happens, you’re not expecting it to be the climax.

But who cares, because it’s only a part 1 – just like my last post! Yep, this is a part 2 to a part 1 of a 3 part series. It may seem strange but that’s because I knew there was one thing I wanted to talk about from the book that I couldn’t do justice as a sub-header, it had to have its own post, and that’s the dancing clown himself, Pennywise.

There he is!

So where to start? Well, I guess by firstly saying that no-one expected to be as blown away by a killer clown performance as they were with Bill Skarsgard’s take on the character. He’s one of the film’s top strengths and just steals every scene he’s in, whether he’s spouting a simple taunt to inspire fear, or if he’s in full-on attack dog mode, Pennywise is fantastic here. One reason he’s so brill is the fact that they got a lot of the character from the book pretty much spot on.

Everyone remembers or is at least aware of Tim Curry’s take on the role, and while that was also fantastic, there were a lot of elements missing, and quite a few inconsistencies. Skarsgard’s Pennywise reflects quite accurately the creature we get to know in the book; he can be playful and nice but can turn vicious and cruel at any given moment. While he takes the time to insight fear into the kids of Derry, he never misses an opportunity to feed if he can, resulting in a number of grizzly ends for the younger residents of the town, however, Curry’s clown always seemed to just pop his head up to say boo. There’s a striking scene in particular that makes the Pennywise from the mini-series a bit if a dope. Eddie showers alone in a large room, Pennywise then brings the shower heads to life, which then move towards Eddie, forcing him to retreat into a corner. Pennywise pops his head up, taunts him, shows him his big scary teeth and…nothing. The scene ends there – like for real?

This is scary for different, more obvious reasons.

It takes away from the huge fear factor that comes with the character. Sure, you could argue it’s scarier that he’s not attacking, instead taking a moment to hammer home the hopeless situation the kids are all in, but considering the creature primarily scares kids in order to feed, it makes Pennywise seem like more of a self-congratulatory ponce who takes more pride in massaging his own ego than catching dinner.

Thankfully, Skarsgard’s Pennywise is on top form; scaring and hunting relentlessly which I think makes him way more of a terror – fending off constant attacks both physically and mentally is quite the intimidation tactic. To be honest, that’s probably the easiest way to sum up the differences in the two performances: Skarsgard is simply scarier.

Weirdly, the creature in the book does have an ego, but there are more scenes featuring Pennywise (it is a book with over 1300 pages after all) and such, more of a balance between theatrics and devastation. With a film adaptation, you kind of have to pick one or the other and personally, this adaptation made the right choice.

I’ve seen people argue that this made the character less scary, depicting a more desperate and cocky villain that gets his just deserts in the end – weirdly, it’s basically the ending to Death Proof but instead of Kurt Russel as a killer stuntman, we have a demon clown. But again, I thought that worked, mainly down to Bill Skarsgard’s acting; when he’s holding big Bill by the neck and bartering with his attackers, his expressions say every word from a later chapter in the book, a chapter which is a first-person perspective rant from IT made up of surprise and hate, and that’s exactly the emotions I got from Skarsgard.

From a horror lovers perspective, there’s a lot to admire too, this Pennywise is a great throwback to the horror icons of the 70’s and 80’s. Freddy Kruger, Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, Pinhead etc. are all remembered fondly as the kingpins of horror cinema, their characters spanning multiple sequels and media, some even getting featured in the Mortal Kombat series which is just marvellous, to say the least. The reason they’re still so dear though is because they were scary in a variety of different ways, but they were all memorable, they could always draw a crowd, and they would always be talked about, even amongst non-horror geeks.

And you don’t need me to tell you that’s exactly what’s happening right now with IT, people have fallen in love with Skarsgard and Pennywise (some a bit more literally than others), and a lot of those who weren’t keen on seeing the film before have been converted. Now, I’m not saying that there are no other horror icons these days, there are a few, but that’s where a nice parallel can be drawn for us horror geeks. The first wave of horror icons from the 70’s and 80’s were silent killers, and it wasn’t until Nightmare on Elm Street came along that they began to have a voice and a personality. I draw this parallel because not only is Pennywise the first of this new batch to have both (horror icons today, for the most part, are silent: the Nun from The Conjuring 2, Annabelle, the Darth Maul looking guy), but also because both villains can create their own worlds and can be defeated by no-one being afraid of them.

Every scene involving Pennywise is great, which is why it’s quite difficult to pick a favourite, but the one that I think really shows off exactly why he deserves such royal praise is the scene with Georgie. Maybe because it was a scene made famous by the 1990 mini-series but this scene is what everyone knows about IT, whichever form it’s in.

This is the scene that really shows this one man insane clown posse means business, Flirting with and then murdering a young child by ripping his arm off. It’s the first chapter of the book, and it’s the first scene in the film too so you know the filmmakers aren’t messing around either. I remember the second time I went to see this film when Pennywise emerges from the darkness, some people were laughing, and when he first spoke, I could hear a comparison to Scooby Doo being made. Luckily, I knew what was coming up and there was a grim justice when those words were silenced to make room for screams, and too right, he doesn’t just take the arm here, he takes the entire Georgie. The dialogue is spot on and there’s an incredibly tense moment when he switches from hold your hand to slice your throat and then switches right back. It’s the Pennywise that anyone who is a fan of the book or otherwise could hope for.

There are some nitpicks, but I’m not going to go into them now, I have way more posts to do so maybe I’ll mention them in one of those. For now, I just want to say thankful Bill Skarsgard and Andy Muschietti, you have truly brought my favourite horror villain to life, I can’t wait to see him again.

For me, this was actually the most unsettling scene, but now it’s a meme – it’s pretty bloody good though.

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Author: diagnosedcinephile

Film critique is love. Film critique is life.

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