When I first announced the “theme” for this year’s series, I just KNEW that Michael Myers would be one of the first characters “claimed”. He wasn’t claimed at all.
With the impending release of the remake (now released) of Stephen King’s It on the immediate horizon, I just KNEW that Pennywise would be one of the next “claimed”. IT was one of the last. If this little lament serves to prove anything, it’s that I don’t know jackshit about how people think.
Pennywise was finally claimed by fellow Floridian Kaitlynn Kopp, who initially contacted me after discovering the site (and FB page) through a significant other that followed the page/site. While I thank Kaitlynn immensely for the following piece (and hope that she now reads us as well), I guess I should also thank that “other” for helping lead her our way and gifting us with the following fascinating look at pure evil.
Whether you grew up on Sesame Street or you grew up on Elm Street, completely unafraid of Freddy Krueger, it seems as though, among millenials, Pennywise the Dancing Clown was a defining part of your childhood. People from all walks of life consider him their first monster, and they consider the 1990 mini-series based off Stephen King’s epic novel, IT, their first horror movie. I was no different. Before I knew the significance of pig’s blood and prom dresses, before I knew what made Jack a dull boy, my first exposure to the master of modern horror was in finding a VHS tape at my house. The cover immediately caught my eye. A simple white image with obvious victims’ faces lining the bottom, and a clown with a devilish grin tearing its way into the picture with the clawed hands of a monster. This was something I had to see. Everything about this film captivated me. In my inexperienced prepubescence, IT made me realize that there’s more to the horror genre than cheap thrills and gory kills, that I could actually care about those opposing the monster, and that said monster didn’t have to be a nameless, faceless killing entity, even when It was.
What sets It apart from all other horror stories and all other movie monsters is that It can be absolutely anything. No matter what you’re afraid of, It can use it against you. If you’re afraid of clowns, It has a scare for you. Spiders? Sewers? Eyeballs or old ladies? It’s got you covered. From teenage werewolves to leeches, from abusive fathers to the Frankenstein monster, It can set up shop within your worst nightmares and drive you completely mad with terror.
What all of the scares come down to, however, is Pennywise. When you think of IT, you think of that grinning clown. What makes Pennywise so special? What makes It so much scarier than an unkillable mama’s boy in a hockey mask, or a psycho with a face that looks eerily like William Shatner’s? They’re killing sexually active teenagers that deserve to die, right? Freddy and Jason are just getting revenge. Chucky, much like the lovable sidekicks in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, just wants to be human again. Not Pennywise, though. Not It. No, It is simply evil personified. It’s a demonic entity, with no real motivation except to scare, kill, and feed. And of all It’s forms, It’s favorite is that of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Pennywise is the most apt to attract innocent children. Children are easier to scare, and frightened flesh tastes best.
It’s victims aren’t families that have committed a sin and now have to pay. They aren’t high school students that make fun of and bully the social pariah. Most of them are just kids, curious kids with normal hopes, dreams, and fears. This story doesn’t need to take place in the dead of night, either. It doesn’t need to be on Halloween, or Friday the 13th. When Bill and Beverly and the rest of The Losers Club face It as children, it’s the middle of summer vacation. It’s the time to play outside, scrape your knees, get your first kiss, see double features at the theater, and generally enjoy life. If it weren’t for this murderous shapeshifting clown, this story would be a very enjoyable and poignant coming-of-age tale, complete with politically incorrect jokes, bullies, and parents that just don’t understand. But our heroes’ coming of age comes in the temporary defeat of this monster.
This monster, It, is so terrifying because of its eternal presence. It was here at the beginning of time, and who’s to say it won’t be here after the end? Most monsters in horror movies are, or were, humans; people who were born and maybe even lived a relatively normal life at one time. Pennywise, and whatever Pennywise is beneath the greasepaint and pom-poms, was always a hungry killer. To so many of us, Pennywise was implanted into our minds at a young age. We felt the fears right alongside the kids of Derry. Luckily, as we grew older we saw past the practical effects and TV horror. Many who see the 1990 mini-series for the first time as an adult laugh at those of us who were kept up at night with visions of Tim Curry’s Pennywise dancing in our heads. In my adulthood, whenever I watch the original adaptation, I myself laugh at the absurdity of some of the scares. I can’t believe how much it frightened me as a child. When I heard that my childhood horrors were being brought to the big screen, I was enthusiastic about revisiting what felt like old friends
Since I’ve grown up, few horror movies have truly bothered me. Considering how IT is about much more than just the monster, I assumed that Andres Muschietti’s film wouldn’t disturb me at all. I sat in the theater eager with anticipation, wearing my Tim Curry Pennywise t-shirt and holding my Pennywise Pop! vinyl figure. I recalled how much George Denbrough’s death had terrified me as a child. Knowing that this was how the story begins, I wasn’t worried about being frightened by this scene, or the movie at all. However, just like The Losers Club grown up, my fears of It, and of Pennywise, came rushing back in a wave of terror. The horrors of the film, the scares new and old, kept me awake at night, just as the mini-series had done several years earlier. What sets this monster apart is that the fear that It invokes has no age limit. When the dust has settled, when the storm has passed, when the last seat in the theater is empty and the last popcorn kernel is swept up, it seems as though we’re all just children of Derry, afraid of a monster that caters to our every fear.