I’m always looking for new reasons to wax poetic about my favorite horror movie of all time, the original made-for-TV adaption of Stephen King’s terrifying novel IT. No horror project holds so many fond memories for me—including the very first tingling of curiosity with what would become a serious obsession with the genre. To hear that there is a new documentary coming out about the making of the original film filled me with that rarer and rarer childlike excitement.
Pennywise: The Story of IT boasts over 50 interviews with the original cast and crew of the 1990 smash hit directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, as well as more then 700 new photos from behind the scenes. Director Chris Griffiths said that he hopes to “tell a story heard by few and showcase a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage and photos seen by even fewer.” And, the best news of all, Tim Curry, known for sometimes distancing himself from past roles, is in cooperation with the film makers.
Not only will the documentary explore the making of the original miniseries, but it will also dive into its affect on society: the expansion of the phenomenon known as coulrophobia, or the fear of clowns, which now in 2018 feels completely common place.
Here’s the first teaser that was just dropped:
The British filmmakers crowd-funded their project on IndieGoGo, far exceeding their goal. The description reads:
"From Dead Mouse Productions Ltd and Cult Screenings UK Ltd, makers of Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II, You're so cool, Brewster! The Story of Fright Night and RoboDoc: The Creation of RoboCop and John Campopiano, director/writer of Unearthed and Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary comes this brand-new documentary Pennywise: The Story of IT. A fully independent retrospective into the making of Stephen King’s IT and its cultural impact over the last 28 years. Supported by dozens of the original cast and crew including Tim Curry, Tommy Lee Wallace and Bart Mixon Pennywise is made by fans of the IT for fans of IT. The crew have already received support from over 20 of the cast and crew, including acquiring over 2 hours of never-before-seen set footage from SFX wizard Bart Mixon, as well as loads of archival and behind-the-scenes photos and there is no doubt that by the time of production many more key players will be attached to share their amazing stories about one of the most iconic movies ever-made."
In the early 90s I was a little kid, just old enough to run freely through our town’s Blockbuster, where so many possibilities were displayed in seven inch rectangles filled with hard Styrofoam, the gray rental box with the VHS behind it. I loved All Dogs Go to Heaven and Look Who’s Talking, I loved Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, but even those favorite films, which I forced my parents to rent over and over again, couldn’t counter the pull of the horror section that in my grandiose memory rolled with ominous fog. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to watch a single movie in the aisle, but it didn’t matter to me. Being at Blockbuster was my chance to absorb all the covers so I could and catalogue what movies future me would watch at any cost. Luckily, my mom was a horror fan, and come the Kindergarten Halloween party I was dressed in all black, a little Wednesday Addams with a headless doll, surrounded by princesses. It would always be this way, and it wouldn’t be long before I was allowed to watch whatever I wanted.
There was one horror VHS that I was drawn to above all others. Tim Curry’s Pennywise, the strange yellowish eyes, the too big head, the thin red lips, thin black eyebrows: I was obsessed. I had always felt uneasy about clowns, but Curry’s was a different kind. He scared me, truly, and yet he was all I wanted to look at. I wouldn't see IT until a few years later when I caught it playing on TV, a rare and precious miracle. I was maybe seven years old, and needless to say, I didn’t sleep that night. A few years later my dad would show me the Rocky Horror Picture Show which became at that moment and forever since, my favorite film of all time. It was Tim Curry, again, in a role even more unconventional than a clown representing an ancient alien evil. In everything he does, he’s brilliant. He’s absolutely blindingly brilliant.
And so, when I heard they were remaking IT I was definitely excited, but I knew that it would never be able to eclipse my love of the original. I seriously watched IT every night while living in the dorms as a freshman, because my best friend and fellow IT-obsessive was my roommate. I think my love of the original is truly a love of the original Pennywise. I absolutely enjoyed the dreamy Bill Skarsgård’s understated performance as Pennywise, a quieter, subdued personality that felt the entire film like a jack in the box. A semi-sweet, tinkling song, and then, pop. It was good. But it wasn't Tim Curry.
Tim Curry’s Pennywise was flamboyant. He was loud, obnoxious, and once you watch the film a few times and the terror wears off, you can see that he is also funny. He’s the manic to Skarsgård’s depression, an ever-chattering pest that has a vested interest in your going insane, and he wasn’t playing the long game. Curry's make-up is stranger than Skarsgård’s; it was not obviously made to look evil the way that Skarsgård’s was. And yet, the thin lips, thin eyebrows, the bald wig that made his skull look oblong the way an amateur clown’s might, it was somehow more authentically scary because he felt more like a clown you might actually see in real life. Add that to Curry’s incredible facial expressions, the weird control he has over his lips and eyebrows, and you have, in my opinion, the most terrifying and intriguing monster in all of horror history.
It's true that the new film followed more closely Stephen King’s original vision. My main gripe lies in the writer’s decision to separate the two films chronologically instead of flashback format of the first, and of the book. Too much of the plot was given away too fast, and I believe the story and character development suffered because of it.
Some people see the original IT as a bad horror movie, and it absolutely has qualities that make it so, especially bad acting, especially on behalf of grown-up Bill, Richard Thomas, and grown up Beverly, Annette O’Toole (bless them both). It wasn’t entirely their fault, the writing was melodramatic and cliché, and that’s another reason that I love it so much. I am one of those people that likes bad horror more than good horror; I like to laugh while I cover my eyes. The original IT has both the scariest villain of all time and the overdramatic, quotable scenes that my friends and I still perform sometimes. It’s a perfect film, for me. And now I get what I never thought I would: more of IT.
Pennywise: The Story of IT comes out this summer, 2018.