Adjani Gama Dessavre
When it comes to monsters, few are as scary as clowns. But how about a clown that can show you your deepest fears? It feeds on them. Yes, IT and not he, and yes, I am talking about our dear Pennywise.
Monsters are great representations of our darkest parts. Maybe you’ve already read one of our previous cakes about monsters by the talented Enrique Bonilla. If not, I recommend you do, follow this link: https://thecakeusvsreality.com/2020/05/02/why-i-love-monsters/
The case of Pennywise is fascinating as it is a monster that not only terrifies us, but it represents fear itself. Talking about movie representations of this monster, my favourite is Tim Curry’s. I find it superior to the Bill Skarsgård’s, and I will tell you why.
First, let me clarify this: I will be comparing the representations of the monster, not comparing the two movies as a whole though I will mention these two things later on.
So, why do a lot of people fear clowns? Maybe it is the exaggerated makeup, or perhaps it is that the proportions are just not right (big smile, bigger shoes, etc.), or that they are just too friendly while hiding their real emotions through their red noses and white faces. They remind us of the need to be too happy and hide our sadness. Ok, so I might be exaggerating a little bit, I mean there are great and funny clowns that make us laugh. And actually, some psychologists think that the real reasons why we find clowns terrifying are horror movies and learned behaviours. However, some kids do find them slightly unsettling (I did as a child).
Let’s start talking about the clown in question: Pennywise. The thing about Tim Curry’s Penny Wise is that at first glance it is just a clown, but deep down it is a monster, and you sort of feel it when it is close. The newer version simply looks creepy all the time. So if we look back to Georgie scene, I just can’t believe how the little kid would keep a conversation with something that already looks like it is going to eat you! It is just not believable enough, and it assumes the spectator is kind of stupid and needs to have everything shown explicitly. Look, here! This thing is a monster! Look! The settings are creepy! Look! Something terrible is about to happen!
In contrast, in the old version, Pennywise looks just like a clown, so you can believe Georgie was talking to him. You can understand why he didn’t just start running away when he saw it. You can also sense that he is not entirely comfortable with it, but It doesn’t need to be monstrous for us to tell that.
The old version is like waking in the night and having to walk through a long hall. You know it is your house, and nothing should be wrong, but you feel some irrational fear, some sense of danger. It is also like a typical day walking through a normal, yet lonely street and things somehow turn scary. Like travelling through our thoughts and finding something we did not expect, something dark that makes us scared, that suddenly escalates to something terrible, to our deepest fear.
The new version is just like waking through the street, and you see a monster, have a massive jump scare, and then you just run away as fast as possible. It just doesn’t lure you. That is what I do not love about it. It is not particularly the acting; it is the whole design and direction the director and producers gave to the character.
And if we judged from the perspective of what do we feel is closer to the book’s representation, I think also Tim Curry’s Pennywise is much more precise. First, I’ll show you some quotes from the book; they come from Georgie’s scene.
“He was wearing a baggy silk suit with great big orange buttons. A bright tie, electric-blue, flopped down his front, and on his hands were big white gloves, like the kind Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck always wore.”
“It was a clown, like in the circus or on TV. In fact he looked like a cross between Bozo and Clarabell”
“The face of the clown in the stormdrain was white, there were funny tufts of red hair on either side of his bald head, and there was a big clown-smile painted over his mouth. If George had been inhabiting a later year, he would have surely thought of Ronald McDonald before Bozo or Clarabell.”
As you can see, the descriptions lead you to believe he looks like a clown to the point it is compared to other clowns like Ronald McDonald. It is something you can find in your childhood: friendly yet scary and deceiving, luring yet unsettling.
With all the technology, most horror movies have converted into a mix of jumpscares and show-off of special effects. However, I would have prefered they used the technology for more subtle things. For example, check this quote from the book “How, George wondered, could I have thought his eyes were yellow? They were a bright, dancing blue, the colour of his mom’s eyes, and Bill’s”. It hints that It is not stable, but it mutates, it changes with the thoughts of the person perceiving him. So maybe changing little things each time a character sees him.
Now, I am not saying that I hate the new movie. It has a lot of amazing elements. The stories of the characters are much more developed (at least in the first part, I haven’t watched the second one), and it does not have the censoring problems of the 90s’. It does have a lot of great little details as well, but I don’t think their representation of the monster is on point. Tim Curry’s acting is just magnificent, but this does not mean Bill Skarsgård’s is not, but it is hard to appreciate it under all the exaggerated and over the top monstrous appearance.
I prefer subtle monsters that let us see who the real monsters are. As Eddie realized in the book: “Eddie discovered one of his childhood’s great truths. Grownups are the real monsters, he thought”. It reminds us that if we let our fears control us, then we are capable of the most horrifying acts. After all, and no matter which clown you prefer, we all float down here! 🎈