As you are probably aware, Swedish actor Bill Skarsgard will portray Pennywise the Clown in the IT movie adaptation due out this September. Taking on a non-human horror villain as off-the-wall as the cannibalistic shapeshifter from Stephen King’s 1986 pop literary masterpiece is difficult enough in itself, but the fact that Tim Curry’s turn at the character in the 1990 ABC miniseries was so iconic makes it even more difficult. Part of what made Curry’s performance so great was that he captured the horrifyingly paradoxical tones of funny and bloodthirsty that make Pennywise so scary. Can Skarsgard pull of the same thing in the IT movie?
In his 1981 vignette on horror titled Danse Marabre, Stephen King himself describes “terror” as the feeling of unease that arises from a figure that appears threatening in some ways but non-threatening in others. YouTube content creator Vsauce does a great job of describing this concept in a video he made on the subject. Skip to 1:54 to hear about King’s thoughts.
This is what makes Pennywise arguably the best villain in 20th-century horror fiction, and Tim curry nailed it in the miniseries. Some of those following the film’s production, though, worry based on what we have seen of Skarsgard’s Pennywise in released stills and trailers that he might not be able to recreate that contradiction for the IT movie.
“I am legit worried this iteration of Pennywise will be too serious, ignoring the conflicting nature of Pennywise’s initial appearance compared to his actions that makes it such a great monster,” writes Reddit user Grimes19 on the dedicated Stephen King subreddit, a forum at this point almost entirely dominated by posts about the hugely anticipated IT movie.
Other sources have put forward similar complaints about how Pennywise looks too “murder-y” in all the images from this year’s IT movie rather than sometimes taking on the sense of childlike wonder and amiable allure that make his supernatural hunter persona more believable.
As others have pointed out in response, though, there’s no way of telling yet. Sure, they admit, what we’ve seen of Pennywise in the IT movie’s promotional materials has all been pretty dark. But the majority of the audience for that material has not read Stephen King’s 1,100-plus-page classic and do not know Pennywise is supposed to have a funny side. Even though it makes him a better villain when taken in combination with his dark side, seeing context-less images of a villain who does not look threatening at all does not inspire excitement in those not already familiar with IT.
“Think about when Pennywise is being funny — are there many (or any) one liners that would be funny without context?” writes another Reddit user. “If they just threw in a random joke, it would not make a good trailer.”
Another user who actually went to one of the IT movie’s test screenings added that Skarsgard did an excellent job as Pennywise; Skarsgard’s tone as Pennywise “is actually a little lighter than Tim Curry’s but when he wants to be serious and menacing he can really pull it off.” Hearing that is bound to make anyone who is excited about the IT movie very happy.
For what it’s worth, a poll conducted recently by MLive showed that the public leans toward the opinion that Skarsgard will do an even better job with Pennywise in the movie than Curry did in his IT vehicle. The poll question was “Is it possible that Skarsgard will be scarier than Curry?” The results are 52.6 percent on #TeamSkarsgard and 47.4 percent for #TeamTimCurry.
The official poll is closed, but let us know in the comments which of the two Pennywise actors you think will go down as the definitive Pennywise.
[Featured Image by Scott Olson/Getty Images]