Despite a turbulent start that saw director Cary Fukunaga replaced by Andy Muschietti, production’s in full swing on the remake of Stephen King’s It. On Thursday, we reported that Hemlock Grove star Bill Skarsgård had landed the coveted role of Pennywise, the evil clown made infamous by Tim Curry in the 1990 miniseries. While Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise is considered quintessential, there are actually quite a few differences between the character he played and his namesake in King’s novel. At the very least, the novel gives exponentially more history for, and insight into, this icon of horror; Pennywise is considered by many to be the scariest clown in history.
Hopefully, Muschietti’s It will include aspects of Pennywise that have yet to be explored in cinema, and hopefully Skarsgård will be able to tap into the essence of a character who embodies pure evil. As we wait patiently for It to hit theaters in 2017, let’s take a moment to explore some lesser known facts about horror’s most celebrated evil clown, a character who literally terrified a generation.
Pennywise is Really Old—And He’s an Alien
While his origins are nebulous, one thing is for certain: Pennywise isn’t from Earth. He isn’t even from this Universe! He’s an entity from the “Macroverse” who existed since before the Big Bang, and crash-landed like an asteroid millions of years ago in what would become the Town of Derry. He remained in a state of hibernation until 1715, and returns to wreak havoc at 30 year intervals. This shapeshifter, whose true form can’t be perceived by the human mind, has many names: It, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, Robert “Bob” Gray, The Eater of Worlds, and Consumption are some.
Pennywise Haunts Other Stephen King Novels
While he’s not the only character to inhabit numerous Stephen King stories, Pennywise’s appearance in additional novels has chilling implications. In The Tommyknockers a character traveling through Derry sees a clown in a storm drain. While it could easily have been a hallucination, if real, it implies It wasn’t killed by the “Losers’ Club” like we all thought. This theory is supported when, in Dreamcatcher, a character named Mr. Gray (one of It’s names) spots some graffiti that reads: “Pennywise Lives”. He’s also mentioned in Gray Matter, 11/22/63, and Insomnia.
Inspiration for Pennywise
Many fans and critics have theorized that Pennywise was inspired by notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Gacy had an “alter ego”, Pogo the Clown, who was a staple of neighborhood birthday parties and community events. When Gacy’s crimes came to light, Pogo took on extremely sinister undertones, giving all clowns a nefarious sheen in popular culture. Stephen King, however, has stated that his primary influences for Pennywise were Bozo (a famous TV clown from the 1960’s), Howdy Doody’s mute partner Clarabell, and Ronald McDonald.
Disciples of Pennywise
Pennywise has been accused of inspiring a spate of real-life creepy clown hauntings around the world, including a particularly chilling fellow seen lurking the streets of Northampton in 2013. He became somewhat of a sensation on social media where thousands theorized on the clown’s true identity under the hashtag #northamptonclown. This Pennywise disciple eventually created his own Facebook page, where he offered cryptic explanations for his existence: “Too much hate not enough love”. Then, in 2014: “Residents of Bakersfield and Wasco, California reported a clown stalking them at night, sometimes while carrying a machete. This turned out to be an art project.”
Pennywise Gave Stephen King Writer’s Block
At 1138 pages, It is one of the longest horror tomes every written. Per IMDB: “The length derived from King’s desire to have all his favorite monsters in one place. King remarked that if he’d written the script for It (1990), it would have been a 32 hour miniseries. It’s also King’s last monster oriented story to date, as well as the last about traumatized children. This book gave him writer’s block, a rare thing for King.”
Alice Cooper as Pennywise
IMDB also claims that, before Tim Curry landed the role, shock-rocker Alice Cooper was considered for the role of Pennywise. While I doubt he would have made the role iconic like Curry did, I’d still love to visit an alternate universe, just to see what Cooper could have done.
Pennywise’s Brush with George A. Romero
One more from IMDB: “When ABC and Lorimar first announced the film, it was to be a 6 hour miniseries directed by George A. Romero. Romero did extensive pre-production work and closely collaborated with Lawrence D. Cohen to develop the script, but he had to bow out due to a scheduling conflict with the remake of Night of the Living Dead (1990). This mirrored Romero’s experience on another Stephen King property, the previous year’s Pet Sematary (1989), which he was also slated to direct.”
Pennywise’s Hair was Real
According to an article on BuzzFeed, (34 Facts About Scary Movies That Will Blow Your Mind) Pennywise’s signature pill-box-red coif wasn’t a wig; it was Tim Curry’s real hair! Now that’s dedication to a role!
Pennywise likes Frightened Flesh Best
“You all taste so much better when you’re afraid! ” -Pennywise to the Losers’ Club
There’s a reason Pennywise goes to such great lengths to terrify his victims: Frightened flesh tastes best! Innocent children are the easiest to scare, making them this fiend’s favorite feast!
Pennywise vs. The Turtle
As bizarre as it may sound, Pennywise’s arch rival is a turtle! StephenKingWiki explains: “It’s natural enemy is The Turtle, another ancient Macroverse dweller who, eons ago, created our Universe and possibly others. The Turtle appears in King’s series The Dark Tower as Maturin, one of the Guardians of the Beam. The series suggests that It, along with the Turtle, are themselves creations of a separate, omnipotent creator referred to as “the Other” (who may be the entity Gan). The Turtle and It are eternal enemies in a battle of creation against consumption.”
Pennywise’s Myriad of Powers
Pennywise has a myriad of powers that were never revealed in the 1990’s miniseries: He’s a shapeshifter who can take on just about any form imaginable (not merely a clown or a spider); he can perform illusions as illustrated when Pennywise brings still photos to life; he can become “partially invisible” at will; while not omnipotent, Pennywise has the power of regeneration; he uses telepathy to read minds of those in close proximity; he has mind control and brainwashing powers; Pennywise can teleport; he can cause flora-cide, killing plants simply by touching them; he can control the weather, usually heralding his reign of terror with a powerful storm; he has telekinesis, and; he’s photokinetic, meaning he has the power to manipulate lights.
Pennywise’s Other Forms
If you’ve only seen the miniseries, you might think that Pennywise has only 2 forms: A clown and a spider. Actually, he can on take just about any form he desires. In the novel, It appears as: A clown, a huge pregnant spider, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, a giant crow, Rodan (the pterodactyl of J-Horror), the Werewolf, a leper, the Mummy, flying leeches, a swarm of piranhas, the shark from Jaws, Dracula, Paul Bunyan, Frankenstein’s Monster, an 8’ tall Doberman Pinscher, The Witch from Hansel and Gretel, decomposed bodies/zombies, and others.
Pennywise Doesn’t Like Horror Movies
While Tim Curry has become synonymous with Pennywise and has everything to do with the villains icon-status, the actor isn’t fond of the horror genre; in an interview back in 1990, Curry explains: “Richard O’Brien, who wrote Rocky [Horror Picture Show], very much was [into horror movies], but it’s his obsession, not mine. I mean, I’m fascinated by movie villains—I enjoyed Lon Chaney—but in some ways I think that horror movies have got a little too far away from the mind. I personally think that what is the most horrifying is the moment of decision behind somebody’s eyes when they decide to kill somebody, rather than a pint of blood and a pound-and-a-half of latex.” Ironically, Curry has always considered himself a fan of Stephen King’s novels: “I always get the books. I mean, [King is] an extremely entertaining writer; I think he’s really good at that stuff. I like The Shining a lot too—I would have liked to have done The Shining.”