Tell people your favorite color (green), favorite coffee drink (café au lait), type of beer (stout) or Bob Dylan song(“Every Grain of Sand”) and it’s a conversation starter, a mental mixtape that everyone can join in on.
Tell people you’ve got a favorite serial killer and they stare at you like horns and a third eye sprouted out of your forehead. Granted, such word bombs can’t be dropped during the average dinner party, but it’s not that unusual a thing to have, right? Right!
Ok, so maybe my pop-culture tastes run into the macabre. But given the recent spate of shows on Netflix, Fox and beyond, there’s a whole lot of people fascinated with death. So for argument’s sake, let’s just say I’m not so weird after all.
For the record, Zodiac is my favorite serial killer. But the first book I ever read about serial killers and thus sent me down this dark and none-too-isolated road was called “The Man Who Killed Boys” about John Wayne Gacy who, as the title implied, murdered 33 young men and buried them in the crawlspace of his suburban Chicago home during the 1970s.
Gacy was nicknamed the “Killer Clown” because he liked to dress up as Pogo the Clown for parties around the neighborhood and often said that “clowns could get away with murder.” Before that, I’d never given much thought about clowns. Sure, Ronald McDonald was a little freaky, but I didn’t have nightmares of he, Grimace and Hamburglar hiding under my bed.
And then I read “It,” a novel that had images and storylines that haunt my dreams still, which is why I reread Stephen King’s book at least every few years or so. It’s truly a masterpiece not only of horror but of the pains and uncertainties of growing up. Oh, and it’s also got an all-consuming evil that takes the shape of a clown that lures children into the sewers where they are torn apart.
Sleep tight …
Pennywise the Dancing Clown, though not the onlycreepy pop-culture clown, he is the one by which all others are judged and probably the reason knuckle heads across the county are dressing like clowns and scaring the bejesus out of people.
And yet the Pennywise of the novel and the Pennywise of the made-for-TV movie are, in a way, separate heads of the same monster. Sure, both are terrifying, but in the novel, Pennywise is sort of a side – albeit memorable – character, a manifestation of all that’s wrong with the grown-ups in Derry. Pennywise in a harbinger, a bringer of death that has been around since the world began. But it’s the kids in the Loser’s Club that are the real stars of the novel. Their battles with the bully Henry Bowers and his gang are every bit as epic and those with Pennywise.
In the movie, Pennywise steals the show. In fact, Pennywise is pretty much the only thing that makes “It” worth watching, especially during the parts of the movie that focus on the kids returning to Derry as grown-ups.
Though, I will say, that “It” wasn’t nearly as goofy as I remember, in fact, when it’s focusing on the kids as kids, it’s like “Stand By Me” with monsters and less cussing. There’s are real sense of terror and heroic charm. When a young Bill Denbrough, surrounded by his friends at The Barrens, yell into the sky, “You killed Georgie, you bastard!” it’s hard not to pump your fists in the air and yell, “Bring it on, Bill.”
And when the kids finally face against it with the things they consider to be powerful, “This is battery acid,” Eddie Kaspbrak yells, spraying his inhaler, it feels real and less cheesy than even the book manages.
Then the grown-up versions show up – complete with ponytails and bad facial hair – and the movie loses all momentum. The same goes for the novel, though to a lesser degree. And it’s not the movie’s fault that it was made-for-TV in 1990, so cheesy kinda comes with the territory.
But all things being even, I was surprised just how well “It” held up, and Pennywise … easily one ofthe most terrifying horror movie monsters ever. He’d give John Wayne Gacy nightmares.
I’d be remiss, if I didn’t mention the“It” remake which is scheduled to come out next year. I’m cautiously optimistic because I think, if done correctly, it can be an amazing film. I know it’s being updated as taking place in the present with the adults who grew up in the 1980s and that alone will help. And the shots of the “new” Pennywise are certainly creepy with a necessary departure from the look Tim Curry made famous in the original movie. Still, there are parts of the book, which is thick with backstory, that I simply can’t imagine even a big-budget Hollywood production pulling off.
Then there’s IT itself. Where the movie version really jumps the shark is when thespider-thing appears, and it’s downright laughable. Sure, the remake will have better special effects, but when it comes to monsters, the most frightening ones live in the imagination, which is where they should stay.