Pennywise is the perfect follow-up for those who watched the IT miniseries.
Published on May 31, 2023
Rating 4 /5
In 1990, a horror miniseries debuted on ABC that redefined horror forever. The series was IT, based on the lengthy novel of the same title by Stephen King. While the series certainly took some liberties with the more risque elements of the book, the two-part event brought forth a new type of terror. So many people formed their basis for fearing clowns, thanks to this series's depiction of the villain Pennywise. While some clowns of the past looked creepy, this one would bare his fangs and threaten to kill children directly. Thank Tim Curry for instilling that off-putting nature of comedy and horror as the clown who terrorized the children of Derry.
Pennywise: The Story of It is a fascinating documentary examining the production that went into this adaptation. While it’s easy to see how King’s massive tome could be adapted into the two-part films of 2017’s IT and 2019’s IT: Chapter Two, making this creepy tale work for early 90s television was a whole other deal. In addition to the problems they faced with censors in depicting a clown who slaughtered kids, there were concerns over budget, special effects, length, casting, and so much more. The fact that the miniseries came together so well and defined the visual expression of the book for many generations is nothing short of a miracle when looking back on all the effort it took.
This documentary interviews everyone involved, from the director to the special effects crew to the cast. And if you’re a big Tim Curry fan, yes, this film does feature Curry as a talking head with both new and recorded interviews while he was filming. While Curry’s methods and work ethic are admirable, hearing the stories told by those who knew him is almost more exciting. The director, Tommy Lee Wallace, spoke openly about how easy it was to work with Curry to inhabit the character of Pennywise, a clown-like depiction of evil manifested from beyond the stars. As behind-the-scenes footage revealed, Curry knew precisely the type of character he was playing. When he had the makeup on his face, he ran lines perfectly. When the cameras were rolling, and the director was trying to get the best shot, Curry maintained his character while adhering. This is must-watch footage, even for a TV production, if you want to see an expert actor at play.
This film covers a wide range of ground on the production, ranging from the script changes to the technical expertise. One of the most fascinating avenues explored was how much work went into the design of Pennywise. The clown character had so many designs before the creatives arrived at the simplistic and off-putting nature of the clown that crawled through drains and bared his teeth when it was time to munch on kids. Elements of production had to be reworked on the fly in order for everything to come together. For example, there’s a scene where Pennywise has his face burnt by acid. When the acidic burns on the face were confirmed for broadcast, the stop-motion team working on Pennywise’s animated escape into the sewers made a last-minute addition to the face during the lengthy shooting. There are so many effects that one doesn’t consider, such as how one may spend days drilling holes in a pipe for that neat light effect when Pennywise consumes a kid underground.
Running under two hours, the film feels extraordinarily focused on being an all-encompassing documentary. Nearly every surviving actor is interviewed for this film and gives their best takes on what is what like working on set, as well as the legacy they’ve left behind. While all of them have great stories, none are more engrossing as Tim Curry. He brings up how many adults grew up watching his Pennywise and found themselves terrified of clowns. Curry remarked they probably shouldn’t have been watching the miniseries.
Pennywise is the perfect follow-up for those who watched the IT miniseries. It presents enough fun facts and behind-the-scenes footage to make it a must-watch supplemental. It’s easy to see why this documentary won the Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best Horror Documentary.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.