Watch: What Stephen King's Pennywise Can Teach Us about Character Introductions
There's more to It than you might think.
It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it. Or so the old song says. As it turns out, that adage is remarkably true in the way Pennywise the clown, the dark center of Stephen King's It, is introduced to us, both in the 1990 miniseries and the current theatrical release. Nelson Carvajal, known to some as the Sultan of Splice, has taken it upon himself to lay the older intro alongside the current version, and the (nicely spliced) comparison tells us quite a few things, or at least offers some points to store away.
Lighting can make a tremendous difference in the way a character, in particular a scary character, is received. In the 1990 miniseries, the presence of Pennywise in the sewer is all the more terrifying because the day itself, in which little Georgie runs along, chasing a paper boat along a rainy gutter, seems to be bright and full of possibility. In the 2017 version, we almost expect something awful to happen because the sky, and the world in general, looks so dark.
Back in 1990, clowns still had some novelty when they popped up in horror films (with thanks to John Wayne Gacy, as Carvajal points out), and so when director Tommy Lee Wallace decided to put carnival music behind Pennywise's first appearance, the effect was all the more eerie. Andy Muschietti's 2017 version takes a different approach, capitalizing instead on the "there's-something-in-your-sewer-and-it's-coming-to-get-you" effect, driving home the intent with a percussive musical blast when Pennywise first appears. Both moments are scary, but in very different ways.
Because 1990 is further away than many people might think, the miniseries has, for lack of a better word, a more old-fashioned feel to it. While the 2017 film shrouds Pennywise in shadow and projects him into the scene with all the best technology the 21st century has to offer, back in 1990, Wallace could terrify us by simply presenting a clown, talking, in broad daylight, in a sewer. The low-key thrill of the 1990 version bests, in many ways, the same moment in the 2017 film, even though they share many of the same lines of dialogue.
Which scary moments in film can you think of that benefited from an unorthodox approach by the director? Terrify us in the comments!