Aliens. Zombies. Serial killers. They’ve all given us nightmares, but there’s one monster that puts them all to shame: Pennywise.
Stephen King’s killer clown has given us night terrors ever since the publication of his 1986 novel IT and the ensuing 1990 TV adaptation starring Tim Curry.
Unfortunately, those nightmares are only going to get worse with the upcoming big screen version starring Bill Skarsgard as the dreaded entity. Here’s why Pennywise is the king of horror movie monsters.
He's a clown
Sure, it’s hard to miss the fact that Pennywise is dressed as a clown, but that doesn’t make IT any less terrifying. But what is it that makes clowns so much more terrifying than aliens and monsters?
Well, firstly clowns actually exist. There’s no telling yourself that there’s no chance of a killer clown bursting through your front door. Another factor is their make-up. The cast of Only Way is Essex are scary enough with their excessive face powder and lipstick, but clowns wear so much that you can’t see their emotions.
It’s an innate response to be wary of something we can’t trust, so there’s no wonder we all burst into tears after seeing Ronald McDonald in the flesh.
He can take the form of your greatest fear
Did you know that Pennywise isn’t strictly a clown? Rather, he’s a trans-dimensional monster. Sounds a bit too far-fetched to be scary, right? Unfortunately for us there's an element of psychological realism in that he's able to take the form of our most deep-seated fears.
In fact Pennywise could be seen as a precursor to J.K. Rowling's Boggarts. But rather than hiding in closets like the Harry Potter monsters, Pennywise likes to walk around as a clown – bold considering the majority of the nation are scared stiff of them.
Still, if you thought you were safe because you’re not scared of clowns then you can think again. Whether you're frightened of spiders, snakes or elderly women, Pennywise will be able to force a scream from you.
He targets children
Serial killers usually target teenagers in horror films, and quite often we don’t have much sympathy for them. If anything they only have themselves to blame, what with their awful decision-making and irritating personalities.
But when it comes to innocent children? Well that’s a completely different matter. It’s not just because we want to protect the younglings, but also because thinking back to our childhood reminds us how vulnerable we were.
While Pennywise does target adults too, he prefers to terrify children as it's easier embody their fears. So take note, this is not a film you should be bringing your children to.
He's not afraid to show his face
In many horror films we rarely get to see the monster, instead only hearing the distant footsteps or heavy breathing. While that can be incredibly tense, it can also lead to an anti-climax reveal, with the monster’s appearance never comparing to the horrors of our imagination.
Pennywise, on the other hand, isn’t one for hiding. We’ve already seen him multiple times in the trailers and boy does he look scary. Sure, he’s seen hiding in sewers and underwater, but he also charges out of them while making his horrifying scream. That’s scarier than any invisible ghoul or rubbery alien.
Bill Skarsgard's performance made a child cry
The main thing about Pennywise, of course, is that he isn’t a CGI creation. He’s an actor in make-up.
Swedish actor Bill Skarsgård was the man chosen to the play the clown after freaking out the producers in his audition. They wanted something completely different to Tim Curry’s version of Pennywise, and Skarsgård truly delivered.
The actor revealed in an interview that he likes to stay in character when in make-up, which resulted in him terrifying one of child extras so much that they started to cry.
Not that we blame them – we’re sure we’ll be having the exact same reaction when IT is released on 8th September.
Ryan Jones is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.