Pennywise: The Story of It – Review
At A Glance
An insight into the development of the 1990s mini-series, based on Stephen King's novel IT; Pennywise: The Story of IT is a storytelling documentary, which shares behind the camera footage and interviews from both cast and crew of the legendary production.
Directed by John Campopiano, Christopher Griffiths, Gary Smart
Written by John Campopiano, Gary Smart
Released by Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment
2022, 126 minutes, Certificate 15
Digital Download Release 3rd October
Blu-ray DVD Release 24th October
Social Media: @pennywisedoc
Tommy Lee Wallace as self
Tim Curry as self
Richard Thomas as self
Seth Green as self
Emily Perkins as self
Bart Mixon as self
Brandon Crane as self
Adam Faraizl as self
Ben Heller as self
By Hanane Zahrouni
The King of Horror, Stephen King once declared that: “A moment of fear is worth having, if you can get something good out of it.” Pennywise: The Story of IT is an engrossing deep dive and behind the scenes documentary into the 1990s TV mini-series. Despite the unfortunate lack in mentioning the phenomenal success of the more recent films, which were directed by Andy Muschetti; the beauty of this documentary is simply a refreshing trip down memory lane, and the inspiration and difficulties associated with condensing and adapting Stephen King’s rich novel for television.
Stephen King's narrative of IT was a coming-of-age story, which focused on the evolution of being a child and overcoming the issues associated with it. Childhood experiences in the story were composed of both fun and scary parts, especially when dealing with Pennywise – the antagonist and intraterrestrial beast, who poisons one’s childhood by manifesting itself under the guise of a clown. The novel was a deeply psychological exploration of the human condition, where each reader embraced the nuances found between the lines and where the text itself conjured up a reader’s worst fears, through the character of Pennywise. Taken as a family-friendly and much-loved circus character, Pennywise eventually transitions into a horrifying, yet iconic villain, who triggers the public’s consciousness, in a grotesque manner. The 1986 novel may have even inspired King, through American serial killer, John Wayne Gacy, who devised the persona, “Pogo the Clown,’ in the 1970s. Gacy, who performed at children's hospitals, was a convicted sex offender and murderer of at least thirty-three young men and boys, whom he buried at the crawlspace of his house.
When King was churning out additional epics such as: Christine, Pet Sematary, Misery, and Cujo, he was known for being a “heavy user” of cocaine, or as it was known in the early 1980’s, “happy powder.” Yet, despite the delusional images and occasional blackouts, which resulted from drug use; readers truly considered IT as a thrilling piece of art, and a reader’s escape, which can be comparable to the opium fused creations of the romantics.
The documentary, which imitates the structure of the book itself, divides each behind the scenes moment, into a linear narrative, a.k.a chapters, highlighting moments such as the development of Pennywise, from the early pages of a novel to a live character, shaped to haunt the lives of children; to the amalgamation of the ‘Losers Club’ and the meaning behind their togetherness; as well as the importance of community and family, amidst the feelings of being an outsider. The documentary also covers the casting, making, distributing, and friction that went into making the television phenomenon.
Directed by John Campopiano and Christopher Griffiths, the 2+ hour production introduces viewers, even those, without a background knowledge of the novel and mini-series, to interesting trivia and insight, on the history and development of IT and Pennywise. When witnessed through the eyes of a child, Pennywise can be viewed as both evil incarnate and a metaphor of the 1950s, which is when the earlier part of the novel is set. In one aspect, despite it mistakenly being a period of nostalgia and sweetness, IT highlighted a division of humanity, which was significantly rotten, and confronted all that is wrong at the heart of a society. It was a moment in time, which prevented children from expressing their true emotions, as it was considered a form of weakness, and instead, forced them to hide it behind a charming smile.
In all its glory, the mini-series attempted to achieve the magic from within the pages and captured the spirit of the authors’ heart and mind. Regardless of the backstory of the novel, the documentary successfully delves into the various chapters on how the mini-series came to be, and how it truly pushed the boundaries of network television. Considering the plotline surrounded the jeopardy of children and was produced during historic moments of the 1990s (with the HIV/AIDs crisis); it truly challenged networks in breaking new grounds.
The documentary provides a better understanding of how both writer, Lawrence D Cohen, and director/writer, Tommy Lee Wallace’s, passion was in doing the novel justice pre, during and post production. Their respect was evident towards Stephen King, who’s objective in the novel was merging his two interests: the strange and alien and the locations and environments he grew up in; of which resembled Middle America. The documentary features interviews, from the casts and crew, including Seth Green, Richard Thomas, Emily Perkins, Tim Reid, Dennis Christopher, Brandon Crane, and the man himself, Tim Curry; as well as Emmy award winning composer, Richard Bellis; all of whom bring in their personal insights on this unique production of television. It was especially warm-hearted, when the cast reflected on their fellow cast members: Jonathan Brandis and John Ritter and their untimely passing.
Despite Tim Curry’s limited screen time; Pennywise: The Story of It did aim to emphasise Curry’s portrayal as Pennywise, and how his performance as the notorious and not-so-loved clown monster brilliantly created a tremendous impact on viewers. Although transferring Pennywise from page to screen was dangerous endeavour, especially for television; Curry described acting overall, as the opportunity to be "voluntary schizophrenic.” His casting as Pennywise truly brought fearlessness into the role; all without the need of CGI effects - only raw talent. Curry’s fond memories of playing and petrifying his cast mates, and sharing his magnetic presence as Pennywise, was evident throughout the documentary.
Pennywise: The Story of It tightly packs new analysis on the influential pop culture mini-series, such as intense symbolism in relation to the author’s hazy childhood and elements of feminism. It provides both long-time and new viewers the opportunity to watch newly presented footage and interviews from those who made and starred in the mini-series, in such a unique way. Despite deserving a much better exit in the cult classic, Pennywise was indeed the multi-layered psychologically disturbed character, and perverse jokester, that simply will not dull anytime soon – and this documentary made sure of it!
Although many titbits were not necessary (such as the phenomenon of coulrophobia or fear of clowns); the documentary’s successful attempt is peeling those layers and understanding Pennywise and the iconic legacy he continues to leave. Overall, Pennywise: The Story of It, is truly a treasured and fun encyclopaedia for nostalgic IT fans, and the components, which are involved in horror filmmaking, alongside a production team, who fought for the creative integrity of the series, to be the best it could be.