There was, probably, no greater instigator of coulrophobia—the fear of clowns—than Stephen King’s It. Both his novel and the ABC miniseries adaptation maliciously crept their way into the collective psyche of our culture thanks to the menacing nature of Pennywise the clown. Never before had the terror that lurks behind the façade of painted smiles and childhood innocence been so exposed, so real, or so scary. Now, three decades from its publication and a quarter century since its television debut, Hollywood is hoping that fear can and will strike once more.
With Bill Skarsgård (Hemlock Grove) set to star as the face of so many nightmares in the cinematic adaptation of It, many are wondering if Hollywood call pull it off. The route to the big screen has been long and circuitous; the film lost its original director, Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) and star Will Poulter (The Revenant) before finally landing Skarsgård and director Andres Muschietti (Mama). The project seems to have overcome its initial road blocks, however, and is currently well under production for release next year. With so much to live up to, between the original novel and the Tim Curry (Rocky Horror Picture Show) starring mini-series, many have wondered what the tone of the movie will be. That question has been now been answered thanks to the film's producer, Dan Lin.
In an interview published on Collider, Lin addressed some of the issues of tone and the feel of the movie - in addition to praising Skarsgård's portrayal of the legendary clown. Tonally, the film is said to adhere to the nostalgic atmosphere of the novel, which Lin compared to the breakout hit of this summer, Netflix’s Stranger Things:
“I think a great analogy is actually Stranger Things, and we’re seeing it on Netflix right now. It’s very much an homage to ’80s movies, whether it’s classic Stephen King or even Spielberg. Think about Stand by Me as far as the bonding amongst the kids. But there is a really scary element in Pennywise.”
That almost creates a bit of a chicken or the egg scenario for the project, given It’s influence on Stranger Things; not to mention, Stranger Things only happened because the Duffer Brothers' pitch for an It adaptation got turned down. Still, it makes sense as a basis of comparison. Both stories revolve around groups of children facing off against a dangerous monster and both portray the bonds of childhood. Interestingly, the film co-stars Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard, furthering the connection between the two. Audiences will no doubt draw comparisons between the projects once it hits theaters. In fact, fans of the It novel and miniseries have been making this comparison steadily since Stranger Things debuted on Netflix (even before the history of the Duffer Brothers and the It property became public knowledge).
Lin, for his part, seems unconcerned by this.
“You catching me at a really interesting time because we’ve been shooting mostly the kids’ work and now Pennywise is starting. We clearly had a great dynamic amongst the kids. Really great chemistry is always a challenging thing with a movie like It because you’re casting kids who don’t have a ton of experience, but it ended up being really natural. Each kid, like a Goonies or Stand By Me, has a very specific personality and they’re forming the loser’s club obviously. And now finally the evil force is coming into our movie. We’ve spent a few months getting the kids to bond and now they’re going to fight this evil, scary clown."
Skarsgård certainly has some big shoes to fill as Pennywise. Curry’s portrayal of the character is widely regarded as one of the actor’s best, and to this day it remains the high point of the 1990 television adaptation. Just as the child stars will draw comparisons to the nostalgia pieces that came before, so too will Skarsgård be, unfairly or no, compared to Curry. Lin, however, thinks his star will have no problems.
“His build is really interesting. he’s really tall and lanky, and feels a little clown like in his movement. When he came in — we had a lot of different actors read, and when he came in he had a different spin on the character that got us really excited. You’ve had Heath Ledger doing almost a clown joker, you’ve seen obviously Tim Curry as a clown. We wanted someone who created a Pennywise character that would stand on its own and Bill came in and created this character that frankly freaked us out.”
All in all, it sounds as though It is shaping up rather nicely. It’s worth noting however that, like its ABC predecessor, this is merely part one of two, with a second movie being developed surrounding the adult versions of the children in this film. It might seem like overkill, but splitting the story into two parts allows for some breathing room, giving ample space for the story to terrify a new generation - and, perhaps, reignite a few latent cases of coulrophobia. One can only hope, but for now it seems that It won’t have any problems when it floats into theaters.
It is slated for theatrical release on September 8th, 2017.