It’s official: 2017’s It is a box office smash hit.
Based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same name, It follows seven children in Derry, Maine who encounter a freakishly scary clown named Pennywise. While there is much to be frightened about the film’s antagonist, not a whole lot is actually revealed about the background of that character, aside from the fact that it is an evil being who enjoys torturing kids.
With the success of this 2017 remake (currently enjoying a score of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes) and the cult following behind the 1990 television movie, the wonder surrounding Pennywise The Dancing Clown is stronger than ever, yielding all sorts of Internet memes, establishing him as a gay icon who happens to date the Babadook, and already fueling early talks of a very likely sequel. It’s a welcome change of pace for author Stephen King after seeing the highly-anticipated cinematic adaptation of The Dark Tower fail critically and commercially.
But… where does Pennywise come from? Why torture The Losers Club? Is that clown even a person? How can It be everywhere at the same time? When did this monster arrive in Derry, Maine?
Get ready to float, because here are 15 Disturbing Things You Didn’t Know About Pennywise.
15 IT IS NOT FROM EARTH
Though Pennywise initially just looks like a man dressed up as a clown, it becomes very clear early on that we’re dealing with a supernatural being that simply looks like a clown. Well, as a matter of fact, It is not even from Earth.
It, the entity, is from something called the “Macroverse,” which is a concept established by author Stephen King in The Dark Tower novels. From that so-called Macroverse, It crashed onto Earth and stayed hibernating up until 1715, when it first woke up. After that awakening, It began doing evil deeds every 27-ish (sometimes closer to 30) years in Derry, Maine.
Many fans speculate whether the city of Derry became evil because It crashed onto it, or whether the city had something evil about it all along and was deliberately chosen by It for that reason.
14 WHY IT SCARES CHILDREN
Because Pennywise appears to be so mighty and supernatural, many have wondered over time what the point was for the clown to be wasting time scaring kids off. In a way, it sure looked like It could just eat the children at any given moment, not needing to waste any time inspiring fear into the hearts of those victims.
But according to the mythos that surrounds Pennywise, the entity believes that children taste a lot better when frightened, which explains why It goes to great lengths to terrorize them. In the clown’s own words: “You all taste so much better when you’re afraid!”
While Pennywise technically doesn’t have to terrorize the children it consumes, the clown seems to really enjoy the process and get a very tasty meal out of it.
13 IT HAS MANY POWERS
Pennywise has so many powers that, going down the list, it almost seems like we’re talking about a comic book superhero or villain. It is capable of shapeshifting, summoning illusions, becoming temporarily invisible, regenerating itself, controlling minds, communicating through telepathy, and telekinesis. It’s almost like Pennywise is the evil clown version of Jean Grey.
Looks aside, one of the scariest things about Pennywise is that, like The Losers Club, just as readers (and viewers) get the feeling that now we completely understand everything It is capable of, a new power is introduced to frighten us even more.
While it is not true that Pennywise is invincible, it definitely does feel, at times, that children of Derry, Maine don’t stand a chance against The Dancing Clown.
12 IT IS MORE THAN JUST PENNYWISE
As previously established, It is a shapeshifter, which means that Pennywise The Dancing Clown is definitely not the only form this entity has taken.
According to the It mythos, this creature has been The Mummy, the shark from Jaws, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, a Werewolf, and many other supernatural monsters that frighten human beings. This entity deliberately chooses to take on the form of whatever freaky beast humans are most scared of at any given time, which explains why Pennywise – a clown – is the form It chose to become in the 1980s.
Since It has come back every 27-ish years since 1715, we can assume that this entity has taken on dozens of different forms of all shapes and sizes during its time terrorizing children on Earth.
11 PENNYWISE HAS WEAKNESSES
Even though It seems like an omnipresent and all-powerful entity, it is established by the Stephen King novel that It has to obey the physical laws of whatever form it takes on.
This means that, as the Pennywise clown, It is sort of only as strong as a supernatural clown could be, and as the shark from Jaws, It was sort of only as physically capable as a supernatural shark could be.
This bit of information explains why Pennywise (and It’s other forms) are capable of bleeding, getting hurt, and being defeated. There are weaknesses to It, and Stephen King establishes that feelings such as courage and friendship can defeat the monster in its most powerful form.
While it is definitely hard to injure (or even keep up with) Pennywise, it is no secret can It can be defeated.
10 IT WAS INSPIRED BY A REAL SERIAL KILLER
Written in 1986, the It novel is one of Stephen King’s most successful and well-recognized books in history. But as the story goes, Pennywise was not necessarily a completely original creation from King’s head. Instead, it seems like the antagonist was inspired by John Wayne Gacy, a serial killer known as “Killer Clown” who came to the spotlight in the late 1970s.
John Wayne Gacy would dress up as a clown to sexually assault and kill teenage boys, and was responsible for at least 33 crimes in the state of Illinois. He was finally arrested in 1978 (after committing such crimes since 1972) and was sentenced to death in 1980.
Both Pennywise and Gacy were clowns who targeted young boys in a particular geographical region to commit murders, so the comparisons are definitely worth the attention.
9 IT WAS ALSO INSPIRED BY POPULAR CULTURE CLOWNS
Besides John Wayne Gacy, Stephen King has credited popular culture clown such as Bozo and Ronald McDonald as references for Pennywise’s live-action look. The similarities are all there: the very white elongated face, the blood-red lips, the puffy orange hair… Pennywise was actually made to look like quite the average clown.
According to the same interview with Conan O’Brien where Stephen King mentioned an encounter with Ronald McDonald, the author expressed how he fundamentally believes that clowns were always just entertaining for parents, but ultimately terrifying for kids. That there had always been something “monstrous” about these larger-than-life creatures who are trying to get the attention of children.
Needless to say, the World Clown Association is not very happy with the success of It and the stigma the movie encourages about clowns.
8 PENNYWISE IS IN OTHER STEPHEN KING BOOKS
Though Pennywise originated in It, where he is arguably the main character (and antagonist), not many people know that the character has actually been featured or teased in other Stephen King novels.
Though very briefly, Pennywise seems to appear in The Tommyknockers, and was mentioned by name in the books 11/22/63 (which was adapted as a live-action miniseries on Hulu), Gray Matter, Dreamcatcher, and Insomnia. Additionally, though he was not featured in The Dark Tower, it was that novel that set up the concept of Macroverse, which is where It originated from.
Stephen King’s stories do not all exist in the same universe, but the author does occasionally enjoy making odd connections between his otherwise unrelated novels, and there is a myriad of fan theories across the Internet about unofficial links between the works of Stephen King.
7 THE 1990 PENNYWISE ORIGINALLY LOOKED VERY DRAMATIC
Tim Curry’s had a very bad experience with putting a lot of makeup every day while shooting 1985’s Legend, in which he played the character of Darkness. So it was understandable that the actor almost passed on the role of Pennywise in the 1990 adaptation of It for dreading the long hours in the makeup booth in order to portray a clown.
Thankfully, Tim Curry gave It a chance, and was able to grant us the iconic original performance of Pennywise that, for years, haunted our dreams. For that to happen, however, the very theatrical and dramatic Pennywise makeup that was originally intended for the 1990 version of the character was brought down several notches due to the actor’s request.
6 ALICE COOPER ALMOST PLAYED PENNYWISE
As Tim Curry was unsure of whether he was interested in portraying Pennywise for the 1990 live-action version of It, other names were considered for the role, and one of them was Alice Cooper, the rockstar.
Though Alice Cooper is mostly known for his extensive musical catalog (earning him a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), he was also always involved with cinematic productions, including the 1984 horror Monster Dog, John Carpenter’s 1987 film Prince of Darkness, 2009’s Suck, and 2012’s Dark Shadows and Bigfoot.
It is uncertain whether Alice Cooper actually considered starring in the film or if he was just a placeholder for Tim Curry to make a decision, but that would’ve certainly been a very different take on the iconic 1990 version of Pennywise.
5 PENNYWISE INSPIRED REAL-LIFE COPYCATS
Art imitates life and life imitates art, right? The character of Pennywise might’ve been inspired by real-life examples, but it was also responsible for inspiring others on its own.
Most notably, in 2013, one clown who was seen wandering around the city of Northampton. Then, in 2014, there was a surge of clowns in the Californian cities of Bakersfield and Wasco. In 2016, there was a continuous swarm of clown sightings in the United States that began in North Carolina. The clown hype is so real that a movie theater chain even created an event to that featured an all-clown screening of It.
Most recently, a tweet went viral after a person went to watch It and saw that the only other person sitting in that theater was a very creepy clown holding a red balloon.
4 THERE IS NO CGI IN THE EYE MOVEMENT OF 2017 PENNYWISE
In the 2017 adaptation of It, one can see that Pennywise’s eyes sometimes move in different directions. While that particular thing was always included in the movie’s script, director Andres Muschietti originally intended to use CGI to create that eerie effect, but later found out that actor Bill Skarsgård, who portrayed the character, could actually do that all on his own.
So when you see Pennywise’s eyes move in two different directions in 2017’s It, that’s no computer gimmick, but actually Bill Skarsgård. In an interview with Conan O’Brien, the actor also showed off his “demonic smile” without the Pennywise makeup, which turns out to be just as scary as it is in the movie. Bill credits his older brother, Gustaf Skarsgård (who plays Floki in Vikings), for teaching him how to point his lips in such a strange way.
3 BILL SKARSGÅRD TOOK PENNYWISE VERY SERIOUSLY
Bill Skarsgård took the role of Pennywise so seriously that he actually made the decision to not meet any of the child actors that composed of the film’s The Losers Club outside of the scenes they shot together. Bill felt that it was important for the children to not get to know him as a person, but only as the scary clown Pennywise, in order to inspire real fear into those kids.
The actor has also talked about “intellectualizing” the character of Pennywise, and that he kept going back to Stephen King’s It novel to truly understand the psychology behind such a devious character.
Bill Skarsgård had only 10 days to prepare between booking the job and starting the shoot, which means that he devoured the novel and internalized the character in that week and a half.
2 IT HAS A NEMESIS
While It is in the shape of Pennywise and serves as the antagonist for It, this entity is much more than just this dancing clown and has been around for much longer than what is experienced during this particular Stephen King story.
In the grand scheme of it all, as set up by the concept of the Macroverse, It (the entity) has a nemesis called The Turtle. In The Dark Tower, The Turtle appears in the form of Maturin – one of the twelve Guardians of the Beams that hold the tower. The Turtle, like It, is an ancient being, but one that has actually been good for the most part.
It believes it is a superior being, with The Turtle coming close in regards to their overall level of superiority. Humans are described as merely toys to play with, far inferior to It and The Turtle.
1 2017 PENNYWISE SPEAKS SWEDISH
Because It is an ancient being who has taken on many forms, it only seems fitting and believable that it would be able to speak multiple (if not all) of Earth’s languages, right?
The 2017 adaptation of It took advantage of Bill Skarsgård’s fluency in Swedish and gave the actor free will to speak the language in certain scenes of the movie. So if there are scenes where Pennywise appears to be speaking a language you are unfamiliar with, that is certainly the actor letting all of his Swedish out.
Bill Skarsgård is yet another famous actor in his family, which came from Sweden to dominate Hollywood. It all started with Stellan Skarsgård (Pirates of the Caribbean, Thor, Mamma Mia!), but there’s also Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood, The Legend of Tarzan, Big Little Lies), and Gustaf Skarsgård (Vikings, The Way Back).
What disturbing fact regarding Pennywise surprised you the most? Are there any other things you noticed in the It movie or novel? Let us know in the comments below!