Film Reviews

Pennywise: The Story of IT – Documentary Review

Stephen King‘s IT is easily one of the most famous horror stories of the modern age. And whilst the book itself has earned praise and fame, it’s perhaps not the only reason the story of a killer clown who eats children is as well known, even to those who’ve never read the book. A large part of the cultural impact must go to the 1990 made for TV mini-series starring Tim Curry.

This three hour television movie, split across two nights, the series was a huge success, bringing in more than 30 million viewers when it first aired, as well as high praise from critics. As time went on, the series would find more and more fans as it received home releases, and word of the show spread. This was in large part due to the performance of Tim Curry in the titular role of IT, an evil, ancient entity that feeds on children by terrorising them, that takes on the form of Pennywise the clown to try to lure them in. Curry’s performance became so beloved, and feared, that chances are if someone said IT to you, you’d be thinking of him first.

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And as the love for the series has endured over the decades, fans have come together to try and delve deeper into one of the most successful television movies of all time, as well as one of the most beloved Stephen King adaptations. Originally started as an Indiegogo campaign in 2017, Pennywise: The Story of IT set out to tell the story of the creation of the film, interviewing cast and crew, and featuring archival footage, to go into more detail than any other time before.

The film, directed by John Campopiano and Chris Griffiths, begins with shaky, grainy footage from a talk Stephen King attended, where he tells a story about how he was inspired when out for a walk, and how that idea just kept sticking with him, demanding to become something bigger. This story is a perfect jumping on point, as it not only displays the way in which King works, but it also speaks to the creators of the mini-series fighting to bring to life an ‘impossible project’ for as long as they did, and even the makers of this film, working for years to see this documentary movie completed.

From here the film takes a look at clowns and the fear that they bring people, in a section that probably isn’t needed, but acts as a decent enough introduction. The film them begins in earnest by going into the details of how the series was created, with discussion about the process of crafting the 1000 plus page novel down into a two night event, the ways in which the casting of the film was done which included the titbit that Malcolm McDowell was almost cast in the role of Pennywise (how different a version that would have been), and stories about clashes with the network.

The most interesting parts of the film come in the interviews, and Pennywise: The Story of IT has them in spades. Telling the story without any kind of commentary or voice-over, the film allows the cast and crew to fill us in on the things that happened. The benefit of this is that the film feels like you’re sitting down with the people involved in the series and just listening to them remember their time working on it. The stars of the film who were kids when it were made have some of the best stories, and you can clearly tell that there was a lot of enjoyment on set and that these memories are good ones for them.

The downside, however, is that there are times when the documentary feels a little disjointed, and the anecdotes and stories don’t quite flow from one into the other perhaps as well as the filmmakers were hoping, and it can feel a little jarring as they move from topic to topic. A few parts of the film gain more attention than others, such as a fair bit of time being given over to the making of the photo album scene, where other scenes feel rather light on details. Perhaps the more intriguing sections are those where we get to see the creative process for the make-up designs for Pennywise, and the final form of the creature that ended up a bit less than ideal. I always enjoy seeing the monster effects being made, and the different concept art that happens on a film, so these parts were great.

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But we can’t talk about this film and the making of IT without addressing Tim Curry. Curry made the series what it was, and this documentary wouldn’t be complete without him. Curry appears a number of times, and it’s great to see him looking so well, and getting to talk about his time creating one of his most iconic characters. The sad part is that in a film that’s more than two hours long Curry features in less than ten minutes in total. It’s impossible to know how much time they had with him, and if he was unable to do more, but with the film spending longer on why people are frightened of clowns than with the most iconic frightening clown (except perhaps John Wayne Gacey) it feels like a misstep.

On the whole Pennywise: The Story of IT is an enjoyable watch, though a bit overly long in places, and whilst it does focus on some areas more than others you’re sure to come away from watching it with both a new appreciation for the series, and a whole host of new anecdotes and trivia.

Pennywise: The Story of It is available on Digital Download from 3rd October and Blu-ray & DVD from 24th October.

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