It was originally a 1986 horror novel by Stephen King. I had attempted to write a summary of King's inspiration for the novel but turns out he did that for me on StephenKing.com. So here's a quote from the man himself:
"In 1978 my family was living in Boulder, Colorado. One day on our way back from lunch at a pizza emporium, our brand-new AMC Matador dropped its transmission-literally. The damn thing fell out on Pearl Street. True embarrassment is standing in the middle of a busy downtown street, grinning idiotically while people examine your marooned car and the large greasy black thing lying under it. Two days later the dealership called at about five in the afternoon. Everything was jake--I could pick up the car any time. The dealership was three miles away. I thought about calling a cab but decided that the walk would be good for me. The AMC dealership was in an industrial park set off by itself on a patch of otherwise deserted land a mile from the strip of fast-food joints and gas stations that mark the eastern edge of Boulder. A narrow unlit road led to this outpost. By the time I got to the road it was twilight--in the mountains the end of day comes in a hurry--and I was aware of how alone I was. About a quarter of a mile along this road was a wooden bridge, humped and oddly quaint, spanning a stream. I walked across it. I was wearing cowboy boots with rundown heels, and I was very aware of the sound they made on the boards; they sounded like a hollow clock. I thought of the fairy tale called "The Three Billy-Goats Gruff" and wondered what I would do if a troll called out from beneath me, "Who is trip-trapping upon my bridge?" All of a sudden I wanted to write a novel about a real troll under a real bridge. I stopped, thinking of a line by Marianne Moore, something about "real toads in imaginary gardens," only it came out "real trolls in imaginary gardens." A good idea is like a yo-yo--it may go to the end of its string, but it doesn't die there; it only sleeps. Eventually it rolls back up into your palm. I forgot about the bridge and the troll in the business of picking up my car and signing the papers, but it came back to me off and on over the next two years. I decided that the bridge could be some sort of symbol--a point of passing. I started thinking of Bangor, where I had lived, with its strange canal bisecting the city, and decided that the bridge could be the city, if there was something under it. What's under a city? Tunnels. Sewers. Ah! What a good place for a troll! Trolls should live in sewers! A year passed. The yo-yo stayed down at the end of its string, sleeping, and then it came back up. I started to remember Stratford, Connecticut, where I had lived for a time as a kid. In Stratford there was a library where the adult section and the children's section was connected by a short corridor. I decided that the corridor was also a bridge, one across which every goat of a child must risk trip-trapping to become an adult. About six months later I thought of how such a story might be cast; how it might be possible to create a ricochet effect, interweaving the stories of children and the adults they become. Sometime in the summer of 1981 I realized that I had to write about the troll under the bridge or leave him--IT--forever."
The result was the novel which follows the "Losers Club" of seven children in Derry, Maine as they get terrorized by a shapeshifting evil entity that exploits the fears and phobias of its adolescent victims particularly the fear of clowns. He typically appears to the children as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, who claims to be the "Eater of Worlds". The novel follows the characters to adulthood as the Loser Club faces the evil entity for the second and final time.
In 1990, ABC released a two part miniseries portraying the contents of the novel. The miniseries was directed by Tommy Lee Wallace and adapted for the screen by Lawrence D. Cohen. Collectively, the series was 192 minutes long. It cast Tim Curry as the iconic Pennywise the clown who absolutely crushed the role and terrified a young me for the rest of my existence. The miniseries was incredibly well done, with the universally agreed exception of the miniseries' ending. The ending revealed Pennywise's true form to be a giant, unrealistic, mechanical, and unbelievably stupid spider.
This is why I think we can all agree we were absolutely thrilled to hear the novel was becoming a feature film. IT: Chapter One was released by Warner Brothers on September 8th, 2017, 27 years after the miniseries and coincidentally the amount of years Pennywise hibernates in the film before returning to wreak havoc on the town of Derry. The budget of the film was $35 million and it grossed over $700 million. The film cast Bill Skarsgard as the new Pennywise, a less human more creature-esque version of the horrific clown. The movie is one of my favorites. The kids and Pennywise add elements of comedy while you're feeling constant underlying fear. It's a horror movie, but it's also an adventure film. It has so many elements in one. The Rotten Tomatoes consensus dubbed the film " well-acted and fiendishly frightening with an emotionally affecting story at its core". The movie does what most horror movies struggle to do which is remain a coherent and compelling story while terrifying its viewers. The film won several awards and was proceeded by IT: Chapter Two.
IT: Chapter Two came out 2 weeks ago on September 6th, 2019. Similarly to the two-part miniseries, the first filmed followed the Losers Club as children and the second follows the lucky seven as adults returning to Derry. I won't give anything away but this will serve as our horror movie review for the week because this movie gets a 9.8/10. I was happy, I was terrified, I was excited, I was sad. I absolutely ADORED this movie. I cried for the last 30 minutes and despite its 3 hour run time, I could have watched it for another 7 hours. The cinematography was amazing and the graphics are unreal. Bill Skarsgard crushes the role of Pennywise for the second time. The adults match their children counterparts SO well. Casting was impeccable. I did see some parts where I thought that other audience members might receive certain scenes differently and perhaps been unhappy with them but I loved it through and through.
All in all, Stephen King mentioned he wanted all monsters in this novel which explains his choice of a shapeshifting entity. He also stated he wanted the monsters to come out based on childrens' fears and he thought what are children most afraid of? And he realized the answer was clowns. So the real question here is, why are we so afraid of clowns?
The fear of clowns is called Coulrophobia. One psychologist named Dr. Nader believes that clown phobias are fueled by the fact that clowns wear makeup and disguises that hide their identity and feelings. Clowns seem to be happy because of the huge smile across their face but we can’t tell if they are truly happy or not because of how mischievous they are. We never know what to expect from them because they could just throw a pie in your face or squirt water from a flower at you. Their faces also look partially like a human but not fully. Studies have found that slippery or amorphous behavior is the scariest behavior to us because our brains crave safety and predictability. It causes our brain to experience a hiccup in the pattern recognition technique used to make cognitive sense of the world. This basically confuses the brain and confusion quickly leads to fear. Clown are known for unpredictability and unpredictable threats create more fear than predictable ones. This shows how much humans hate cognitive dissonance and explains why we love to create theories and explanations in order to avoid confusion and fear.
One psychology professor at California State University stated that young children react strongly a figure that has a familiar body type but an unfamiliar face. This means that children are wired to dislike clowns because they have the body of a human, but their face looks like nothing they’ve ever seen before. Some children actually do like them, but most don’t because they have no idea what they are until they’re brought to a loud, overwhelming party and see a man with large, bright features, making loud noises and speaking in a weird voice.
This makes Pennywise the perfect combination of everything that terrifies children. He’s incredibly creepy because of how unpredictable he is. He feeds off children’s fear and can change in the matter of seconds. Skarsgard who played Pennywise did a lot of method acting to truly do Pennywise justice. Instead of using special effects for the eyes, he taught himself how to move them in different directions. The producers also decided to hide Pennywise from the cast until they had to film their scenes with him. This means they only really interacted with Skarsgard when he was in full costume and therefore, Skarsgard was even more terrifying to them. It’s hard for actors in horror movies to separate the designed fear from real life, and hiding Pennywise from them made this even more difficult. Many of the reactions from the actors were genuine reactions. This is also related to the concept that Pennywise is based in. In the novel, Bill theorizes about the fear Pennywise inflicts. He says, "Maybe it is real as long as children believe in it. And in a way, Pennywise's character is motivated by survival. In order to be alive in the imagination of children he has to keep killing". Even Skarsgard was affected by the fear that Pennywise was made to create. He said that after filming he had nightmares every single night where Pennywise would visit him. He was unable to separate himself from the acting and said that every single day of filming was completely emotionally and physically exhausting.
British American non-fiction author, Mikita Brottman, stated that Pennywise, “Reflects every social and familial horror known to contemporary America”. American author, Mark Derry, also drew the connection between Pennywise and serial killer John Wayne Gacy. John Wayne Gacy is widely known as the killer clown. He was born on March 17, 1942 in Chicago, Illinois to John Gacy and Marion Robinson.
He had a very tumultuous relationship with his father. At the age of four, his dad beat him with a leather belt for accidently messing up the car engine parts he had just put together and on another occasion his dad knocked him unconscious by hitting him on the head with a broomstick. He verbally abused him and said he was dumb, stupid, never good enough, a sissy, mama’s boy and that he would probably grow up queer. When Gacy was 7 years old, him and a friend molested a young girl and his dad punished him by whipping him with a razor strop (a strip of leather used to sharpen knives). That same year, Gacy was molested by a family friend and he kept this a secret from his father because he knew he would blame him.
When Gacy was in fourth grade, he began to experience seizures and black outs. Between the ages of 14-18 he spent a total of almost a year in the hospital because of these blackouts. Once when he was in the hospital, his father accused him of faking the condition to gain sympathy. In his early 20s he moved to Nevada where he started working as a mortuary attendant and would sleep on a cot behind the embalming room. One night, he went into a coffin of a deceased teenage male and cuddled the body until he said he experienced a sense of shock. This shock caused him to call his parents and ask to move back home, which he did that same day.
In September of 1964 he married Marylnn Myers and in February 1966 they had a son named Michael followed by a daughter named Christine in March 1967. Despite this seemingly happy time, he regularly cheated on his wife and hired many sex workers.
In august 1967, Gacy sexually assaulted a 15-year-old boy named Donald Voorhees. He brought Donald to his house by promising to show him pornographic films. He fed him alcohol and forced him to perform oral sex on him. Gacy continued to do this to many other children and also forced one young boy to have sex with his own wife before performing oral on him. He told many of them that he was asked to perform these acts as scientific research and even paid some of them up to $50.
In March 1968, Donald told his father about the assault and Gacy was arrested and charged with oral sodomy. He denied the charges and asked to take a polygraph test, which showed that he was nervous when denying these charges. One report stated, "The most striking aspect of the test results is the patient's total denial of responsibility for everything that has happened to him. He can produce an "alibi" for everything. He presents himself as a victim of circumstances and blames other people who are out to get him.. The patient attempts to assure a sympathetic response by depicting himself as being at the mercy of a hostile environment". After this, Gacy was examined by two doctors over the course of 17 days and they concluded that he had an antisocial personality disorder and that he would not likely benefit from therapy or medical treatment and would likely be in constant conflict with society.
On June 18, 1970, he was granted parole with 12 months’ probation after serving only 18 months of his 10-year sentence. On February 12, 1971, he was charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy. He lured him into his car at Chicago’s greyhound bus terminal and drove him home where he tried to force the boy into sex. The boy never showed up to court and the parole board never learned of the incident, so in October 1971, Gacy’s parole ended.
He then moved with his mom to Cook County, where he got engaged to Carole Hoff. One week before the wedding, on June 22, he was arrested and charged with aggravated battery and reckless conduct. This was in response to Jackie Dee informing the police that Gacy had impersonated a police officer, lured him into his car and forced him to perform oral sex. The charges ended up being dropped because Jackie Dee tried to blackmail him into giving him money in exchange for dropping the charges.
On January 2, 1972 he picked up 16-year old Timothy Jack McCoy from Chicago's Greyhound bus terminal and said that he could stay the night at his house on his journey to Omaha. The next morning Gacy woke up to McCoy standing over his bed with a kitchen knife, which caused Gacy to jump up and start trying to fight the knife out of his hands. Gacy wrestled him to the floor and stabbed him repeatedly in the chest. Then Gacy went down to the kitchen and saw an opened carton of eggs and a slab of unsliced bacon, as well as the kitchen table set for two. Gacy later claimed that while killing McCoy, he had experienced a mind-numbing orgasm that made him realize that death was the ultimate thrill.
The second time he committed murder was around January 1974.The victim is unidentified but between the ages of 14-18. He strangled the boy and stored his body in his closet, which caused fluid to leak out of his mouth and nose and onto his carpet. This resulted in Gacy stuffing cloth rags or the victim’s own underwear into their mouths.
In 1975 he admitted that he was increasing how often he searched for young males. He became a member of a "Jolly Joker" clown club who performed at fundraising events and parades and as entertainment for hospitalized children. He created characters called, "Pogo the Clown" and "Patches the Clown". He did his makeup slightly differently than professional clowns by painting sharp corners at the edges of his mouth instead of the rounded borders which are used to not scare children. He was reported showing up to his favorite bar on many occasions dressed as a clown saying that he had just performed. He often used handcuffs as part of his clown routine, which also became a part of his MO. He would give the boys drinks or drugs and then bring out the handcuffs. After the handcuffs were on, he would rape and torture them, then finish with what he called, "the rope trick". He would put rope over the victim’s necks to strangle them to death.
On December 22, 1978, he confessed that he killed a total of 33 teenage boys and young men and stored most of them in his crawl space. He would periodically pour quicklime on them to hasten the decomposition of their bodies. He stated that he lost count of the number of victims in his crawl space and when he ran out of room he was going to store the rest of his victims in his attic but decided to dispose of them off the I-55 bridge into the Des Plaines River. He reported that he disposed of 5 bodies there but only 4 were found. 26 bodies were found in his crawl space, one was found buried beneath the concrete floor of his garage, one was found buried in a pit close to the barbecue grill in his backyard, and one was found buried beneath the fining room floor.
Gacy was found guilty of 33 charges of murder, sexual assault and taking indecent liberties with a child. The prosecution requested the death sentence for each murder committed after the Illinois statute on capital punishment came into effect on June 1977 and the defense requested life imprisonment. The jury sentenced Gacy to death for the 12 counts of murder that occurred after June 1977.
On May 9, 1994, Gacy was transferred to Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill to receive a lethal injection. For his last meal he had a private picnic on the prison grounds of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a dozen fried shrimp, French fries, fresh strawberries and a diet coke. After observing prayer with a Catholic priest, he was put to death by lethal injection, which took a total of 18 minutes.
So how rare are murderous clowns? We all remember the 2016 clusters of clown sightings all over the United States. There was claims of menacing clowns everywhere. Although none of these encounters resulted in crimes or injury, everyone was pretty freaked out. But what we may not all know is that this isn't the first time a cluster of clown sightings has occurred. Though few crimes were reported, and only one murder, it was definitely creepy.
In 1981 clown sightings were also reported around the U.S. The sightings started on May 6th in Brookline, MA at Lawrence Elementary School. Children reported two clowns driving a black van offering them candy. Panic quickly spread. That same month, police in Kansas City, Missouri, received numerous reports of a knife-wielding clown in a yellow van. A letter from the nearby Our Lady & St. Rose school told parents "there have been reports of a character called Killer Clown jumping out of bushes and threatening children with a knife." The next month reports of clowns started popping up in Pittsburgh, PA, Omaha, NE, and Denver, CO.
In March of 1988, children in Louisville, KY began calling police with reports of an ominous clown in a red pickup offering rides to them. In one case, a child reported the clown had chased him on foot.
In October of 1991, more than 40 children reported a clown lurking through backyards and peeking through windows. Shortly after, a local bank was robber by a man in a clown suit although police determined he was a "copycat clown". The same month in Chicago, IL, school children reported a man dressed as Homey D. Clown from In Living Color offering them candy to get in his van. Though the kids did not agree on the color of the van, they did all agree he had "Ha-ha" written on the side. Several weeks later, an adult even reported seeing a little girl get abducted by a clown.
In October of 1992, a little girl in Galveston TX reports that a clown attempted to kidnap her.
June 1994, police received several calls about a clown trying to lure children into his van. Police declined to investigate and some believe the disappearance of a young boy shortly after may have been a result of the police's lack of attention to the case.
In Aug 1997, six clown sightings are reported in South Brunswick and Howell, NJ. Children claimed clowns were leaping from behind trees and laughing manically.
Then in August of 2016, the clown sightings in Greenville, South Carolina began and sparked a nationwide panic and incited several other clown incidents. It's not surprising that the It: Chapter One would do so well just a year later, living off the interest and fear from the year prior. So clown sightings are actually pretty common and fuck everyone who dresses up like a clown to fuck with people.
Here's the murder: On 26 May 1990, in Wellington, Florida, Marlene Warren opened her front door to a brown-eyed clown bearing flowers and balloons. The clown shot her in the face, drove off in a white Chrysler LeBaron and was never seen again; Warren died two days later. Her murder remained unsolved until late September 2017, when police arrested a woman named Sheila (Keen) Warren for the murder. Sheila Warren had married Marlene Warren's widower, Michael Warren, in 2002.
So if you ever see a clown, don't laugh. Run.