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‘Pennywise: The Story of It’ (review)

In 1990 I was a sixteen year-old veteran of the horror movie genre. If there was scary movie sitting on the shelf of my local video store in the 80s & 90s, I saw it.

From the most innocuous Disney “horror movies” (Watcher In the Woods, Return to Oz, Something Wicked This Way Comes) to the faux snuff films like Face of Death, I sat through them all and slept soundly, without a single nightmare to be had.

But then came the ABC miniseries of Stephen King’s It and some 32 years later I still cannot look at a gurgling sink, a storm drain, a Chinese restaurant or a CLOWN without my pulse spiking with pure, undiluted terror.

And I am not the only one, either. Ask anyone who was a kid or teen during the late 80s/early 90s about watching those 192 minutes in Primetime, and most every single one of those adults today will swallow the lump that formed in their throat and shudder.

That’s how crazy spooky it was (and still is).

In the new documentary Pennywise: The Story of It, director Chris Griffiths goes in-depth about the making of that miniseries with interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and set pics, and yes, even Stephen King himself (via old interview footage) talking about how the scariest TV movie came to be and why, after all these years, it still feels as fresh and horrifying as the day it premiered.

The documentary goes in depth into the difficulty of adapting a work of over 1100 pages to just slightly over an anemic 3 hours (before commercials) of TV. One of its best features highlights the results of casting the perfect kid and adult actors which, when all the pieces came together, gave the movie the gravitas it deserved (with extensive time given to each actor, including those who have passed- John Ritter and Jonathan Brandis), while also showing (via interviews and on-set video) how those strong relationships between the actors contrasted with the spookiness of Tim Curry’s iconic Pennywise to create a masterpiece of horror on network TV.

It also explores why the location shoot of It (the movie was one of the first movies to go up to Vancouver to shoot instead of staying in the US, helping that city become a beacon for a lot of TV and movies in the 90s and on) gave the movie its grounding, which made “Derry” so real that you could sense the evil lurking underneath it. Plus, the documentary details so many on/off-set goodies and stories that really add to the movie’s cultural mythology and gives even the most hardcore fan new info that will delight their dead, shriveled heart.

Pennywise is an incredibly thorough doc that goes in deep with the movie and the source material (including talking about the controversial scene in the book that has never and will never be included in any adaptation- the kid orgy) and includes just about every single person who was associated with it, reminiscing about the production and its effect on popular culture even three decades after it was released. At over two hours, this isn’t some listless trivia cash grab, it is a very detailed love letter to a movie that scared the shit out of a generation of people and it knows it’s stuff (it’s very evocative of the documentaries Never Sleep Again and Crystal Lake Memories– two of the best genre docs out there in my opinion), something that only a real fan of the movie could create without it becoming overly saccharine.

Truly, if you are a fan of the original miniseries, Pennywise is definitely one documentary you are going to want to watch, especially if you do so right after re-watching the movie. It will give you a new appreciation and perspective for the care and craft that went into it as well as hitting you in “the feels” for a movie that deserves to stay as popular as it has for decades.

I highly recommend it.

Pennywise: The Story of IT is currently streaming  on Screambox,
currently available with a 30 day free trial.

 *  *  *  *  *
Produced by Gary Smart and John Campopiano
Written by John Campopiano
Directed by Chris Griffiths
Featuring Tim Curry, Emily Perkins, Richard Thomas, Tim Reid,
Tommy Lee Wallace,Dennis Christopher, Seth Green, Michael Cole,
Ben Heller, Bart Mixon Guilford, Adams Gene Warren, Jr.


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