Face-Off: Pennywise (Curry) vs. Pennywise (Skarsgard)

A good day to you all, traveler's into the darkness! Last week we had a terrifying, bleak contest for you in the battle between SINISTER and INSIDIOUS. But this session I'm feeling particularly maniacal, and feel as though the terror has not truly creeped up your spines like I wish it would. So damn the friendly contests between superheroes and space creatures! Let's go further into the belly of the beast with a battle between two menacing, downright evil portrayals of the most demonic clown around. This is Tim Curry vs. Bill Skarsgard in the battle of the Pennywises.

Curry was the first to tackle the part in the television movie adapting the Stephen King mega-hit, IT. Cury earned raves for his performances, proving to be the one bright spot in an otherwise bleak affair. Skarsgard later stepped into the oversized shoes, carving out his own terrifying place next to Curry in what is now the biggest horror movie ever.

In this Face-Off we will not only explore the acting prowess of the two men, but also the technical details that went a long way in making their performances all the more haunting, as well as well as the key moments where they got time to shine and make us wet ourselves. Let the battle begin! The winner gets a lifetime of severed children's arms from the Costco!

In the book, Pennywise is a described as some sort of demonic version of Bozo the Clown or Ronald McDonald. Well, that's exactly what Curry's Pennywise looks like. He looks as though one of those delightful TV clowns was caught going on a drunken bender and getting into a fight with the cops. He looks so much like a terrifying, everyday clown gone rogue, and this is in large part thanks to his makeup being pretty straightforward. Red hair, red nose, and white face makeup. Nothing too fancy, but enough to bring Pennywise to life without diminishing the work Curry is doing underneath it all.
The new Pennywise makeup does a lot to stay faithful to the book while giving it a serious upgrade. The hair is more orange than red and is did-up to look more firey and demonic. Then there's the additional eye work, with those creepy red lines down his face and to his mouth to make it look more dynamic and unnerving when he smiles. There are also more noticeable cracks as you look towards the top of his scalp, giving off an aged, decayed look. There's certainly more to explore about his facial look in the 2017 movie, and each discovery makes him all the more haunting.
Much like the makeup, the actual outfit looks taken from your garden-variety birthday clown, with an oversized, sparkly suit that jingles when he moves around. Simple and effective, and enough to make clowns haunt your dreams for eternity. If you can't go to the circus anymore (why would you ever go to the circus? Are you demented?) it's because the dancing clowns passing out balloon animals look like an absolute psychopath. Thanks a lot, Tim Curry!
The inspiration behind the new Pennywise's costume was of old, Victorian costumes, with the full body suit, poofy cuffs, and the more pronounced neck plumage. The idea was that Pennywise first came to prominence hundreds of years ago, so his garb should match the time period, and looks suitably dirty and worn-in. It doesn't remind anyone of any sort of clown in today's world, but it does have the horrific advantage of giving off the feeling of something more eternal, like some off-putting antique that is perhaps haunted and cursed. Let's face it: Everything that looks old is probably haunted.
It is a demon from some other plane of existence (given more detail when looking into King's "Macroverse") but shows itself to victims using any kind of form it wants. It's favorite form is of Pennywise, and loves playing the role of a clown so as to terrorize and lure in children. Curry embraces this wholeheartedly, giving a manic, wild performance filled with big, freaky, guttural laughs. Curry's Pennywise is all about taking those beloved, iconic ideas of lovable clowns and then turning them into the stuff of nightmares...if they weren't already.
Skarsgard Pennywise looks like a pretty terrifying clown, but aside from a few moments doesn't really play up the clown too much. There is this crazed, childlike look in his eye every now and again, but that seems more about bringing out the hungry demon that lives underneath the clown facade. The actor goes a bit deeper, thinking of Pennywise as a form a powerful demon takes, so he tries to play up that evil force behind the clown makeup. Skarsgard indeed nailed the creepy clown voice, but his version doesn't have the pure, blood-curdling energy that Curry's has that makes his work ruin clowns for everyone...if they weren't already.
Maybe it was because of the budget or the made-for-TV limitations, but Curry's Pennywise doesn't get many chances to be as gruesome as the character often is. Sure, he flares his sharp teeth, but they aren't seen munching into anyone's flesh. Violence isn't always necessary for movies, but in something like this blood-filled balloons only go so far.
At the end of the day, It is s demon who morphs into a clown named Pennywise to lure children down to the sewers to feast on their flesh. Kind of makes for some gruesome images, and this Pennywise is often seen with blood dripping from the mouth, and this movie was never afraid to show Pennywise being as violent as he could be. Really, it's the only to approach a character that only wants to feast on the blood of the innocent.
Curry's Pennywise is forceful and aggressive, and matched with those demon teeth, is a performance that will destroy the minds of any young ones who stayed up late to watch the movie. With his humor, Curry is able to disarm and then come at you with sheer terror, with that low, East Coast accent burning itself into your ears. When he's given room to be scary, he's unrelenting (the scene when the kids see him the photo album), but more often than not, he's the joker. He's playing up creepy gags and being bonkers as hell. As said before, Curry does this brilliantly, but if he's scary it's because it's so absurd and strange than eerie and malevolent.
There are so many little nuances in Skarsgard's performance that makes him eternally terrifying, in large part thanks to his brilliant physicality. Not only does he do that thing with his lip that is totally bananas, but he's also responsible for the way Pennywise's left eye seems off-balance. Skarsgard can actually do that with his eyes. It's maddening! Skarsgard is also able to look incredibly childish and even cute as the clown, all before cutting to a look of absolute hunger and malice. There is this look in his eyes that is so unsettling that you can't help but get chills. You need look no further than the scene with Georgie in the beginning.

Alive in the Photo

Georgie Meets Pennywise

Shower Time

"Kiss me, fat boy!"

Sewer Defeat

The First Victim

Digging a Few Graves

Chasing Ritchie Around; "Beep, beep, Ritchie!"

Library of Balloons

Passing By on the Road

Teasing Young Ben

Messing with Older Beverly

The Gang Meets Pennywise at the House

Georgie Meets Pennywise

The Dancing Clown

The Flooded Basement

Picture Show

Clown Room: "Beep, beep, Ritchie!"

Encounter with Eddie

Devouring Patrick

Meat Locker

Chase Through the Library: "Hey, egg boy!"

A Little Wave

Sewer Battle

The great thing about Curry's performance is that he was able to just let loose and take over the scenes. This perhaps comes off as even more successful because the rest of the movie is pretty weak so that when he shows up it's a sight for sore eyes. But I think the simpler answer is that Curry is so goddamn good as Pennywise that he's able to enrapture us so easily. The voice, his eyes, his craziness all make for a presence that's as commanding as it is terrifying.
Skarsgard's Pennywise definitely has an ominous, evil presence to match is appearance, but I feel director Andy Muschietti wanted to go more for eerie and atmospheric thrills than just throwing Pennywise into the scene. Towards the end, he's able to break out the physicality of his performance, but until then he's more of an instigator, a figure that shows up to make his presence known than as a forceful being.

From now until the end of time people will be debating who did Pennywise better. The argument will play out much like when people argue who did the better work as The Joker - Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger. One is campy, colorful and crazy delightful/terrifying, and the other is dark, intense and given a more intellectual approach. On that note, I have to pick the latter as my personal favorite. Curry is excellent as Pennywise, turning in one of his best, most iconic performances ever. He's an absolute scene-stealer and has earned his place as the harbinger of nightmares for all kids in the 90's. But Skarsgard edges him out here. He may not be a manically jubilant, but his approach to Pennywise is far more sinister and brings so much unique physicality to the role. There's even this palpable, demented whimsy about him that is absurdly chilling. He's also handled much better in his movie, being able to dish out proper levels of violence and become more of the demonic figure from the book. Does he have the kind of fun with the role Curry has? No. But he's the exact Pennywise this movie needed to bring the story into the modern age and is the perfect Pennywise for our time.



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