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Actually, Pennywise From ‘It’ Is a Terrible Movie Monster

The film’s eponymous murder clown is not very good at the one thing he’s supposed to do

Warner Bros./Ringer illustration

You have heard by now about the clown movie. The clown who murders, who morphs and munches and manipulates and mostly just menaces the children of the made-up Maine town of Derry. The clown who … is not very scary at all. Who is bad at all his myriad malfeasances. We need to talk about It, and we especially need to talk about It, who, I venture, should strongly consider a career change. Before we do: spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler, etc.; don’t continue reading if you don’t want to know about the murder clown’s specific murder-clowning. OK? OK.

Most of the scares in It come not from the murder clown, but from a soundtrack whose aural features can best be described as “goose attacks youth orchestra.” There are YEEKs and SHHRUSHHes and BUUNGGGNGs and humanity’s creepiest noise of all: the distant sound of children giggling. It is all very loud, except for the stretches when it is very quiet, which are reliably followed by VERY LOUD BLOOD GUSHING. The sounds are, I think indisputably, the scariest part of the movie. If you sat in a big room with a sticky floor and all the lights off and played only the movie’s soundtrack at MAXIMUM THEATER VOLUME, you would probably jump at all the same places, clown and sewage zombie army be damned.

Which is fine, I suppose—a scary movie doesn’t have to be nightmare-inducing to be enjoyable. What I mean is that this is not so much an It problem—It is a lot of fun; you should see it—as an It problem. It is not very scary because It is not very scary. Our own Shea Serrano recently called Pennywise “a perfect movie monster.” I, however, must disagree: Pennywise, whose stated goal is to dine on the boys and girls of Derry, is just not very good at it. He is possibly very bad at it.

Let’s consider the facts. A great deal of It’s screentime is devoted to Pennywise’s various attempts to isolate children and lure them into various dark and/or treacherous places, where they will presumably be devoured. I say “presumably” because this is successful only a handful of times; for the most part, he manages to make some doors creak and dramatically leer, only to see his prey run off or have a grown-up (more on those assholes in a minute) interrupt.

If all Pennywise is trying to do is freak out the tweens of Derry, then OK, sure. He causes many of them to trip over themselves in sweaty panics. But that’s about it, really. We learn that Pennywise can shape-shift, summon purpose-specific zombies, take over public access television, ingest limbs as though they are made of mashed potatoes, and apparate seemingly anywhere he likes—and yet this guy still can’t take down a bunch of kids?

Pennywise, a mythic child-gobbler, is batting maybe .100 in child gobblings. He is the AL pitcher of child gobbling, only he seems to have left his fastball somewhere in the 19th century. Part of the problem is that the clown essentially insists on milady-ing his targets: On several occasions, including the opening sailboat-gutter incident, he goes so far as to negotiate with his (usually would-be) victims. With nearly every encounter, his entire child-gobbling strategy consists of “lure kiddo into creepy corner”; if they decline to wander his way—well, tough shit, as that pretty much seems to be the end of the Pennywise playbook. He is a villain with whom “not today, Satan” will work 100 percent of the time. There is also the fact that it’s not clear how or why Pennywise is dangerous: Adults can’t see him or his handiwork, and we learn that his powers apparently only work when his victims are afraid of him. Is scaring them the whole point? Can you defeat him just by announcing you’re unafraid? Shouldn’t he be a little more effective at snatching the petrified children he drops in on?

Here are the things to fear in this movie, in descending order:

9872395. Bike thieves

4. Staph infections

3. Pennywise

2. School bullies

1. Grown-ups

It is the adults who are the real menace here. They will embarrass you in front of your friends or unfurl reams of Munchausen syndrome or fail to notice the psychic unraveling of local semi-mulleted teens or—Christ—do such horrible things to their daughters that the film can’t quite bring itself to give it a name. They are a horrid bunch of malevolents and incompetents. But as with the spooky soundtrack, this alternate source of horror is not a flaw so much as yet another indictment of Pennywise, a supernatural murderer whose body count scarcely surpasses that of the movie’s living children.

Toward the end of It, we learn that Pennywise’s full name Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Given how the murder clown thing is working out, perhaps It should just stick to salsa.