REVIEW: Pennywise – The Story Of IT (2021)

dir. John Campopiano & Chris Griffiths

Although Andy Muschietti’s It movies (2017; 2019) broke box-office records and rode high on a wave of post-Stranger Things retro-inflected content, for many their first encounter with Pennywise the Dancing Clown came nearly 30 years earlier, when he crept into their living rooms.

Made at the tail-end of the 80s before being released as an ABC mini-series, IT (1990) reached children – much like the titular monster – in the safety of their own homes. After a decade where horror had saturated theatrical slates you didn’t have to go to the local cinema to get this slice of Stephen King nightmare fuel: this time it was coming to you.

Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III; Fright Night Part 2) this three-hour two-parter is the subject of Campopiano and Griffiths’ excellent documentary, charting everything from abortive attempts to get the series off the ground (the fact George A. Romero was originally involved and wanted a 10-hour version teases at what might have been) through to the epic production, rewrites, effects work and a slew of fantastic performances, including Mr Tim Curry as a certain clown.

With archive footage and talking heads the doc manages to strike a sweet spot between warm nostalgia and candid reflection (Wallace self-effacingly admits Night Two – which he wrote – is less successful). It also moves along briskly and despite its 2 hours + run time never drags, allowing space for detail, celebration and, in remembering Jonathan Brandis (who played young Bill and sadly passed away in 2003), melancholy. All this combines to become tonally similar to both the series and novel, making it an essential addendum for King aficionados and anyone who remembers their first trip to Derry all those years ago.

© Tim Coleman


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