Clown Control

Frank Farley and Ayse N. Olgun

Frank Farley and Ayse N. Olgun

Frank Farley, PhD
Temple University

Ayse N. Olgun, Bachelor of Theology, Currently Psychology Student
Bahcesehir University, Istanbul, Turkey

Review of IT
Director: Andy Muschinetti

We suppose the attention being given to the movie IT, a remake of the 1990 version, is due in part to its origins in the writing of Stephen King and the advent of Halloween.  But the film illustrates that even the guru of ghoul, the high priest of horror, a scion of scary, can pen a stinker.  This is a dumb, mundane, unoriginal and worse, boring movie.  The premise is simple, that children have been disappearing and never found again in a small town, possibly on an every 27 year frequency, and a clown, Pennywise, well played by Bill Skarsgard, is the presumed perpetrator of the disappearances.  Here lies our central concern with this film.  It takes a figure that should be a lovable joy to children and turns it into an agent of unspeakable horror, in its fırst appearance tearing off the arm of a small boy.  It’s a John Wayne Gacy knock-off.  Indeed, this film may have delivered the coup de grace to any significant positive future roles for clowns in children’s lives.  Sure, clowns have a mixed reputation in media and life (recall The Joker in The Dark Knight; Twisty the Clown in FX’s American Horror Story: Freak Show, and more, including the aforementioned real life clown Gacy) One recent self-report study (McAndrew & Koehnke, 2016) on a limited internet sample found them rated the “creepiest” of occupations. Farley in Holohan (NBC Today, Sept. 8, 2017) noted “They are hiding their natural face. It can raise suspicion or fears. Are we in danger? Should we be concerned to be in the presence of the individual?” Farley’s analysis is certainly strengthened by this movie.  But clowns can still meet their original mission, an enjoyable, delightful thrill show for our youngest citizens.  Shame on you Stephen King for stealing an icon of childhood and making a monster of it.  And shame on the filmmakers for filming it.  Is there no social and psychological responsibility of filmmakers?   Don’t you have kids?  We are reminded of the concerns for the social responsibility of science in the wake of the horror created by science and the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  We applaud the comments on IT by the President of the World Clown Association (WCA) Pam Moody in Terror (2017): “People dressed as horror clowns are not ‘real clowns.’ They are taking something innocent and wholesome and perverting it to create fear in their audience.”  (On an utterly irrelevant topic, with both authors having attended at least one APA Convention, we wonder how a WCA Convention compares…).

Does this film have any merit in the reviewers’ eyes?  There is some.  The social interactions, cohesion, and heroism in a small group of town teenager friends who are bent on solving the mystery of the disappearances are heart-warming, positive and sometimes fun! A laugh in the midst of this movie is gold!

Throughout the film there is an interplay of real and unreal.  It is sometimes difficult to discern the difference.  For example, a teen girl who is part of the band of good boys and often their lead figure, noted above (there was also a band of bad, bully boys) may have killed her father who seems to have likely engaged in incest with her. But was he in fact dead?  There seems to have been fluidity in the life-death status of some figures in the film.  Even the final fate of the clown Pennywise is uncertain despite a steel rod run through his head by the good teenagers.  We grudgingly admit that this monster clown was well portrayed with the extreme make-up abetting. If he is not dead, standby for IT version 3!

There are some predictable and stock scenes designed to terrify, such as in the town’s sewer system, or in a presumably abandoned and very dilapidated house, the latter being on a par with a standard haunted house at your local fair or circus. Few of these got close to 10 on the scare scale for us adult reviewers, but these settings along with the threat of Pennywise, would be very scary, we opine, for many kids.

In fact, for one of us (A.N.O) the scariest part of the entire experience was a real theater worker who kept peering eerily over a wall inside the theater showing only his eyes and forehead, slowly studying the audience…


McAndrew, F.T., & Koehnke, S.S. (2016). On the nature of creepiness. New Ideas in Psychology, 43, 10-15.

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