Tim Curry’s Pennywise vs. Bill Skarsgård’s in ‘It’: Horror Then vs. Now

Stephen King’s Pennywise — though stomach flipping and blood-curdling in both Curry’s iteration and Skarsgård’s rendition — poignantly depicts how the horror genre has transformed with time. Horror, often capitalizing on society’s fears, exploiting a cultural zeitgeist, or highlighting contemporary social injustices, undergoes a makeover every decade or so.

It Tim Curry vs. Bill Skarsgard
‘It’ Tim Curry vs. Bill Skarsgard | Left image by Kolbe/Staff, Right Image by Bob D’Amico / Contributor Via Getty

When millennials and Gen Zers watch The Exorcist, they often laugh a the over-the-top absurdity akin to a possessed girl yelling the words “lick me” or scurrying down the stairs like an inverted spider, to bear her disfigured body upon you. To put it simply, it’s just not scary anymore because it feels so ridiculous. It’s so unbelievable that it feels out of touch. Horror, with time, must always become more real, more accessible to the generation at hand. Otherwise, it fails to be something that could (maybe) happen and, as a result, becomes a mockery of the genre.

When thinking about Pennywise, you can see why he has had to transform — going from the inviting neighbor who lures you in with an engaging disposition to the demonic child who lures you in via fear-based curiosity.

Tim Curry’s Pennywise in the 1990 version of ‘It’

Tim Curry’s Pennywise, in appearance and personality, is a typical clown. His make-up is not daunting. When he’s out in public, he’s quite comedic and entertaining, as clowns are supposed to be (by job description). His charming nature works to mask his villainous intent. 

In short, Tim Curry is the prototypical sad-clown who manages to float under the radar (when it comes to adults), leaving the kids to battle the worst type of “stranger-danger,” the kind who eats kids. Tim Curry’s clown brings children to his side, in the same manner a guy with candy, or a man looking for his lost puppy, brings kids to a vehicle — with a smile and a sense of innocence. And, then, when it’s too late, he takes you.

While this approach worked in 1990, such a depiction is no longer as realistic, as it feels reliant on a dated emblem of a child’s greatest threat — the difficult-to-spot town baddie, the kidnapper. Curry’s Pennywise is too in-line with the approach to danger kids have been warmed about; kids are smarter than this now (hopefully). However, are kids smart enough to see a danger in a reflection of themselves — just one with a darker side? 

Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise 

Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise is a monster before he even opens his mouth. His face features red makeup traveling from his eyes down to his lips and a hairstyle too old for his childlike features; he is just like the kids…but not quite. He is an altered reflection of childhood innocence: the demonic counterpart. 

No longer lured in by a captivating personality and innocent clown look, the children, are lured in by their fear and curiosity. They walk closer, yearning to understand, yearning to get a glimpse at this person who looks like them, but promises something greater — a mystery.

Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise is the blatant bad guy; no longer trying to fool kids into thinking he is good, he capitalizes on children’s innate desire to explore, to connect, and to uncover the world’s truths — sometimes to a fearless fault. The new Pennywise reflects new fears; as the innocent-appearing adult becomes an old-hat danger, the demonic child grows more relevant, more frightening in a time when children may just be a little too far beyond their years, and childhood trauma is more threatening than the creepy neighbor next door.