A TRIAL OF INFLUENCE: PENNYWISE AND FREDDY
A few years back, Ladies and Gentlemen of The Jury, I had the random chance of meeting Frank Darabont at a party. As soon as I spotted him, myself under the influence of many slices of cake and even more libations, I pointed and shouted, "DREAM WARRIORS!" at the top of my lungs. I then proceeded to attack hug the guy while cake shrapnel flew from my lips. I have to give the man credit for his stoic patience. He could have easily clobbered me one, and perhaps should have. This was, after all, before a mutual friend was able to introduce us. Should I be somewhat embarrassed for this behavior? Because I'm not.
But I digress. For those who don't know, Frank Darabont was involved in the script writing process of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS, my personal favorite of the ELM STREET series. This was the first of the series that really introduced a campy sense of humor into the mix, which I believe led to Freddy's mainstream popularity and inevitable over-saturation.
As fate would have it, Icons of Fright founder Mike Cucinotta’s recently visited Los Angeles, and during his jaunt, we got into an interesting discussion NOES 3. I think it was on my second beer and halfway through my bacon and bleu cheese infested burger that I started connecting certain commonalities between Wes Craven's character Freddy Krueger and the ever creepy Pennywise from Stephen King’s IT.
Frank Darabont is a well known film and television director, but he’s most famous for his work with horrors most famous writer, Stephen King. They developed a relationship with Darabont’s first film, a short based on King’s story “The Woman in the Room,” and since he has received Academy Award nominations for his screen adaptations of King’s works THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and THE GREEN MILE. Whilst immersing my teeth into the bacon filled burger patty, this epiphany sort of up and smacked me in my bleu cheese-covered face. I don't believe A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS would have become the film we know today if it weren't for Stephen King's IT.
Please the court, I'm also going to go ahead and just say this: Pennywise is the clown equivalent to Freddy Krueger.
I've had an immense fear of clowns. A clown does not need to open its mouth and speak to strike terror in my feeble little love muscle. (By feeble little love muscle, I mean of course my heart. Get your mind out of the gutter, people!) Pennywise, on the other hand, opens his mouth and speaks in a sarcastic cigarette and scotch stained voice that sounds like Tom Waits' evil cousin from New Jersey. There's something absolutely creepy about a clown's "innocent" and "joyful" appearance juxtaposed with the voice of some slob who would probably be found on the front page of the Megan's Law website.
Please have the court note I am not at all trying to imply Pennywise’s appearance invokes any sense of innocence or joy in me.
The charisma and sense of humor that Tim Curry brought to that role is genius. I can’t imagine anyone else playing the role of the demented demon clown. I feel the same about Robert Englund’s iconic performance as Freddy Krueger. Though his scarred and bruised appearance is neither innocent nor joyful, his dialogue becomes a constant stream of one-liners that he spews at his victims. Though he never wears face paint or wraps balloons into giraffe shapes, he clearly plays the clown.
Exhibit A: The Striped Sweater.
We are already familiar with Freddy's burnt face, his dirty fedora, and his razor glove; but it's his red and green striped sweater that stands out to me. There's something somewhat clownish about stripes. The stripe motif has been used time and time again from the earliest images of court jesters to Ronald McDonald, from Marylin Manson to Willy Wonka. You Juggaloes know what I'm talking about. For those reading this who aren't of the Juggalo variety reading this, a "Juggalo" is the name given to a fan of ICP or Insane Clown Posse. The stripes on Freddy's sweater lends to the colorful persona Robert Englund brought to the screen. The reason I always preferred Freddy to Jason, is that Freddy showed personality. Sometimes the best way to convey horror in a story is to break down the fourth wall and wink at the audience. What Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers lacked in flavored depth, Pennywise and Freddy picked up the slack. Upon viewing both IT and any NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET film from PART 3 and beyond, both characters take part in a sort of twisted foreplay before the kill. To them it's the act of teasing and toying with their victims before their demise that makes their characters stand out and keeps them interesting to watch. The kill may be the payoff, but the sheer joy comes in the comic taunting.
The Miriam - Webster Dictionary defines the word "boogeyman" as an imaginary evil character of supernatural powers, esp. a mythical hobgoblin supposed to carry off naughty children.
The main fact of the case is this: Both Pennywise and Freddy Krueger are the perfect embodiment of the word "boogeyman". Their evil actions and hideous appearances are only outshined by their humor infused personalities which make them almost charismatic and like-able at times.
Exhibit B: Environment
Time and again, our heroes and victims face both monsters on their own turf. The Wizard Master confronts Freddy in a long dark and dank hall quite similar to the corridor where The Loser Club battles Pennywise with battery acid. Freddy Krueger's dreamworld begins and ends in a boiler room. Pennywise's subconscious world begins and ends in the sewer. The word "subconscious" when broken down, leaves us with "sub," meaning under; and conscious which mean awareness or wakefulness. So given this information, it's easy to deduce that the homes of both characters further paint the definition of the word "subconscious" whether in a dream or not.
Exhibit C: Childhood Imagery
Certain images can play with emotions to bring on nostalgia. With that said, there is the repeat usage of certain images that conjure an emotional response and thoughts of childhood innocence in various characters in both movies. There's the little girl on the red bicycle and the appearance of Nancy's deceased father in DREAM WARRIORS. In IT, there's the red balloon, the appearance of Ben's deceased little brother Georgie, and the paper boat floating down the gutter to the sewer where Pennywise invites the little boy to float. These images, are the bait the monsters use to lure their child victims to their demise. It’s a similar m.o.: use bright and shiny things, and family connections the children leaned on to snare them in for the slaughter. Use the child’s fondness against the child. Absolutely sinister.
Exhibit D: Teamwork
Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, my final exhibit. One of the first tenets I learned of socializing with others when I was a boy was teamwork. All little kids are taught the good nature of playing well with others, as opposed to kicking sand at their playmates in the sandbox. This carries over into both films. If anything, one of the morals of each movie could easily be "There's No ‘I’ In Team". Both the members of “The Losers Club” in IT and the mental hospital patients in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS realize there's power in numbers. The Losers Club’s members band together as children in the 1950s to beat back the great evil of Pennywise; and they must reunite to do the same some 30 years later. They succeed mostly because they act as a band of brothers, and do not allow themselves to be separated from the pack. The patients find strength in solidarity, and even as their members fall, they win out eventually because they fight as one. Though they’re forced to enter the enemy's turf and fight on his home field, they battle the monster together. They come to the realization they are stronger together, than apart.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, in closing, I have no solid proof that Stephen King's original publication of IT had any influence in Frank Darabont's final draft of THE NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS script. IT was originally published in 1985. DREAM WARRIORS hit theaters in 1987. It is common knowledge that Frank Darabont and Stephen King have a close working relationship. This friendship has brought many great stories to the big screen. I am, however, convinced, given the character similarities in both Freddy Krueger and Pennywise, as well as plot, and story devices, that King’s influence on Darabont’s writing certainly shaded Freddy Krueger, and that King is in some part responsible for what Krueger was to become, even if he never personally wrote so much as one word of Freddy’s dialogue.
Mr. Stenographer, you can go ahead and quote me on it!
Beep Beep, Richie! We all quote down here! When you’re down here with us, you’ll quote to!
The prosecution rests!