Investigations of what creeps us out

Pennywise Joker - my how and why

I absolutely love costumes. I love the way they can change how I feel, especially if done lo-fi so people question whether they’re seeing anything unusual at all, but more importantly, I’m fascinated by the way clothes change people’s reactions to each other. So, this year, I wanted to try a few experiments. Given I was down to go to a few Halloween parties and folks know that I’ve written a book about Stephen King’s IT, I thought I should do something with the image of Pennywise, but that seemed a little too easy and not really me. After all, Pennywise doesn’t scare me and frankly, never has. What terrified me, and does to this day, is the way The Losers essentially terrorise themselves. They sometimes (and that is very much a sometimes in the book) deal with abuse, but what often hounds them most is their own neurosis. It marks them and there are several sections in the book where they all individually think that they are the most hated Loser and why. It scars them. And it occurred to me Pennywise’s makeup is not a million miles from the L signs the child actors used to promote the film.

L for Loser – Wyatt Olaff and Jaeden Leiberher (Stan and Bill) in the film adaptations

For reasons explained below, I decided on a Pennywise / Joker mashup and the reactions have been incredible. It’s not that the image looks professional – that was never the point – but that it caused a reaction. I was so high on adrenaline that I went around the streets at night playing with the image. Here’s what I got up to.

Detailed costume overview done high on adrenaline at about 3am (hence I’m being quiet!)
The body is alterable – putting this very obviously fake knife anywhere near the real-looking wound (that I told folks was fake) made people feel queasy. What if the knife and makeup was real? Halloween is so often treated as fun but it’s also a way to deal with our demons, especially in a world that places an imperative on being ‘put-together’.
L for Loser. The makeup as branding (this was at the end of the night, hence the Collodion is coming off a bit)
Realising the effect the image was having as folks avoided me going around King’s Cross. One group eventually told me the image was “upsetting”, while another group considered it then told me they “respect” the process of it.
End of the night. The white and red makeup is Snazaroo, the blues are from Superdrug. The Collodion (scar makeup) is from Charles Fox and was completed with basic-arsed red and black eye pen and a lot of swearing as I was running late.

Folks would recognise the Joker costume and makeup, but were intrigued by how it was done. They’d initially warm to the Joker as something popular and that they obviously recognised, understood and felt comfortable with, but then realised it was all a little….off. The white paint was purposefully badly done and I took a while to get the Ledger Joker’s scar makeup as deep as I could within the time (using Collodion). The wings move into sexual and (obviously) religious imagery and tend to be seen more on sexy Halloween angels. They had also actually been burned and scented with smoke, so genuinely smelled of fire (huge thanks to my flatmate for his logic on this). It gave things a frisson as the uncertainty made people just that little bit scared again…

I’ll be honest, I felt a bit weird doing these as I sometimes attend this church and the folks are lovely (and have helped me though a lot), but I figured this was okay as I was trying to work out how I felt about the reaction I got that evening. You can’t move on until you deal with your own demons.
On a whole S/m locked-out of Eden trip….
You find the oddest things down dark alleys, if you just dare to look.

Stephen King’s acknowledgements in IT contain the following lines:

“Kids, fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists”

What saves the kids is that they imagine themselves to safety. They think of other ways to be.

And you know what? I realised I wasn’t quite done with it yet…

Published by drcharlieallbright

Lecturer in Media, author, film journalist and storyteller. Has written a book on Stephen King's IT.

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