The latest Stephen King movie adaptation, It, broke records and inspired memes to become one of the biggest phenomena in horror movies in history. With the largest horror movie opening weekend of all time, Pennywise the clown danced his way into the lives of people across the country, horror fans or not. For a while It was inescapable. Did the movie live up to the hype or is America just terrified of clowns due to witnessing what happens when one holds the highest office in the land? Spoilers ahead.
King has authored 54 novels and numerous short stories, many of which have been adapted for the screen. With classics like Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 rendition of The Shining and a long-awaited 2017 release of The Dark Tower starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, these adaptations demonstrate a nearly 40 year fascination with King’s beautiful dark twisted fantasies. The current It iteration reimagines the 1990 adaptation, itself modeled after the 1986 novel. While each provides largely the same story, substantial differences exist between them. Interested parties can find plenty of listicles online detailing important changes and Easter eggs for “true It nerds.”
Like the 1990s miniseries, the current version comes in two installments. This may be read as evidence that Hollywood will stop at nothing to suck a profit out of a single narrative (a la Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 & 2, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1 & 2, and beloved children’s book The Hobbit Pt. 1, 2 & 3), but realistically 2017’s It needs a sequel because 1990’s It lasted almost three and a half hours. While justified (the book weighs in at 1,138 pages), audiences may shy from productions that take up one fifth of their waking hours. The structure of the story provides a logical midpoint for the narrative arc: as revealed in the movie the mysterious monster dubbed “It” goes into dormancy periods of 27 years, so while the one in theaters features child protagonists, part two tells the story of these kids in their middle age. Is it coincidence that this adaptation comes 27 years after the first, or did the production team expend some considerable effort to play a carefully timed joke with, at best, one chuckle payoff?
Infamously, both screen adaptations forgo King’s child orgy scene and it seems only the die-hard book fans found issue with this decision. At least, the only argument I’ve seen in favor of including the original 10 page scene where each child in turn has sex with Bethany, the only girl in the group, is that the intercourse interlude is cannon. King claims he wrote the section into the book not as a sexual thing but rather a “bringing the group together thing.” Turns out sometimes adaptations do improve the source material.
Some critics like E. Alex Jung of vulture.com found fault with the current’s reduction of Bethany to a “damsel in distress” type, changing her from a character who faces her fears headlong with the rest of the group to nothing more than a sexualized object of the boys’ desire. Some of this is due to the original story, but while the movie does address themes of sexual assault it ultimately keeps them superficial- reluctant to delve deeper into the implications of such traumatic events.
Despite some shortcomings and absurd moments (one notable memeified shot of Pennywise dancing comes to mind) It is well worth viewing, even for those of us who don’t enjoy paying to experience trouble falling asleep at night. It is a good horror movie, but it would be more accurate to say It is a good movie focalized around horror. With a compelling narrative, well-timed one liners, and yes a few real jump scares, It appeals to audiences well beyond the typical blockbuster scary movie.
It is a story about fear: how it works, the way it divides us, and the human tendency to repress past fearful traumas. In his essay “Why We Crave Horror Movies”, King claims “The mythic horror movie, like the sick joke, has a dirty job to do. It deliberately appeals to all that is worst in us. It is morbidity unchained, our most base instincts let free, our nastiest fantasies realized” and this film takes those dark thoughts to the logical extreme as the monster literally embodies the viewers worst subjective fear.
Not only does the It monster embody one’s deepest fear, It preys on children, the most vulnerable of our population. It vanishes kids without a trace, leaving parents and other authority figures helpless in the wake of their unnamed fear, exposing how we remain powerless and vulnerable in the midst of our trappings of civilized society. Sometimes manifesting through racism and domestic abuse, the monster lives in the sewers, the literal refuse of polite society, and makes appearances in places of worship, on television, and in people’s very homes, demonstrating the fear lurking deep within us and what can happen when it rears its ugly head.
Like any satisfying story, It ultimately provides an easily digestible moral: overcoming hatred and fear through solidarity and inclusivity. In 2017, that moral bears repeating. Hopefully we won’t need another reminder 27 more years down the line.