Beep Beep, Richie: Stephen King’s IT in 2017

Bill Skarsgard's Pennywise is unamused as he observes strange doings from his avantguard perch inside a storm drain. He's a much darker, less campy Pennywise than Tim Curry.
“Did someone say my name? Thought I heard someone say my name. Who wants a balloon?”

I wasn’t going to watch the trailer for Stephen King’s IT, as the film is not set for release until September of 2017. I wanted to see if the film would live up to the hype that IT was going to be much closer to King’s novel. However, I have serious misgivings, now, as the trailer has met with mixed reviews among horror aficionados that I know and respect for their highly educated opinions on contemporary horror. I sat down to the trailer this morning and for the life of me I can’t understand why this film is already catching so much shade.

I would like to put my misgivings to rest right now. If your absolute argument against the trailer for the film is that it doesn’t look enough like the original miniseries, or it looks too much like the original series, please read on. If you’re argument against the new IT is that it looks just like Stranger Things, then please get off this page, go read Stephen King’s novel, which he wrote in 1986, then tell me who is ripping off who.

Let’s start at the beginning:

Your Fear of Clowns

I have never been afraid of clowns.

One time, I was lost a camp fair event and clowns helped me find my parents. Never was afraid of clowns ever again. Not even Pennywise. Pennywise gave me new reasons to love clowns. After seeing the original miniseries as a child, and again as a teenager, there was never a moment of my childhood where I was afraid of Pennywise the clown. Thanks to The X:Files season 2 episode 1 “The Host”, I was already afraid of things coming out of my drain, and storm drains, and porta potties. I was so happy to discover there was a clown in the drains that might eat that damn fluke worm man! Bless you, Evil Clown!

Pennywise the clown stairs up out of a storm drain at little Georgie.
Georgie chases his paper boat down the street, where it falls into a storm drain, and Pennywise is waiting.

When Pennywise came out of the drain in the shower scene with Eddie, all I could imagine was Pennywise doing that to every single girl in my middle-school locker room that picked on me.

Pennywise, the evil clown, played by Tim Curry, climbs out of the showers at the school gym as Eddie Kasbrack watches in horror and dismay.
Pennywise emerges from the gym showers to frighten Eddie Kasbrack. I knew a few people I wouldn’t have minded feeding to It.

Killjoy from the uninspired, but still relentlessly creative, mind of Charles Band and Full Moon Pictures is a highly underrated clown film. Killjoy the Clown rides Pennywise’ coat tails for campy horror, but the frightening world Killjoy builds is a universe of mindlessness and chaos that is also the Joker and Hellraiser.

Killjoy's smile is relentless. His teeth are filed down to points, and they're green. His hair is black and tuffed out like a tircorn hat. He wears pink and green.
Killjoy is the story of an evil clown doll awakened by unwary victims. There were four Killjoy films, true to the nature of B Horror film studio, Full Moon Pictures.

I was never afraid of clowns. Clowns became my protectors. The one room at the Terror Mansion that I didn’t scream my way through was the killer clowns. My ex-boyfriend was not so lucky, but I walked through with a pleasant wave. Not afraid of clowns.

Stephen King’s Genius

What frightened me about the original IT was not the clown, but rather what the clown stood for. Stephen King’s IT was Lovecraftian cosmic horror at it’s finest, and I read IT at a time when I had no idea who Lovecraft was. Once I read The Colour out of Space, I knew immediately who had inspired King to write IT, just as I knew years later who inspired Dan Simmons to write Ilium and Olympos. IT was not just a reflection of the a child’s demons coming back to haunt them. IT was Stephen King’s answer to Lovecraft’s “fear of the unknown”. The novel opens on the scene of a drag queen describing to an officer the strange death of his lover. The officer is disdainful of the account, and King wrote the scene with a frightening lack of compassion towards the transvestite, and a disquieting contempt from the officer. By the end of the scene, a young reader is just as disgusted as the cop. Yet, there is something so pathetic about the transvestite’s tale. Could it have been true? King explores fears of the unknown throughout the entire novel, everything from homophobia, to racism, to puberty and sexuality, to ultimate cosmic terror.

For those who have not read IT, it’s a daunting 1,048 pages, and I read it four times one summer. I learned new things from IT each time I read it. I found new things to hate about some of the characters. I found new ways to sympathize with some, but there were always going to be things about the book I didn’t understand. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized Mike Hanion’s archival work on the origins of IT it was Lovecraft in disguise.

King’s novel is not about overcoming impossible fear; it’s about learning to deal with the cosmic forces around us; it’s about accepting one’s place in the universe, and about challenging our antagonizers; it’s a celebration of the individual will to survive, to forge an identity, to be heard; King’s novel is not about facing childhood demons; it’s a gritty coming-of-age story whose characters are who they are because of what they’ve experienced; it’s about knowing you never have to fight alone, and accepting change.

Thematically, it was very different from the miniseries.

What I Took From the Miniseries

I knew as a kid that there was no way all of King’s genius was going to be boiled down into a miniseries, so I decided that I liked both for different reasons. I loved how casting made Richie Tozier look like Jeff Foxworthy (or maybe that’s hindsight, I don’t know). I loved the camp Tim Curry brought to the character of Pennywise. There was no camp in the book. I loved how the kids in the miniseries dealt with their fears the way children would deal with them. The main difference is that, though the Losers Club fought with the tools they had with the only knowledge they had against a foe that was not of this world, in the novel they were forced to grow up hard and fast, and all in one day, to protect themselves.

The Losers Club stand their ground against Henry Bowers and the bullies at the fight at the rock quarry, a scene that is inconic in both the novel and the miniseries.
From left to right: Bev, Richie, Ben, Mike, Bill, Stan, and Eddie, the Losers Club from Stephen King’s IT.

I loved how both the novel and the miniseries characterized adults as just as unsafe and unhealthy as the monster the kids were fighting. Bev’s dad is abusive in the miniseries, and downright incestuous in the novel. Eddie’s mother suffocates him with her love and protection in both. Bill’s parents were never the same after Georgie’s death in the novel, and treated their oldest son with benign neglect. Something the miniseries lacked was motivation for Henry Bowers, something King provides, which rounds out the character and gives a voice to yet another monster: the bully.

If you are looking for much of the novel in the miniseries, you won’t find it. Sex was a huge part of King’s novel, and even in this day and age, I doubt a group of twelve-year-olds are going to have sex on screen in any movie theater in the US. The clown played a central roll in the miniseries, though It does take other forms; but considering the fact that It only takes the shape of a clown a few times in the novel, It’s other forms don’t play that big of a role in the miniseries. All of Mike Hanion’s archival work is scrapped in the miniseries, and Mike is relegated to the token black kid, when in fact the novel was much more dependent on him. Several other characters were cut, like Patrick Hocksetter. Vic and Butch were token characters in the miniseries as well.

The word I would best use to describe the miniseries’ relevance to the book is “oversimplified,”–not “hacked”, not “gutted”, just “oversimplified.” The miniseries took the basic plot of the novel and made it digestible.

For me, King’s novel and the miniseries were two very different things. I like them both for entirely different reasons, and it is with this in mind that I approach the trailer for the 2017 version of Stephen King’s IT.

We All Float Down Here…Do We Really, Though?

The new trailer excited me! I know so many erudite people are unimpressed with it. Julia Morgan of Morbid and Unhealthy was not ambiguous about her disappointment with the trailer. Sagan Amery of the band Sagan had very mixed feelings regarding the way a reboot should be made, but was overall kind in her assessment that it fell short of her expectations that the film version should not copy the original miniseries. What I’m not getting from anyone is what exactly everyone was expecting. I invite you all to leave me comments or tweet those to me. Let’s be adults about this.

I know exactly what I was expecting:

I was expecting the scene with Georgie. It’s canonical to the novel and a throwback to the miniseries. I was expecting Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise to be nothing like Tim Curry. I would never agree to see the film if Skarsgard was just a Pennywise reboot. I was expecting the sit down scene in which the Losers Club hashes out what they’ve seen and I was even expecting the bad child actors. I was expecting all of the characteristic and iconic scenes of the miniseries because they were also present in the novel. One thing I approved of the miniseries for was adhering to the bare bones of the plot of the novel. The bare bones, mind you. Like I mentioned before, the plot of the miniseries was just IT Lite.

I expect there to be a few key scenes in the Barrens. Fun fact, that’s where a good portion of the novel takes place. I expect the scene in the old house, I expect the scene at the rock quarry, and the scene in the sewers (both of them), and many of the scenes of the adults. Because that’s how the book was as well.

I loved the unrelentingly dark atmosphere of the new trailer. I was glad to see that the trailer hinted, much better than the miniseries, that there was no safe place in Derry, Maine. I loved how Eddie uses his inhaler as a shield, the way he does in the book.

Tim Curry balances on an old-time light pole in the picture of Derry during a parade that suddenly comes to life in a history book.
Tim Curry plays Pennywise in the original miniseries. In this scene Pennywise emerges from a history book in Ben’s hands to issue his threat to the Losers Club.

I loved the slideshow scene. I don’t remember that from the book, but I loved, loved how Pennywise emerged from the slideshow, just like he does from the history book in the miniseries, to make his presence known to the Losers Club and declare war. There is a very similar scene in the novel too, though I believe it takes place in the Barrens.

Pennywise emerges in stop-motion from the face of a woman into the face of a clown behind red hair blowing in the wind.
Pennywise emerges from a slideshow to issue It’s threat to the Losers Club, a new take on an old fan favorite.

I like the new take on that scene despite the fact that it is a throwback to the miniseries. I love the fact that Pennywise doesn’t really speak in this trailer. Good. Can’t wait to hear It in the theater.

What I didn’t like were the kids. Are there really no two children on the planet to play Bill and Eddie that don’t look like they could be brothers? I always thought this about the miniseries too. Their reactions in the slideshow scene are over-wrought at best. They destroy the tension of that scene. Georgie hitting his head in the opening destroys the tension of that scene. Horror film rule number one: don’t break tension. I hope this isn’t exemplary of the rest of the film. I also couldn’t pin down the timeline of the film. Where was Henry Bowers? He was important to both the novel and the miniseries.

Henry Bowers, in a brown leather jacket, his hair comebed into a pompedor, threatens to kill Mike Hanion, the only black person in the Losers Club.
Henry Bowers leads Butch Huggins, Vic Criss, and some other bullies in an attack on the Losers Club at the rock quarry, a scene iconic in both the miniseries and the novel.

Is it all going to be set in the 50s? Where were the grown up scenes in the 80s? Perhaps the lack of grown-up scenes and contemporary setting for the last quarter of the film will be the absolute derailment that critics are looking for. You could have given a whole miniseries to the Losers Club alone and still done a good job. If they leave the adults out, I will be slightly confused; but as I did with the book, the miniseries, and this trailer, I will temper my expectations.

My Final Thoughts, As If You Asked For Them.

I think that unless you have read the novel, you will not understand that a reboot of the film is going to resemble the miniseries in a lot of ways. I had read the novel four times by the time I was fourteen. I’m one of the few people of my age group that can say the novel had more of an influence on my childhood than the miniseries did. However, as I mentioned before, if you are looking for the camp of the original, or for a happy go lucky killer in Pennywise, yer gonna be sad. If you are looking for a completely original story from the miniseries, yer gonna be sad.

Nostalgia is going to be one of the key tools for marketing this film. Like the people who played Pokemon Go in their adulthood loved Pokemon in their childhood, this film is playing on the fact that the adults seeing this film remember the miniseries from their childhood. Producers cannot afford to alienate that market. Conversely, audiences are going to be looking for Pennywise and Co to be brought into the modern era. We’re looking for shock and awe, not slow-burn psychological torture. We’re looking to reincarnate the monster film, which has long been dead. The new IT has some very big clown shoes to fill. I imagine there are going to be a fair number of disappointed fans and newcomers on both sides, but I will temper my expectations, and try to remember that if I can love both the novel and the miniseries despite their key differences, then maybe I can still enjoy this film too, and enjoy it for what it is.

Pennywise crouches in black sewer water behind a doppleganger of Georgie, taunting Bill. It's eyes are glowing sulferous yellow and green.
Aren’t you all even a little curious to see how this scene plays out, even if we already know?

I’ll do a write-up on the life and times of the American monster movie when the next trailer for IT is released. For now, though, I’m just going to hop on this silver Schwinn here with the playing cards pined to the wheel spokes. I’m armed with my trusty slingshot, and I don’t need no stinkin’ batches.

“High-ho Silver! Away!”

Update 4/11/2017

I was doing a little research and discovered the emphasis of this film will be on the children of the Losers Club with the adult Losers getting their own sequel film. Hope this helps. It definitely reassures me that both the kid Losers and the adult Losers will get more than enough exploration. Also, I had a great conversation with one of my friends in Washington state, and he made an excellent point: the success of this film definitely hinges on the treatment of the human characters rather than the monster. Stephen King uses the supernatural as a tool, but always King’s novels are character-driven. As I mentioned before, IT is not just a story about cosmic horror. Both as a child and as an adult, monsters lurk in the shadows, masquerading as our parents, our lovers, and classmates. King would have had an entire award-winning novel even without the impending threat of cosmic dread. This is the strength of King’s writing. I hope the film embraces this. If not, it will just be a monster movie. If it’s going to be a killer clown slasher, it should be just that. Leave the cosmic terror out of it. Unfortunately, when it comes to a King novel adaptation, it has to be all or nothing.

Tempering my expectations just got a lot harder.