For those who don’t know me, I have a huge love for the horror genre. And recently, I’ve been reflecting on why exactly that is. That was until I saw the trailer for the new adaptation of ‘IT’ (Adap-ta-tion, it’s not a pissing remake if it was a book first) which is, to me at least, in the top 5 greatest literary contributions to the horror genre – and then, I picked up the book again after nearly ten years of letting it whither on my book shelf. As I read, I feel like one of the adult members of the loser’s club from the book: flashes and fragments of childhood memories and fears coming back in waves.
I’m currently on page 661, and I already have more than enough evidence of why I fell in love with this book when I originally read it in the summer of 2009. It’s an enigma of a horror story, because it’s so much more than just a killer clown story – which is, after all, what everyone knows it for. King pulls out all the stops when turning up the spook; the clown only being a small part of it. There’s werewolves, vampires, giant birds, mummies, drowned kids, a zombie-like tramp with leprosy chasing down an 11-year old to give him a blowjob – it’s more than you’d expect from your average horror novel.
And intertwined with all that, we have the exploration of friendship, growing-up pains, psychology and humanity’s significance in the universe. When combined all together it makes for a book that is way more than horror can normally hope to be, and this new adaptation looks like it will be following King’s novel much more closely than the now incredibly cheesy 1990 mini-series, so it’s a good time as any to talk about what we can hope for.
The many forms of Pennywise/Bob Gray
Of course, everyone remembers the killer clown angle of this story. While Pennywise is a big part of the original novel, it’s more thanks to Tim Curry’s terrifying yet hugely entertaining portrayal of the character. As it stands, I would say that ‘IT’ is probably the best known killer clown story. But like I said, the creature that haunts the town of Derry and murders children is much more than a clown – it is fear itself. Well, near enough, we’ll never know what It really is, as it’s from another dimension that we can’t comprehend (but we’ll get to that). It takes on many forms to scare or ‘sweeten the meat’ as it says, before feeding on the people of Derry – playing off the fears of it’s prey.
In the book, there are plenty of encounters with the creature from the loser club’s point of view when it’s taking on different forms, and each of them are just as scary, some even more so, than any of the encounters with Pennywise. Stan Uris for instance encounters IT as the form of two drowned boys while he is trapped inside a water tower; they squelch towards him chuckling, their corpses eroded and water-withered, reaching out for him in the darkness, their hands like that of mannequins. Of course, we’re reminded that it’s Pennywise somehow, with an item of clothing or something, but it makes each scare different.
It would be scenes like this that would really give the new film a boost, varying up the scares and really trying something unique in a world where it seems that’s no longer possible in film.
The Loser’s Club Lunch
One of the main themes of the book is friendship. It’s odd, because with a story of this caliber: the violence, the imagery, the down-right meanness of it at times, you wouldn’t think it’s really a story of friendship and the importance of our childhood.
The thing is though, it’s not in any way jarring – it’s actually one of the main highlights of the book. The way Stephen King writes each character and their relationships: their thoughts, the way they act and talk to one-another, is incredibly endearing and gives the reader a reason to like and root for each one of them in different ways. We have Bill, hell-bent on killing the creature after it murdered his younger brother, and succeeds; Beverly who is horribly abused by her father and her husband but rids herself of both of them; Ben, who’s picked on for being fat and is nearly killed by bullies, but then goes on to beat the bullies twice, lose weight and marry his childhood crush Beverly. As well as the others, they make for some of the most compelling characters.
There’s one particular scene where this stands out, and also happens to exemplify just how blended King’s genres are in this book. Reunited in adult hood, the loser’s club eat lunch at a Chinese restaurant and they spend the entire time talking, laughing and sharing stories. This goes on for several pages, and makes a nice break away from all the violence that’s been going on previously. Some of the lines they say to each-other genuinely have me laughing, and it’s rare a book makes me laugh.
But then boom! The fortune cookies they receive turn out to be gifts from the It, each containing something horrid like oozing insects, human eyes or a mass of human blood. It’s makes for quite the grotesque scene, especially when most these things start to wriggle around the table, but then the characters have to contain themselves because they know that only they can see what’s happening. And the idea of someone reassuring a worried waitress that their dinner was lovely while a human eye stares at them from the table, makes for a darkly comical skit.
We saw this scene in 1990, but it didn’t quite catch the dark genius of the original scene from the book, so here’s hoping this next adaptation gets it right.
Stephen King has said numerous times that he owes a lot of his genius to H.P. Lovecraft. If you’re a horror fan and you’ve not heard that name, he is the man to thank on nearly every development in horror for the last few decades. His thing was cosmic horror; creatures and beings the human mind cannot comprehend; the idea that humanity is nothing but ants to other deities in the universe – not really aliens, think more inter-dimensional beings that are older than time. And that’s what Pennywise is, kind of. It’s from another realm that is beyond physical forms, being made of something it calls the ‘deadlights’ – which are basically balls of destructive, orange light. It even has a mortal enemy called, ‘The Turtle’ which is a deity of creation (where It is a deity of consumption).
This leads to a lot of interesting ideas that not only give us some great Lovecraftian imagery, but also a lot more depth to the story, making a part of a bigger picture. While it would be hard to do, cosmic horror is in short supply in films these days, so it would be great to get a Lovecraftian, end of times monster in a horror film again wouldn’t it? Just like John Carpenter did with The Thing and Prince of Darkness.
Like I said earlier, so far it looks as if my wish is coming true – I know we’re going to get scenes of the House of Neibolt Street, The Leper, what looks like the werewolf – they even timed the release so that it would match the creatures hibernation cycle of 27 years! All in all, I can’t wait.