Whenever Gordon Ramsay likes a dish, his go to saying is, ‘wowowow’. This trifecta of awe is a simply yet effective way of expressing, to me at least, that he approves of the ingredients, the way the food looks on the plate, and the way it tastes. The reason I bring this up is because I can think of no more fitting expression to summarise my thoughts on the new adaptation of, in my opinion, Stephen King’s best work – if I were to do it briefly that is.
But I don’t like to stint on anything, especially when it comes to the things I enjoy the most; horror fiction being one, adaptations being the other, so why be brief eh?
So, the much anticipated IT adaptation has been out for a little over a week, I’ve seen it twice and, I’m now on a complete Stephen King binge as a result. One day I think I’d love to do a tribute to the man himself – you don’t need me to tell you he’s a fantastic writer, and a personal hero of mine – but right now I want to focus on the reason he is a personal hero of mine, and that’s because he wrote ‘IT’ which is my favourite piece of horror fiction.
(It isn’t my favourite novel, that goes to American Psycho, but Bret Easton Ellis isn’t one of my heroes – he’s a bit of a cock-womble actually, so swings and roundabouts I guess)
What I love so much about Stephen King’s novel is that while on the one hand it’s a horror fan’s wet dream in terms of suspense, chills, gore, and monsters, it’s also one of the best examples of a coming of age story. Lying beneath the surface of a killer clown story is an examination of the human condition, told from two different periods of life. The central theme is fear, and how we deal with our fears as kids opposite to how we deal with them as adults. When we’re kids, we use our imaginations to fight off anything scary about the world, which at the time is pretty much everything, but when we become adults and we know how to deal with the world, we lose what was once our greatest weapon. To be fair, it looks like Stephen King kept his in tact.
And that’s why I love this story so much, it was the first bit of horror that showed me the genre isn’t just about the thrill of watching a dead person take a meal, or the chill you get after reading about some ventriloquist doll stealing souls – it could be much more than that.
So, when this new adaptation was announced, I was sceptical, it’s not good to trust the big wigs in Hollywood I often find. Turns out though, they can surprise you. The reason this film made me think of Gordon Ramsay and his wows is because it delivers exactly that, three wows in awe. One for being a pretty faithful adaptation (for the most part), two for being genuinely quite scary, and three for being a fantastically made film on the whole.
There are near endless things I could talk about in length, so I think each ‘wow’ I gave it deserves it’s own post, so let’s begin with the book.
This is not only a faithful adaptation, but it’s probably the most faithful I’ve seen for a while. It’s not matching the book exactly, but it transplants a lot of the key events and ideas while adding and updating some of its’ own. What was nice for me, was the inclusions this film made that the mini-series didn’t.
The House of Neibolt Street is quite a big one for instance. Neibolt street is your classic haunted house with its own slice of horrors to offer up. It’s not haunted by ghosts or demons but that would actually be a blessing compared to what it actually lurks within, being that it’s the above ground HQ of the titular creature. In the book, three of the losers nearly die outside this decrepit house, firstly Eddie when he encounters the leper who offers him something slightly more terrifying than death, and then Bill and Richie when they’re attacked by the werewolf in the basement. It’s basically your classic old home led to ruin, falling apart and thick with vines and weeds which is exactly how the film portrays it, yet it’s role is heightened, being that we spend more time there and it serves as the gateway to IT’s lair which I personally think is a nice touch – what can I say, I swoon for a spooky house.
(Not in real life obviously)
The hardest part to adpat, which was actually quite well done, was the lovecraftian nature of Pennywise. Like nearly all horror writers, King loves Lovecraft. Lovecraft set the bar for horror as we know it today with his Cthulu mythos, stories which are connected by their lore and history normally revolving around the discovery of some sort of crazy creature or place, with themes of madness and hopelessness. Well like one of Lovecraft’s Old Ones, Pennywise is a being not of this world, nor any other, he’s an inter-dimensional being that’s made up of lights, ‘The Deadlights’ as they’re charmingly named.
Basically the reason Pennywise can be a clown, a mummy, a leper and a painting all at the same time is because he has no physical form that we can comprehend. The film doesn’t flat out explain that as the book does in places, but you really get the sense they’re dealing with an otherworldly being all throughout the film, especially when Pennywise peels back that smiler of his and comatoses Beverly. There are also a few references to IT’s nemesis The Turtle in the film, so it will be interesting to see if they include him in the next film. He is technically God after all.
The last big thing this film took from the book was making the characters all likeable and engaging. I could talk for hours about how this new adaptation has done the Loser’s club justice, but it’s big Bill I want to focus on because he is one of my favourite fictional characters. Bearing in mind Bill is pretty much leading a mission of vengeance in the book, willing to take on an ancient being of incomprehensible power to avenge his dead little brother. It’s helped by the fact that Bill is no fighter, he’s a story teller yet his courage never fails him and in the end, he is the one to defeat IT. The film down plays the revenge angle, but replaces it with something more touching and fitting for a Hollywood film – not that that’s a bad thing, it actually works quite well. From the get go, you see that Bill really cares for Georgie, and that Georgie looks up to Bill in an enormous way – it’s a touching scene that only adds to the horror and heartbreak of Georgie’s fate (something I honestly didn’t care about in the 1990 version). Bill spends most of the film considering Georgie ‘missing’ whereas he’s clearly quite dead in the book (he did crawl out into the street and bleed to death to be fair) so there is a naivety to Bill in the film that makes him more of an underdog, rather than the Charles Bronson in Deathwish esque, seeker of revenge he could be.
There are also a lot of minor touches that any fan of the book will appreciate. A lot of the dark history of the town is either talked about or alluded to; my favourite bit of history from the book, the massacre of the Bradley Gang for instance, is painted on a mural outside the butchers. There’s also a lot of references to the various settings from the book, oddly printed on t-shirts, but appreciated all the same.