By: Jennifer Brandon
An entire generation of children faced coulrophobia: an abnormal fear of clowns. This happened after the 1990 miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s book, “It: A Novel,” aired for the first time on ABC. Many young viewers never looked at clowns, or sewer grates, the same.
Stephen King has often been called the “Master of Horror,” and his novel about a sinister being, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, does not fall short of what he does best, invading the readers’ minds with pure fright. Pennywise is a shape-shifting entity that is also known as The Eater of Worlds, Robert “Bob” Gray, and of course, It.
The new “It,” directed by Andy Muschietti and starring Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise, is sure to spawn a new wave of clown-fearing children.
Seven outcast children, known as “The Losers Club,” are the main character cast of this film. They become emotionally supportive of each other after they are each bullied by the same group of boys at school; later to be terrorized by the shape-shifting clown. What one fears most is brought to life through King’s ability to bring the reader into the experience of each character’s personal nightmare.
It has been tormenting the same town, Derry, Maine, for centuries. Stealing the souls and feeding on the fear/bodies of its residents keeps It alive. Children are Pennywise’s easiest prey because they are the easiest to scare; as they also tend to still believe in monsters. It wakes up to feed for a 12-18-month period every 27-30 years.
In the novel, King explores each child’s psyche and fully develops their strengths and weaknesses. The story begins in the late 1950’s and jumps back and forth to the 1980’s. When Pennywise returns to start his murderous spree in Derry, the, now adult, children come back to confront him.
One by one, the children encounter Pennywise, who manifests itself into each child’s worst fear. Most of the faces it wears stem from famous horror movie creatures that were common in the films released during the 1950’s, from the Creature from the Black Lagoon to The Mummy and of course the face of a clown.
Georgie, little brother of the group’s leader Bill, was the first victim of Pennywise in 1957. Many deaths in the book are not portrayed in either film, but Georgie’s death is and ultimately is what bonds the group together. Georgie’s death is shown in both the miniseries and the 2017 film. All of the children want to kill Pennywise, not just because of their own terror It unleashes upon them, but because of their admiration and love for Bill.
The special effects have come a long way since 1990, so the cheesiness/cult factor in the old film is off the charts. However, the character development is phenomenal and Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise chilled viewers to the core. It is considered by many to be one of the most terrifying characters in the genre.
The 2017 version stays more true to King’s novel and gives the audience plenty of cringeworthy moments. Ligaments are torn from bodies and gory blood scenes are abundant.
Bullying by the local teenage tormentors are portrayed more vividly in film. One of the worst scenes showed the main bully carving his name into the abdomen of one of “Losers.” Later in life, the scar left from the incident only had one letter remaining of the five carved into him.
Parental child neglect and abuse was not sugar-coated in the 2017 release like it was in the film’s televised predecessor. Due to it’s modern make and box office market, Muschietti was able to explore each child’s burdens at home in depth. Since the movie is rated R, the language is humorously vulgar, as well as, relatable—similar to what’s in the book.
Unlike the book or miniseries, the time does not switch back and forth from childhood to adulthood; instead we follow the story of when “The Losers Club” were young and first defeated It. This is refreshing because it is easier to follow a story chronologically rather than continuously flashing back and forth between the past and present.
Both adaptations of “It” convey the insightfulness King has of childhood—the rites of passage, the suffering and the triumphs, how these experiences are connected to adult behavior, and how fears and beliefs can mold the mind.
The new “It” utilizes the advances in computer-generated imagery beautifully, creating flashy, fun, and abundant scares. This adaptation grasps the visuals that “It: A Novel” fans have longed for, while the miniseries failed to deliver on the gore.
The shock factors Muschietti delivers are present from beginning to the end of Chapter 1. All the buildup for a new presentation of an old cult-classic movie left audiences in suspense to find out at the end that it’s not the end. Fans will have to wait until September of 2019 to find out if Chapter 2 will be true to the novel and miniseries.