IT Chapters One and Two are available to rent, buy or stream.
Following the success of the ABC TV mini-series in 1990, IT was long overdue for a big-screen outing; however, nobody, including me, thought it would take seventeen years to come to fruition. In 2009, Warner Brothers announced that IT would finally jump to the silver screen with the studio, actively seeking a director to bring King’s vision to life. But, the question of what form IT should take haunted its early development, much as it had done with ABC before the 1990 mini-series.
Initially, Warner Brothers favoured a condensed version of King’s novel that would play to a renewed interest in horror on the big screen while allowing new generations to jump on board. However, during this time, IT defeated two directors, David Kajganich and Cary Fukunaga, who left the project due to concerns over adapting King’s colossal novel. But, by 2015, the film had found its director in Andrés Muschietti, his vision leading to screenplay re-writes and recasting on crucial roles, including Pennywise.
READ MORE: PENNYWISE: THE STORY OF IT
Muschietti envisioned two cinematic chapters; the first focusing on the young Loser’s Club and the second on the return of the adult Losers to Derry. Controversially, this would split Stephen King’s original narrative, separating the entwined story of the past and present in favour of a more easily navigated story arc. Equally, Muschietti would alter the novel’s time frame by swapping the 1950s for the late 1980s. These creative decisions would hopefully allow IT the movie to navigate many side stories that had evaded the 1990 TV series with its limited runtime of three hours and twelve minutes.
However, despite Muschietti’s vision and the opportunities that could have come from a back-to-back shoot of both chapters, Warner Brothers were not ready to gamble on a two-picture deal from the outset. Therefore, Chapter Two would be dependent on the success of Chapter One. However, Warner Brothers would at least allow Muschietti the creative freedom to capture the horror, fantasy and coming-of-age themes inherent in King’s novel in the first film. This creative freedom would ultimately lead to one of the highest-grossing horrors of the 2010s and secure the eventual release of Chapter Two.
READ MORE: CARRIE
The casting choices were central to the success of IT Chapters One and Two. Here Muschietti would bring together some of Hollywood’s finest talent in creating a Losers Club we could believe in. Throughout Chapter One, The Losers Club was allowed space to develop, a weakness that had haunted the otherwise brilliant TV movie due to time pressures. Here every casting choice among the young Loser’s Club is perfect in both vision and performance. While at the same time, Pennywise was allowed to embrace the alien creature held within IT’s pages. Here Bill Skarsgård’s exquisite interpretation is horrific, engaging and other-worldly. Tim Curry’s clown may have given entire generations nightmares, but Skarsgård’s will ultimately enter the horror hall of fame.
Can you smell the circus, Georgie? There’s peanuts… cotton candy… hot dogs… and… POPCORN!
The critical and financial success of Mushietti’s faithful yet, modern adaptation of IT Chapters One and Two only proved the enduring power of King’s source material. But why is IT a masterpiece of modern horror? After all, many argue it is not King’s strongest work, yet its enduring cultural impact remains more prominent than that of many of King’s other novels.
IT marks the final chapter of King’s first wave of novels, bringing together many of the prominent themes found in his earlier work. For example, Bill Denbrough’s character takes clear inspiration from Gordie LeChance in The Body. Here Bill’s young life is a whirlwind of past trauma due to his brother’s tragic death, just like LeChance. Even IT’s Henry Bowers and his sadistic gang reflect John “Ace” Merrill’s troupe in King’s earlier work. Within IT Chapter One, Mushietti understands this link, as he toys with similar visual cues and cinematography to Rob Reiner’s earlier film, Stand By Me. Here Martell’s Bill carries the same emotional weight and sadness as Wheaton’s LeChance over thirty years before.
READ MORE: CHRISTINE
Meanwhile, Carrie’s coming-of-age horror also finds a voice in IT. For example, Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis / Jessica Chastain) comes from a family of abuse and volatility; her sense of security and belonging haunted by rumours and social ostracisation. Here the anger she holds is only tamed by the power of friendship, an escape King would deny poor Carrie White. Meanwhile, like Carrie, IT explores the true horror of puberty and high school and the secret fears we carry in our teens, from bullying to perceived difference, racism and social anxiety.
When you’re a kid, you think that you’ll always be protected and cared for. Then, one day, you realize that’s not true. If you open your eyes, you will see what we’re going through. ‘Cause when you’re alone as a kid, the monsters see you as weaker. You don’t even know they’re getting closer until it’s too late. – Stanley Uris
But what of Pennywise the Clown, I hear you ask? Pennywise as a figure takes many cues from Salem’s Lot, an evil that lies concealed from view in a town where ignorance is bliss. Pennywise is a combination of deep-seated childhood fears and insecurities. The clown mask hides real emotion under colourful makeup, creating a false persona we find difficult to interpret. But it also reflects the idea that we should always be happy and carefree, hiding our deep terrors and insecurities under a false yet broad smile. Here, Stephen King’s IT reminds us of our childhood nightmares and the power of adult denial. IT delves into our human need to face our monsters, wherever they may reside, at whatever age we may be.
IT is a story of friendship, recovery and a need to own our past. It is the story of our transition from child to adult and the memories we try to bury along the way. Here IT is a psychological horror that continues to speak to new generations due to the universal and eternal coming-of-age themes it reflects as King unlocks the childhood fears we keep buried. Here IT reminds us of the children we once were and the terrors that kept us awake at night. But IT also reminds us that many of those terrors were not mere fantasies; they were born from the adult world around us.