Think of any horror story you have ever read. Got one? Good. Was there a jump scare in it? No, there wasn’t. By definition, any horror story you *read* cannot have a ‘jump scare’ in it, no matter how cleverly the author is crafting their words. The best you can do is ‘Suddenly…’ followed by a description of the scare you are trying for.
Suddenly the picture fell off the wall. Suddenly nobody made tea.
Suddenly, the latest movie adaptation of IT has hit the cinemas and is a mixed bag of old tricks.
I first read IT in 1986, at the age of fifteen. I had always had an interest in horror, ever since reading The Omen when I was 10 years old (and spending the rest of the summer grooming my friends heads, wondering if I’d find 666 on any of their scalps). Although I did find IT a little slow to begin with (the book is nearly 1,200 pages after all), with a whole chapter given to the backstory of each of the seven members of The Losers Club in the first hundred or so pages of the book, I persevered and slowly but surely was drawn into the world of Derry, Maine. Since 1986 I have read the book at least twice more, that I can recall, much to the consternation of Tolkien incidentally, who never understood why anyone would read a book more than once. Quite ironic considering he wrote a book that everyone that I know of has read it at least three times or more.
But I digress. I’m good at that.
So when I discovered that a new movie version of IT was to be released this year, a vague trembling, quivering feeling came over me, not unlike the sort of feeling I once had when waking up, after a hard night’s drinking, on top of the Arc de Triomf. Anyway, being the sort of movie fan that gets influenced by reviews, I was aware that IT was garnering very good reviews indeed so, when an opportunity arose to finally watch it, I settled into the movie seat (at the VUE in Paignton no less) to watch IT on the big screen.
Firstly a thing about spoilers and this is the complicated bit. Anything I say in this review is only a spoiler if you have *not* read the book. Because if you watch the film without reading the book then you’re not really going to have any meaningful grasp of the plot elements they removed. Agreed? Then carry on.
I shall continue like Rob Fleming in High Fidelity, with a list. I’m a bloke and I like my lists.
1. They have changed the timeline in the movie. In the book The Losers Club (which is the name the seven children give themselves, who encounter and battle IT) takes place in the 1950s. In the movie the kids story (which is the whole of the first movie – the second movie will take up the story when they are adults) takes place in the 1980s.
Here’s why I think this is a mistake. The 50s was the golden age of horror B movies, such as Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Blob, It Came From Outer Space, Attack Of The Giant Leeches, and many many more. This is significant as IT preys on the fears of the members of The Losers Club and transforms (or manipulates their dreams) into creatures from those movies – that’s why Eddie sees Dracula or Mike gets chased by a Werewolf or Patrick is killed by giant flying leeches.
The 50s had relevance.
By changing the timeframe to the 1980s, yet keeping true to the monsters the kids encounter, the story loses much of its impact. In the 1980s we had far fewer ‘classical’ monster movies and more Gothic horror (such as the Hellraiser films or From Beyond – movies with clear Lovecraftian influences rather Bram Stoker or Mary Shelley).
So changing the timeframe was a no-no as far as I was concerned, especially regarding the other crucial point that IT only awakens every 27 years to spend roughly 8 or 9 months ‘feeding’ before going to sleep again. So the revelation regarding IT’s previous waking times during the American gold rush, for example, becomes skewed and a little confusing now that they have brought the children’s segment of the story into the 80s.
2. In the book, each chapter jumps from the 1950s, to 1980s, to 1950s etc. This makes for some beautiful and engaging transitions regarding memory, where, for example, Beverly as a forty something woman is walking along a road and hears a school bell, and begins the thought ‘school is…’ and then you turn the page and it’s a new chapter and we have the twelve-year-old Beverly finishing the thought with …’out!’ And then we follow her point of view in that particular chapter. Not the best example but please believe me that this was a wonderful, warm and engaging technique in the book and worked very well. I missed that in the movie.
3. Okay, this one could be a genuine spoiler and it’s also the cause of my greatest disappointment. It’s also going to be difficult to explain and you may think I’m on drugs (I’m not, just whisky).
So, in the film, the climatic scene between The Losers Club and IT is basically a physical punch up.
That’s it. A fist fight. I was sorely disappointed with this.
In the book… oh fuck it. Here goes. This is gonna be a long ‘un.
In the book, it is clear that there is some strange external force that is intervening and giving the kids a mystical power from time to time. That power is more to do with their own belief in ‘magic’. For example, Richie Tozier, known for his impersonations, particularly an ‘Irish cop’ voice, uses this voice against IT during one occasion, but for that single moment the voice that comes out of Eddie is like an amalgamation of all the cop voices ever heard, coming out of his mouth with a burning intensity which buys him some time as IT is chasing him. Or another example is with Eddie, who is asthmatic and uses an inhaler, and during another one to one encounter with IT, in desperation he turns and squeezes his inhaler at IT, and again, something comes out of the inhaler that shouldn’t have been there, a vapour that contains the essence of ‘good’, causing IT to falter and buying Eddie some time. Again, for people who have already seen the film, this will mean nothing as you won’t even have the barest hint that any scenes like this were omitted. For those who have read the book, you will fully understand the dramatic and strangely touching moments that these scenes (and the other similar scenes featuring the other five Losers) had upon you.
4. The above is what makes IT wary of them and that causes IT to suspect that the Turtle is still alive.
Okay, the Turtle. None of this is even vaguely hinted at or visualised in the movie’s final climatic battle with IT but in the book, the following happens.
The Losers Club encounter IT deep within the sewer system of Derry and then invoke the ‘Ritual Of Chud’ where their minds ‘clamp’ onto the mind of IT and their spiritual bodies get thrown into the ‘Deadlights’ which is the macro universe – the world between worlds. As they fly through the Deadlights they encounter a Turtle, a huge turtle as big as ten football pitches, and they soar gently over him. They sense the Turtle is omnipotent and the Turtle wakes and just tells them, in a kind and loving way, that they are doing the right thing, and then goes to sleep again. They also sense it was the Turtle that gave them powers earlier in the story (Richie’s ‘voice’, Eddies inhaler etc).
The Turtle appears to represent some incredible power of ‘good’. It’s written in a very enigmatic way and the backstory regarding the Turtle and the origins of IT (save that IT crashed on Earth millions of years ago) is never explained, nor should it be. Some things are best left to the reader’s imagination. But the way it was written in the book was beautiful and the Turtles importance is apparent (the Turtles voice is heard sporadically throughout the whole novel, as the symbol of some higher being of ‘good’, though of course they don’t realise it is a ‘turtle’ until the end of their first encounter with IT).
Yeah I know, the above all sounds like a mind fuck, but I would urge you to read the novel.
So the fact that in the movie the final scene is just a fist fight left me feeling cheated. Would an audience who have never read the book enjoy it? Clearly they do, going by the latest box office receipts and reviews spread across the internet. To me, however, the movie has completely dispensed with the ethereal and slightly spiritual aspects that keeps drawing me back to the book.
5. Okay, some good points. I did think the children acted their guts out. Only one was 16 when the film was made. The others were 15 or younger (and all of them did look the 12 years old they were supposed to be). Sophia Lillis, as Beverley Marsh, gave a particularly fine performance, considering the difficult sub-plot of her character. Finn Wolfhard as Richie Tozer was also excellent, giving a fun and engaging performance. There were scenes that touched me, scenes where the seven kids would be on their bicycles, cycling beneath the hot summer sun along the streets of the town, laughing and carefree. Because you see that was the real message and power of the book – it’s depiction of the strength of friendship in childhood and the power that can have. Stephen King was particularly good at writing about childhood as The Body (filmed as Stand By Me) was also exceptional regarding that. So yes, in IT, there were some beautifully realised scenes focusing on the simple pleasures found in childhood friendship.
‘I never had friends later in life like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?’ – Stephen King, The Body.
After all that, will I go and watch part 2 when it’s eventually released? Of course I will! I’m intrigued as to how they will deal with the adult part of the story (and the actors cast in those parts).
The thing about IT which makes it unique is the fact that it’s children who overcome the monster. There have been children’s horror books featuring children and aimed at children of course, but as far as I know Stephen King’s IT was the first time that children had a major and significant part to play in a horror novel that was written and aimed at adults. That makes it unique and remains the biggest appeal for me.
If you have watched the film but not read the book, please leave a comment and your review below as I would be very interested to hear from you.