We never liked clowns – and now we know why. Erica and I talk about the recent movie IT.
You know what time it is. Time for me to give an obligatory review of IT, because every other horror film reviewer is talking about it. I even re-read the novel in preparation for seeing the 2017 film adaptation. IT was the second novel I read by Stephen King; The Shining was the first. IT stuck with me for a long time, and I tend to re-read the book every few years.
When I later saw the miniseries Stephen King’s It on TV, I was sorely disappointed. Tim Curry made a good Pennywise, but so many terrifying scenes from the book didn’t make the cut. The scenes that did were often cheesy, not scary. But before I cast more aspersion on the TV miniseries, I realize that the adaptation was hampered by budgetary limitations and network censorship. I knew then that to do the novel justice, the next adaptation would need to be an R-rated film with a bigger budget and better special effects.
Finally, Andy Muschietti has given us an adaptation that approaches King’s vision and captures the heart of the novel. This isn’t to say that the new film doesn’t differ from the novel in several significant ways.
The narrative structure is different. First, the narrative structure of the film is purely linear. King’s novel begins with the death of Georgie, and then introduces the Losers as adults. The Losers’ present-day story is interspersed with flashbacks from their childhood as they recover suppressed/repressed memories of their horrific encounters with Pennywise. The film focuses exclusively on the Losers’ childhood events, teasing a future “Chapter Two” which will focus on the characters as adults.
The time period is different. King’s novel set the flashback scenes in the 1950s, and the adult scenes in the then-present 1980s. The new film moves the time period up three decades by having the characters as children in the late 1980s, which will allow the the adults’ story to take place in the mid-2010s. As much as I loved King’s vivid description of life in the 1950s, this change makes sense, is more relatable to most audience members, and doesn’t weaken the story in any way.
Don’t expect to see your favorite scares. Everyone who has read the novel has certain scare scenes that affected them. Check out this list from Mashable for examples. I always enjoyed Ben’s first encounter with Pennywise on the canal, and have never thought of the tune “Camptown Races” the same way after reading Stanley’s encounter at the old standpipe. Patrick Hocksetter’s death involving an old refrigerator and flying leeches was fabulously weird. That said, don’t expect to see them. You will get to see a version of Beverly’s encounter with the bathroom drain, but many of these scenes don’t appear in the new film, or have been reimagined as something else entirely. Fortunately, the re-imagined scares are pretty darn good. My favorite is Ben’s encounter in the library.
The graphic sexual content has been excised…again. The new version of IT isn’t afraid of gore, and actually had the balls to show Pennywise chewing Georgie’s arm off. But when it comes to the novel’s graphic sexual content, the filmmakers played it safe. So if you are wondering if the new film includes THAT scene in which Beverly has sex with the rest of the Losers, the answer is no. Also missing is the homosexual encounter between the bullies Patrick Hocksetter and Henry Bowers. The “leper “who terrorizes Eddie does not offer a blowjob. However, it is implied that Beverly’s father sexually abuses her. Theses scenes were effective in the novel, because the reality of children being vulnerable to sexual predators was a nice contrast to the wholesome facade of the 1950s, but certainly a PR nightmare to adapt to film, given the fact the characters are underage. We’ll see if the raunchier aspects of the novel make the cut when the adults’ story in “Chapter Two” is released.
I was pleased to see a more serious attempt at depicting the “deadlights,” and the fact that looking into them will make you lose your mind. I hope that “Chapter Two” expands on this, and includes the inter-dimensional battle between the Losers and Pennywise.
In honor of Stephen King’s birth month, My Horrific Life will be covering our favorite (and not-so-favorite) Stephen King books and film adaptations.
Like many of our readers, I’m excited for the new film adaptation of IT, because it’s possibly my favorite King novel (in a close tie with The Shining). I revisit the novel every couple years, and I’m hoping IT finally gets the film adaptation it deserves. My massage therapist John summed it up by saying, “maybe now people can stop talking about the TV miniseries, which was AWFUL. The people who like it liked it when they were eight years old. What eight-year-old has good taste in ANYTHING?” Although Tim Curry gave a great performance as Pennywise, I have to agree with John. The other things I noticed is that people who love the miniseries have never read the book. The novel was simply too gruesome and too…adult to be adapted as a 1990s television special. Those of you who have read the novel are probably also wondering if the 2017 film adaptation will include THAT scene. You know, the one in which Beverly did not give the boys a chaste kiss on the cheek, as she did in the TV miniseries?
While I can live without the pre-teen gang-bang scene, I really hope this version includes the inter-dimensional battle between It and the young people, properly explain what the “deadlights” are, and, of course, include the gorier and more lascivious scares that made the novel so effective.
On our podcast, we will be welcoming back Justin Beahm for a roundtable discussion about Stephen King’s works and adaptations. Though not related to King’s work, I am very pleased to announce that we will be interviewing Michael Kehoe, director of The Hatred, starring our recent podcast guests Andrew Divoff and David Naughton. The Hatred is scheduled for a release on blu/DVD on September 12.
First, let me confirm that the new film The Dark Tower differs significantly with the sprawling series written by Stephen King. Major plot points are truncated, and key characters are left out entirely. Rolan’s ka-tet doesn’t exist. The story is told primarily from Jake’s perspective, not Roland’s. Purists may be driven crazy by these omissions and changes. As someone who has read the entire series, I think that aspects of the film adaptation may not be friendly to outsiders, perhaps not relatable.
That said, I don’t understand the negative reviews this film is getting. Again, I’m glad that I don’t allow such reviews to influence my decision to see movies. The Dark Tower has a mere 18% positive meta-critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes, yet has a 63% positive rating from audience members. This is a big discrepancy. But more importantly, Stephen King liked the adaptation. Keep in mind that King disliked the Stanley Kubrick adaptation of The Shining, which earned near-universal praise from critics. The Dark Tower is true to the spirit of King’s work while The Shining was not.
In the linked article above, King also discusses his approval of casting Idris Elba as Roland. predictably, some fans in the dark corners of the internet disapproved of casting a black actor as a character who is understood to be white. In the book illustrations, Roland is portrayed as white, and this is further reinforced in dialogue in which Detta Walker calls Roland a “honky” and other racist slurs (The Drawing of the Three). However, Roland’s race really isn’t an important factor. The fact is that Idris Elba did a phenomenal job in this film, and I hope he will be in the TV series as rumored.
Matthew McConaughey is also terrific as the Man in Black. I remember when McConaughey used to be considered conventionally sexy, but gradually transitioned into creepy. I like it. He’s perfectly cruel in this role.
Although I had hoped that there would be a film adaptation for each novel, similar to the Harry Potter film series, The Dark Tower included the most essential concepts from the series. If there is to be a TV series, I hope it includes Eddie Dean and Susannah (a.k.a. Detta/Odetta Walker), because the the relationship between Roland and his ka-tet really is the soul of the series.
So yes, I do recommend the movie to anyone with an open mind.
And since we are reviewing “meta” works this month, I have to recommend the Dark Tower novels as well. The film adaptation is not truly meta (although it does give a nod to Pennywise from IT), but the books became increasingly so. In The Dark Tower III: The Wastelands, we learn that fictional works are windows into very real worlds. One such work is an unsettling children’s book called Charlie the Choo Choo by Beryl Evans, featuring nightmare-fuel illustrations and a story about a sentient train. The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah takes things further by having Roland as his friends meet Stephen King himself. In an especially self-deprecating touch, King gives Roland a copy of his novel Insomnia and Roland promptly throws it in the trash.
Until next time, long days and pleasant nights…
No blog about horror in daily life would be complete without at least one discussion of politics, and that’s especially true this election cycle. Not only do both candidates have historically low scores of trustworthiness, the lunatic fringes of society tend to endorse violence as a solution to real or perceived government corruption. This isn’t unique to this election. In 2010, the Tea Party movement received negative coverage for rallies in which at least one protestor carried a sign captioned, “we vote with bullets.” Also consider the screenshot below, posted by a gun-rights extremist:
This is the stuff that pushes the limits of free speech and causes headaches for threat management professionals.
What seems unique in this election cycle is that one candidate seems to be openly courting extremists and promoting violent rhetoric. Of course, I am referring to Donald Trump’s tacit encouragement of violence against protestors at his rallies, and ominous suggestions that perhaps “2nd Amendment people” could “take care of” Hillary if she wins the presidential election. I suspect that Trump’s rhetoric that the election process itself is rigged would play into extremist ideology supporting domestic terrorism and assassination of political candidates and leaders.
This brings me to The Dead Zone, an early Stephen King novel that, well, kind of does promote the assassination of candidates, if only under the rare circumstances that one has infallible psychic abilities and knows that said candidate will start a nuclear war if elected. The Dead Zone was one of very few Stephen King novels to languish for decades without an audiobook edition. But seemingly in keeping with the zeitgeist of this election season, the folks at Simon and Schuster finally recorded an audio edition, originally to be released on October 25, 2016. Just early enough to complete a listen of the recording before Election Day. Hrmmm…
Some executive must have realized the faux pas just in time, or felt that the current political rhetoric was too heated, because the audiobook release has now been rescheduled for April 4, 2017.
This new release schedule is certainly less controversial and in better taste, and I respect the publisher’s decision to not feed into the current election craziness, but I admit that I’m a bit disappointed in the delay. I was eager to revisit The Dead Zone not because of the assassination subplot, but because the novel’s portrayal of politics was so prescient and appropriate given current events. The Dead Zone‘s villainous candidate, Greg Stillson, is a rather Trumpian character, and even Stephen King himself has acknowledged the similarities via his Twitter. Stillson is a brash, larger-than-life, yet charismatic populist candidate who relies heavily on fear-based rhetoric. He’s also an emotionally unstable narcissist who is destined to obliterate a large part of the human race in a nuclear war. Given Donald Trump’s cavalier remarks about the use of nuclear weapons, it’s easy to make comparisons to King’s character.
In the novel and the film adaptation, there ultimately is no assassination, because Stillson creates his own demise through actions so terrible that he cannot recover as a viable candidate. Only time will tell, but perhaps Trump has finally created his own “Dead Zone Moment” though his “pussygate” remarks to Billy Bush and any number of other offensive televised comments.
Despite the delay in the release, you can still pre-order a copy of The Dead Zone through Audible or Amazon.
Joe Hill’s work has matured greatly since early novels such as Heart-Shaped Box and even Horns: A Novel, both of which provoked a love-hate response in me. Both were clever, but wallowed self-consciously in their own cleverness. Heart-Shaped Box utilized every horror genre trope and cliche before inverting them, setting readers up for a multitude of “gotcha” moments. (For instance, a spirit uses a Ouija board to incessantly question the living protagonist.) In all fairness, Hill’s fiction is inevitably compared to his father Stephen King’s work, rather than appreciated exclusively for its own merits.
Then came NOS4A2: A Novel, which one could argue was Hill’s breakout work (and will be reviewed here later). NOS 4A2 was in many respects more nuanced and complex than his earlier novels, with greater character depth. This novel made some bold references to Stephen King’s fictional universe, and can easily stand alongside many of King’s novels.
The Fireman: A Novel continues the positive trends of NOS 4A2, and the central conceit of a contagious disease that causes the infected to spontaneously combust is deliriously creepy. However, this isn’t the novel’s scariest aspect. (Here’s where I warn for mild spoilers ahead.) The most disturbing scenes involve dysfunctional group dynamics, particularly those involving social control. The tribal mentality isn’t merely drawn along the lines of the infected vs. the uninfected, but even within the group of infected survivors who are already vulnerable to attacks from “cremation crews” as well as their own illness.
Here we have a story about an isolated and marginalized group that devolves into a murderous cult. The process is familiar to anyone who has read about real-life tragedies such as Jonestown and so many other cults. In The Fireman, an initially likable character creates an environment of of hope and trust, anchored to her own brand of religion. As the characters become more isolated from the outside world, the tone shifts to paranoia, and she grabs as much power and authority as possible. As with real life cases, it’s frustrating that so few characters call her out on her bullshit or hold her accountable. Naturally, the few dissenters are demonized through character assassination, and in some cases, subjected to physical abuse. And naturally, the followers are so desperate to maintain their in-group status that they blindly believe their leader’s lies. The protagonist’s character development arc is satisfying (even if I could have lived with fewer Mary Poppins references), because her previous relationship with her gaslighting and manipulative ex-husband immunizes her to the cult members’ manipulation. Hill creates a believable transition from passive spouse to assertive hero. Another strength of the novel is how seamlessly Hill provides a biological explanation for the toxic group dynamics that dovetails with the mechanics of the disease itself.