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It – New Direction in Horror Films?

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John Fraim

There are a few ways to approach the incredible box office of the film It.

Of course It gets “legs” and advance PR from King’s great 1,400 page novel as well as the King Branding Machine. And, this time, not only a great novel from King but one of the most favorite of all of his millions of fans. The thought of bringing it to the screen had materialized once before.

How could it ever be brought to the screen for the modern world. The vast sweep of King’s theme was far too great for one film. A series of films was originally proposed. Yet, the story was broken into youth and adult symbols in the two versions of those who face It in the 1988 version of the movie.

The brilliance of this horror film is that it is not really a horror film but a film about the horrors of sexual abuse. And the horrors of growing up labeled “Losers” and targeted by all one’s peers. These were already great “horrors” in the lives of the young children we meet in Derry, Maine. The horrors mentioned previously were a type of media of horror the children in the gang have grown up within. The media is the parents of the children and it is a constant (unseen) enemy of them. But perhaps all their fears and hatred of their parents was directed into this great clown that attacked all of them in various ways that particular summer.

The clown is Pennywise. He appears through various objects and people throughout the film, tempting the young children towards him. An object signifying his presence. All members of a group of kids around fifteen years old, five boys and one girl, they see the clown individually and then all together. The clown plays on their fear of him and his desire to split them up. Yet they all say together. Together, they finally defeat the clown by sending him back into the earth. To await re-emergence 27 years later in Derry. Will they make a vow to return to Derry in 27 years?

In the late 80s movie version, the film divides into a youth and adult division, as the leads in the movie change from children to adults. The first story is about youth. The second story is about adults attempting to rediscover their youth. or at least an experience they all all together at that time. An event they lived together. The adults have come back into town for this event they swore they would return to 27 years ago in a meadow at the end of summer.

Sexual Abuse as the Real Horror / Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh in It

It was an interesting experiment. But in the end, a wrong story strategy to impose two story time frames upon the viewer or reader. In the first half of the story, the viewer is trained to listen to the narrative voice of a teenager. In the second half, the viewer or reader is asked to abandon the voice of the first part and accept a new voice, telling the story.

The acting on both sides was superb in the late 80s version of It. It wasn’t a problem of acting. Rather of attempting to put two great stories within the context of one. It simply would not work as both a youth and adult story. It had to choose one time period. The time period of youth? Or the time period of adulthood? A time of first experiencing some horror together. A second time of perhaps confronting it again. Together.

But again, the true horrors of this film expand far outward from just movie images of a hideous clown. But to real examples of sexual abusein our culture. In fact, it reaches out to those sexually abused young women in America today stuck in difficult situations. One can almost view the entire film in this vein. Certainly a Beverly reading of the film is in order. Her story above the others of the film. And, there are certainly other stories competing for top attention in the new It.

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Beyond sexual abuse, the film reaches out to the so-called “losers” in schools around the nation. Those kids who are constantly picked on for some reason. Bullied by others. This is the main group composing a composite “Hero” in the story. Against them, is the “Gang” made of thugs against all the Hero’s stand for. And, behind the gang of school thugs, Pennywise the clown.

Yet, even against the children in the film, after all of the above, are the parents of the children who ask them to lead horror-filled lives in this small town in Maine. The sexually abusive father of Beverly seen in the dimness of his apartment, always asking if his daughter is still “His little girl.” It has a horror and power much greater than even Lolita. We never see the father abuse Beverly but we know this is always in the background of her life and her desire to create a new life and group of friends.

More than anything else, It is the story of Beverly. An escapee not only from the bullying abuse of girls in school but from sexual abuse at home. It is Beverly who escapes into the group of young boys, at the beginning of all of their hormones. A first summer romance in many of their minds when Beverly hung around with them.

That summer they all discovered It together. The horror of It served to make a group of “loser” teens into Heroes one summer.

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Compared to the real horror of childhood sexual abuse and bullying, a  Stephen King clown is not so horrific. For me, the most powerful scenes in the film were those that symbolize the power of the parent in a child’s life. These parents (notice how all of them are dysfunctional in the film) present the greatest “monsters” to escape from.

The only way to escape from the parents and confront the clown, is to band together as a gang of teenagers one summer. Emigrants from horrific real families – from abuse at school – seeking a new family in the form of a summer gang.

All the teenagers are slaves of parents and peers who attempt to shape their lives. But is is Beverly who is the most controlled by her father’s sexual abuse. The most scariest scenes in the film are those when the father (and not the clown) hunts Beverly down in the dimness of the tiny home the two are living in. The clown seems just another monster for her to deal with. The real monster is all around her in the home she lives in with her father. In the end, Beverly’s escape from her father’s power forms the heart of the story. It is really Beverly’s story more than any other story.

The movie shows the collective power of the gang against Pennywise. Yet interestingly, Beverly does things on her own. She shows up the fears of the boys by jumping off the cliff into the pond. And, she deals with her father by herself without collective help.

It opens up a new direction for horror films. As Carson Reeves points out about It on his Script Shadow site (below) the film breaks a number of genre rules for horror films. Although much takes place in the standard horror film containment of a scary home or the underground of the city sewer system, it also expands outward to a town, a school and the countryside around the town. Perhaps a more realistic horror story for the modern world? A new type of teenage adventure story mixed with a horror story. For the adventures of some teenagers are filled with horrors enough, before the appearance of the horror of Pennywise.

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See Script Shadow for a brilliant analysis of the new It screenplay. A twist in the Horror genre for sure.

The film It gets 86% on Rotten Tomatoes.

See The Guardian article “Horrorwood! Will the New Golden Age of Scary Movies Save Hollywood?”


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