When I was 11 years old, I would find my Dad’s dog-eared copy of Cujo wherever he left it lying around the house and steal a few moments feverishly reading through Stephen King’s lean-and-mean tale of a monstrous dog run amok. I had to read it in snippets for fear my Mom or Dad caught me reading something way above my pay grade. I’m sure it was that taste of forbidden fruit that kept me coming back for more – and over the course of one crazy summer, I managed to go cover-to-cover with King’s latest creepshow.
It wasn’t the rabid dog that grabbed me though – it was the passages where King describes young Tad’s fear of his closet; one he is convinced is haunted by the ghost of Frank Dodd (a policeman who met a grisly end in The Dead Zone). The spectral trap tapped into something primal – the same giddily goose of fear that had me sprint many nights from the second-floor hallway of our 100 year-old colonial house and leap to my bed to avoid getting grabbed by whatever beastie was likely lounging below.
Cujo was also my first exposure to the concept of “expanded universe” (so common in today’s pop culture) – where characters from one story would cross into the next; meaning it was not out of place for The Stand’s Big Bad – Randall Flagg – to stir up shenanigans for so many of King’s assorted small town heroes throughout a multiverse of books.
Once I was bitten by Cujo, there was no way I could wriggle free from King’s grasp. I became one of his beloved Constant Readers (the pet name he ascribes to his faithful devotees – and usually speaks directly to in his highly engaging and personal Author’s Notes). I’m a firm believer that there is a sweet spot in a boy’s life (somewhere between ages 10 and 12) where whatever he crushes on hard at that point, he carries with him the rest of his life. For me, that’s when I found King’s things and no matter what he published, I was there day and date to grab a copy and let it possess me.
When he released his magnum opus IT a few years later, I was a newly minted Freshman – taking those first hesitant steps in my High School career while keeping one-foot firmly planted in the woods surrounding my neighborhood where my friends and I explored day-after-day, getting in all manner of misadventures. In IT‘s Losers Club, I spied myself and my friends. This was a Losers Club in name only for nobody truly loses when surrounded by such strong camaraderie.
The new adaptation of Stephen King’s IT is a chance to set right what the 1990 TV miniseries could only get done with half-measures; given the broadcast standards of the time.
The book is a beast so director Andy Muscietti and his screenwriter (Gary Dauberman) wisely decide to hone in on The Losers Club as early teens – saving their adult reunion for Chapter 2 (due in 2019). It’s a canny bit of recon work done to move the timeline from the original 50’s-set prologue to my formative years of the mid-80s. It puts those of us who discovered this book and devoured it as teens in 1986 right in the wheelhouse of where the story ultimately heads when these old friends are beckoned back as adults to a haunted Derry to finish things once and for all. The change in setting makes total sense – hitting the same nostalgia button that last year’s Stranger Things struck upon while enabling the story to eventually merge with the present day (instead of making it a ‘period piece within a period piece’).
The 80’s were also one of the last times when kids hit the streets the moment they woke and didn’t come back until the streetlights glared and their Mom’s vocal chords were shredded from sounding the nightly alarm that it was time to come home. That was my childhood – that’s what informed the semi-autobiographical bits of my own fiction, my play The Lost World – and it is exactly why this new version of IT (which gives equal weight to the joyful discovery of new friends and coming-of-age as much as it does to creeping clown phobias) works so well.
This $35 million dollar adaption was predicted to make $45-50 million over the weekend; which would have been a monstrous hit for the studio that bet modestly on horror and nostalgia. Instead, IT shredded the box-office, taking home $123 million as-of this morning.
I saw IT in a packed audience on a Sunday evening – a school and work night. There was a palpable sense of excitement in that audience and while I don’t think the movie is scary in that “leap out of your seat ” style – it is expertly creepy and engrossing while also heart-felt and wickedly funny. It is a hugely entertaining film that absolutely does justice to the source material while promising that there’s more to come. Ultimately, it’s a great Halloween funhouse of a flick that never forgets to let up for a bit and just let kids be kids.
This is the movie I envisioned the first time I read the book and then immediately started IT all over again. I may not have had my wits scared out of me but this story has never really been that kind of story.
IT‘s heart has always been rooted in one thing – best friends curbstomping killer clowns.