IT the Movie vs. the Book

Today, by request (thanks, Jay Lemming!), I’m going to give my review of the move It. But first, I’d like to draw your attention to my three newest treats:

First, if you haven’t already, I really hope you’ll go read my story “So Sings the Siren” in Apex Magazine Issue 101. It’s free on their website now, and at just over 1,000 words is a quick read. It does come with a trigger warning; it’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s horror that means something. And Apex picking it up means a lot to me, as does this story itself. It’s straight from my dark little heart. So if you enjoy it, please share it with anyone you know who might enjoy it too. <3

Second, this year’s edition of the Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase—Volume IV—is out now! I’m pleased to have a poem in this one for the fourth consecutive year. “Unravel” is an unsettling horror love poem. Yes, you read that right. 😉 You can order a copy of this year’s showcase in paperback for $7.99 or as an ebook for $2.99. This is also one of the potential prizes included in this year’s #BooksBrewBoo! (Which is still going on, by the way! Commenting on this post enters you to win, as do all of the helpful options at the bottom of this post. Entries have slowed down mid-month, so please share if you can; you have a good chance of winning!)

Third, my next LitReactor post is out today, so be sure to check out “13 Halloween Themed Anthologies to Fill Your Season with Fright.” (Note: this is also an eligible entry for #BooksBrewBoo.)

Okay, on to It!

What did I think of the movie It? I was disappointed. I thought it had a lot going for it: fantastic acting by the children, beautiful production value, and a powerful nostalgia factor. It was charming to see the kids interact, and refreshing to hear them curse like kids really do. If it had been its own creation and not a movie with source material and a previous version, I might’ve liked it a lot. Unfortunately, those are the facts of this film.

One of my most popular blog posts ever has been this one: “Thoughts on IT by Stephen King, What it Takes to Enjoy Horror, and Why I Write It.” In it I talk about that infamous novel and why I love it despite its flaws: it’s truly scary. The biggest reason I love King is his understanding of fear. Creating fear in readers means understanding its sources, not just what’s scary, but why. In my opinion, King is the master of that. It serves as a case in point: it’s the only novel to give me a nightmare as an adult. That’s powerful stuff.

Modern horror movies are a mixed bag—as are all movies in every time period—but one thing they widely have down incredibly well is the fear factor. Is it a deep-seated, insidious fear that sticks with us the way the best horror novels do? Very rarely. Still, it’s incredibly effective in the moment. I feel unnerved, tense, scared, or outright terrified at at least half of the horror movies I bother seeing in theater these days. (Which, admittedly, weeds out the ones so obviously bad I don’t bother.)

So It, a movie based on one of the scariest novels of all time, made during the height of scary movie techniques, was poised to be a homerun, right?

Not for me. I was never scared during the movie. Not once. Not even a little. And you guys, I scare easy. Given the promises of Pennywise and Co., to me that’s a pretty serious fail. I don’t even know how they managed to do it. How did such a high budget, well-made production like this fail on its obvious primary objective?

I’m not a movie-maker, so there are probably subtleties I missed, but I can tell you that from a horror creator’s perspective, they didn’t understand their fear-maker. Pennywise is insidious in the books because he gets to the root of each kid’s fears. He sneaks, he slithers, he stalks. He doesn’t show his face much. That makes him scarier, because it makes him unknown. We’re afraid of the unknown; we project our worst fears into it. King understood that. The movie doesn’t.

Pennywise in this film gets almost as much air time as the actual kids. He’s there all the time. Jeeze, P, give us a chance to miss you. Although visually gorgeous in a photoshoot way, Pennywise’s costuming is way off the mark here. Clowns are inherently creepy because they fall into the uncanny valley. They’re supposed to look happy but they don’t quite. They unnerve us because we almost see the person beneath the grotesquely exaggerated makeup. We want to focus on their jovial demeanor but the unknown (ah, see there?) person beneath keeps peering through the façade. A stranger. Dangerous.

But It’s Pennywise looks like he could only be in a horror movie. Even a kid as young as Georgie would know on sight that this is an evil, scary thing. If that’s chasing you down the street you might—might—have an argument for overt creepiness being more effective. But if that’s luring you into a storm drain, it’s no contest: subtle wins. If it’s subtle, you can understand why a kid might fall for it. If you understand, it means you can imagine it. If you can imagine it, it means it could happen to you. Fear.

Back to back you can really see the difference. The first is from the original movie, of course, and not the book, but it’s one thing the original got right in a big way.

I have lots of nitpicks of the movie, but my post can only go on so long. The main issue for me is the fear factor. The other is the overall tone. I know they were trying to cash in on Stranger Things’ nostalgia boom with the feel-good childhood mojo and shifting the original 50’s setting into the 80’s, but for me they leaned too heavily into that happy sweet side of things. I love a goodhearted movie, but not when the book has such a dark heart. A little nostalgia sugar would’ve been enough. And although I’m glad they changed that unsuccessful and highly disturbing sewer orgy, I don’t think a literal group hug was the way to do it. (And that’s not a sentence I ever imagined I’d type. Life is weird.)

A lack of fright and a lack of nihilism? Doesn’t sound like King to me. So maybe It is a good movie, but for a book fan like me, it was rather disappointing.

Finally, a reminder to enter, enter, enter! I want to give you guys some yummy coffee and a spooky book this Halloween. Here’s a list of all the easy ways you can be entered to win, for a total of 13 entries! You can:

Thanks everyone, and good luck!

Have you seen IT? What did you think?

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  • I’ve always thought of horror as some what of a tease. You don’t know the monster’s bad until it’s too late. I agree with your thoughts, Annie. I’ve admire Stephen King for a long time because he gets at the heart of your fears. “It” really rammed that into you as did “The Stand” and “Salem’s Lot.”

    • I’ve kind of given up on scary stories lately but with your last couple of posts, I’m thinking about giving it another run.

      • I’d be happy to chat recommendations with you if you’d like! There’s plenty of good stuff being still being published.

        • Sure, what do you recommend?

          • What kind of thing are you looking for? Shorts, a novel, what vibe?

          • I read everything, so maybe a mix? I like monsters or ghosts.

          • Hmmm. Well, let’s start with these. I loved Experimental Film by Gemma Files and A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. Have you tried either of those?

          • No. I’ll give them a try! Thanks!

          • My pleasure! Please let me know what you think!

    • That’s my favorite kind of monster too, Traci. I like the buildup. And yes, ‘Salem’s Lot is one of my favorites, as is The Shining. I haven’t read The Stand yet!

      • Loved The Shining, really liked ‘Salem’s Lot, dying to read The Stand almost as much as It.

  • Jay Lemming

    Hi Annie, first of all thanks so much for writing this review based (at least partly) on my request. While I enjoyed It tremendously, I also see your point about the issue of fear and how Pennywise (in the book) understood what frightened each child and how the reader clearly understood that that’s what the clown preyed on. In the movie, I think that same motive is there but not in a easy enough way for viewers to recognize and, therefore, to really understand what Pennywise thrives on. When he uncoiled himself from the refrigerator, that was right after Eddie had gotten a compound fracture (it took a friend I saw the film with to tell me that). When Bev’s bathroom got all bloody that was right after she’d had her first period and was likely afraid of what was happening with her body (especially with her creep-o dad lurking about). It took a few minutes before I got it! In any case, like I said, you raise some really good points. I’m happy I saw it. And it definitely would seem as though there will be a second film (likely when they’re all adults again, as it happened in the novel). I have no idea where Stephen King can concoct such complex and wonderful stories (like you, I am a huge fan) but I’m glad we get a chance to see how they’re treated on the big screen. And for the record, I just couldn’t bring myself to see The Dark Tower. I’m a huge fan of the books but after the poor ratings the movie received, I just couldn’t drag myself to the theater for fear I’d leave depressed. Happy Halloween and thanks for the great review! Jay

    • It was my pleasure, Jay! I always love discussing books and movies. 🙂 And I’m glad you enjoyed seeing it; I’m really not one to rain on other people’s parades. (That’s a big part of why I don’t like to give negative reviews in general.) I did pick up on the individualized fears for the kids–though I also missed the joint one, which is a nice touch–but Pennywise’s appearances were still just too overt for my taste. I thought the book handled that better. It was interesting to see what the movie did better, the book, and which the movie tried to fix/change and which it left. I’m glad I saw it too–if nothing else then because it’s been great food for thought and discussion. Thanks again for the suggestion on topic!

  • Lisa Bubert

    Damnit. I hate it when you’re right. I still really loved the new IT but I definitely didn’t consider it a true “horror” movie. I just couldn’t put my finger on why until this post. It was much more of a thriller for me. And I thought it was a fine movie and did its job well! But not a horror movie.

    • I actually do think it’s a horror movie, just not an effective one. Its aim is definitely is to frighten and get at the concept of fear, which makes it horror. I just don’t think it succeeded. I think it has other kinds of value, but when a story is already told (more than once), ‘some value’ doesn’t quite seem like enough to justify yet another telling to me. I wasn’t mad at it, just let down–which I kind of expected going into it, to be honest.

  • Carie Juettner

    This is a GREAT review of the IT movie! Even though I’ve never read the book, I still agree with you 100%. Now, I admit, I was disturbed and a tiny bit scared during the movie, but that’s because I found out seconds before it started that the 14-year-old niece I took to see it had never seen a rated R movie before. Oops! So I was scared yeah, but mainly about getting in trouble with her parents. 🙂

    • Lol! Now that *is* scary. So did you get in trouble? Thanks, Carie!

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  • I was waiting to go watch the movie until I read this post (I skimmed beforehand because I couldn’t resist). I saw it for my birthday last Friday, and I was disappointed also. It didn’t scare me at all either–like I didn’t even jump–and I am pretty damn easy to scare too! I did like the kids and the nostalgia, but yes, it was too light. The movie didn’t know what it wanted to be. The scares depended too heavily on loud and chaotic images and noise rather than the slithering, slinking fear you talk about–the fear we all know (whether we’ve read the book or not) is associated with It. The funny thing is, the only disturbing scenes in my opinion were quiet ones, like when Pennywise is holding the upside down triangle of balloons in front of him–just that one, unnerving moment, or when the Jewish kid is looking at the painting of the lady he’s afraid of (died laughing when the Stranger Things kid asked if she was hot). I’m actually happy I saw this movie before reading the book. I hope it will be easier that way to separate the two in my mind.

    • Yeah, I agree about their scares depending on jarring effects–and that moment with the balloons was my fave too! And I thought the painting was super creepy in a believable way (art is weird). Of all of the kids’ fears, that one was the most successful to me, though it still could’ve been enacted better. I’m excited to hear what you think of the book! It certainly has its flaws too (some pretty freaking big ones), but at least it’s scary!