Stephen King is prolifically dedicated to his craft, and an absolute fountain of ideas. With dozens of novels to his name, the master of horror has had a major influence on pop culture for decades. Many of his books have been adapted for film and television. A handful of those adaptations, like THE SHINING, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, and CARRIE, are even as great as the stories on which they’re based.
Andy Muschietti's film adaptation of IT quickly joined that list. As IT CHAPTER TWO screams into theaters on September 6, we look back at how this adaptation grew from a fairly small horror movie into hugely successful event cinema.
King’s novel is too epic to be contained in one movie. It introduces the so-called Losers Club, seven people who band together to fight the monstrous Pennywise, as children, and returns to them 27 years later, as adults. While the book tells both the childhood and adult stories of the Losers in parallel, Muschietti focused his initial movie entirely on the Losers in their youth.
In the first film, the kids battle Pennywise and apparently defeat him. They make a pact, sealed with blood, to reunite if the creature ever returns. That structure gave IT a sense of finality, while leaving the door open for a sequel. If the first movie hadn't been a hit, it could still stand on its own as a single story.
That tight focus on the characters as children actually helped make the film a hit. We connected deeply with the plight of the Losers, thanks in large part to brilliant casting. IT featured a phenomenal ensemble of young stars: Jaeden Martell (THE BOOK OF HENRY) played Bill; Sophia Lillis ("Sharp Objects") is Beverly; Finn Wolfhard ("Stranger Things") is Richie; Wyatt Oleff (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2) is Stanley; Jeremy Ray Taylor (GOOSEBUMPS 2) plays Ben; Chosen Jacobs ("Castle Rock") appears as Mike; and Jack Dylan Grazer (SHAZAM!) plays Eddie. Appearing as Pennywise is Bill Skarsgård, whose malleable facial expressions lend the clown an unsettling and unearthly air of menace.
A sense of nostalgia also helped IT become a monster success. After all, it was an essential ingredient in King's original novel, as he populated the story with horror figures from his own childhood. The film pulled the time period up to 1988, but the characters are fundamentally the same — only with some updated references.
Like King’s novel, IT is more than a very effective scary story. The film is a surprisingly touching coming-of-age tale about overcoming your fears, finding strength in weakness, and discovering the awesome power of friendship. Part of what turned IT into something huge was in fact something fairly small. Namely, the kids act like real kids; they’re dorky and goofy, giving the film a sense of vulnerability and a genuine heart. (OK, all the cool horror sequences and special effects don’t hurt.)
IT CHAPTER TWO isn’t just the second half of a story. It is a monumental showdown almost three (fictional) decades in the making. Having defeated Pennywise once before, the members of the Losers Club have grown up and left Derry behind. Well, almost all of them: Mike stayed in town. See, the people of Derry have a way of forgetting the horrors of the past. To ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself, Mike remains in Derry to preserve the memory of Pennywise's evil. When the clown returns 27 years later, Mike persuades his friends to fulfill their blood oath, and return home in order to defeat the evil entity once and for all. There's just one problem: most of the Losers have fought pretty hard to leave the past behind.
The sequel features a cast of adult actors who are as awesome as their younger counterparts: James McAvoy (of the X-MEN films) as Bill; Jessica Chastain (CRIMSON PEAK) as Beverly; Bill Hader ("Barry") as Richie; Andy Bean ("Power") as Stanley; Jay Ryan ("Top of the Lake") as Ben; Isaiah Mustafa (the Old Spice guy!) as Mike; and James Ransone (SINISTER) as Eddie. Bill Skarsgård returns to reprise his terrifying role as Pennywise in the sequel. And, as fans of King’s book can tell you, there are several (scary) surprises in store for the Losers Club, but we won’t spoil them here.
All images courtesy of New Line/ Warner Bros.