Horror Art Amplified by the Influence of Stephen King’s It

When I was around 11 years old, my family decided to drive from southwest Florida to northern Ohio. I wasn’t that great at videogames so, figuring my Gameboy wouldn’t keep me entertained for long, I decided to buy a book; one that would be long enough to last me through the trip there and back. I finally decided on Stephen King’s It; a book that would stay with me long after that trip. I had already been pretty obsessed with horror art as a kid; gravitating toward the Ravenloft campaign setting in Dungeons & Dragons and drawing any monster that my imagination could conjure (or in many cases regurgitate) but It knocked me on my ass. I’d never read anything so raw, so perversely vicious…I felt like the book was radiating illness into me, yet I still couldn’t put it down. I’d seen new depths of terror by the time I finished the over 1,000 page vacation in hell; a sickening depression taking hold of me as I constantly thought of the sadism and brutality that the endless creature emanated while leaving a void where childish innocence had once resided. To this day, no reading experience has come close to matching the hopeless low of It with the exception of The A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers which left me despondent for nearly 2 weeks.

Floating in the Deadlights

With It, King immerses us in cinnamon childhood nostalgia with brownish bloodstained edges, the intense terror of psychotic afterschool bullies, and a transdimensional cosmic nightmare too immense and horrific for our minds to properly process. In this reality, no amount of purity and innocence can shield you from the fates that stories typically reserve for only the most horrid of villains. Our very flesh becomes just another weakness, another vulnerability to be exploited by an insatiable creature with no reason. The ones we love turn to dust in our arms and the ones we once feared are slowly digested before our eyes. And then there’s this whole other level that It refers to on a number of occasions; the deadlights, an orange glowing radiance that actually sucks away light and beauty, a foul error in cosmic balance that slowly consumes the sacred.

Skarsgård as the 2017 incarnation of Pennywise the clown.

A Legacy That Decays Forever But Never Dies

I regard It with a reverence owed to the blackest of the black. I’m a fan of Stephen King’s work in general, having devoured his novels in middle school, but none even scraped the surface of the constantly corrosive predatory nightmare of It. After reading the book, I avoided watching the mini-series that had come out the year before, fearing if it even came close to the unbridled mania of the book that it would be far too much for me to handle. The images in my head were almost paralyzing at times. Several years later, in my late teens, I finally gathered enough courage to watch the mini-series and, though it was entertaining, it never came close to matching the rusted, grotesque depravity of the book. I’m not sure how I even imagined a made-for-TV mini-series could come close to touching the cosmic horror of the novel. For years, I rested in the assurance that the terror I’d felt as a child would never manifest with the life…or unlife…with which it had lurched forward in my own imagination. Then, it was announced that Cary Fukunaga, he of True Detective fame, was developing a 2-part It film and just the notion of Fukunaga’s direction combined with the most soul-sucking book of all time made me shudder. Then, after a few stumbling starts, Fukunaga was out and I could rest assured that terrible Hollywood decisions had saved me from having a few years scared off of my life.

The version of Stephen King's It that I read when I was 11. 

The Inspiration of the New Pennywise Pierrot

But a few days ago, images were released of the new look for Pennywise in the 2017 remake of It that has moved forward without the dark artistry of Fukunaga. I’m not that afraid of clowns, so Pennywise in his actual clown form never frightened me much, especially as a smart-assed Tim Curry. The latest incarnation of Pennywise doesn’t frighten me that much either but I think he looks fucking rad. Costume designer Janie Bryant talks about it in-depth in an Entertainment Weekly article and her attention to detail is impressive. The idea to portray him as a predatory jester out of time is a way I hadn’t imagined Pennywise myself but one that plays so well into my own aesthetics of fools, harlequins, and clown princes. Merging this trusted archetype with something so base and sinister is truly brilliant and it’s these juxtapositions I feel that propel horror art forward or, at the very least, connect it to me in a frighteningly personal way. Bill Skarsgård (of Hemlock Grove) is cast as a more youthful take on the character of Pennywise; a factor that I feel could make the whole atmosphere somehow sadder. Tim Curry presented a garish, old man Bozo-style clown taunting children while Skarsgård will be this strangely foppish, infantile pierrot literally devouring children.

Childhood Universals Cast in a Nightmare

Another reason I’m excited about this remake is the casting of Finn Wolfhard (who turned in one of my favorite performances as the instantly likeable Mike in Stranger Things) and Owen Teague (who I know as the somewhat tragic Nolan from Bloodline). I am really curious to see how the film handles Teague’s character Patrick Hockstetter who was a disturbing character in the novel in his own right. I won’t spoil Hockstetter’s unique perspective for anyone who hasn’t read the book but he’s also an interesting character for one scene in which he surprisingly initiates an eerily manipulative homosexual experience with the primary bully of the novel. There’s a universal aspect to sexual experimentation in childhood years but it’s given a grotesque frame when presented within an epic about an extradimensional hyper predator that seasons young blood with pure fear and adrenaline. Normally, I’d assume that Hollywood would take a safer route (especially in the wake of cutting Fukunaga from the film after he demanded an NC-17 rating) but I’ve read rumors claiming the new director has stated plans to explore the homosexual aspects of Hockstetter’s character.

The Bowers gang with Owen Teague as Patrick Hockstetter (far right).

Though Stephen King’s It has left an immeasurable influence on me, it’s definitely in a deep end of terror that I often avoid in my own horror art which strays from gore mostly because I use my own imagination as an alluring escape. That being said, I revere the pure horror that King seems to effortlessly tap in It as a truly moving force; one that echoes in the recesses of our hearts and minds long after the final page is turned. Leaving someone so fundamentally disturbed is an emotional experience the equal and opposite of passionate, hearts-a-fluttering romance. At times, I feel compelled to purposely approach the barriers of what disturbs me in an exploration of the horrors I can’t quite explain. It’s hinted at in some of my art but probably won’t be fully explored until I begin work on my graphic novel which presents my complete mythology in elements of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.