Clowns were always creepy, but then Stephen King came along. In 1986, King published “It,” which introduced the world to seven scrappy kids nicknamed The Losers Club, who faced off against a child-killing, shape-shifting clown named Pennywise, an evil entity that was infesting their hometown of Derry, Maine. Derry had popped up in several King novels before “It,” including “Pet Cemetery” and the novella “The Body,” which served as the source material for the film “Stand By Me,” but it wasn’t until “It” that King fans really got to know the dark history and evil lurking in the sewers of the fictional Maine town.
With King’s mammoth novel sitting around 1,138 pages, the bloody details of Derry’s darkest days are fleshed out across multiple time periods. But, as with so many film adaptations of classic novels, not everything in the book makes the final cut. Even 1990’s “It” TV mini-series, which clocks in at three hours and twelve minutes, doesn’t encompass everything King crammed into his exceptionally detailed book. Spoilers aplenty from here on out, so readers beware!
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Luckily for “It” fans, the new film is pretty faithful to the source material, due in part to the filmmakers’ decision to split the story into two parts. The opening scene detailing Georgie’s murder is almost beat-for-beat lifted from the book’s opening chapter, with one huge exception: In the film, Georgie’s body is never recovered. As fans flock to see this year’s second major Stephen King adaptation on the big screen, here are six key changes the film makes that are different from the book.
The Time Period
The most immediate difference between the novel and the film is the time period. In King’s book, the action is set between 1984-1985, when the Losers Club are adults. Throughout the book there are numerous flashbacks to 1957-1958, when Bill’s younger brother, Georgie, is murdered and the gang take on Pennywise for the first time.
But the film, perhaps banking on the wave of ’80s nostalgia triggered by “Stranger Things” (which also stars Finn Wolfhard), has the young Losers Club growing up during the 1980s, complete with New Kids on the Block jokes and nods to “Batman” and “Street Fighter.” Since “It” is in fact Chapter One of the story, and the film’s sequel, which is being written but still hasn’t technically been green-lit, will chronicle the Losers Club when they reunite as adults 27 years later, Chapter Two will now take place in the present day.
Perhaps one of the most iconic aspects of “It” is Pennywise’s ability to transform into each child’s specific fear. With the kids in the novel growing up during the heyday of B-monster movie madness, Pennywise takes on the shape of some of the most iconic movie monsters of all-time, including The Mummy, The Wolfman, and The Creature From the Black Lagoon.
Although it might have been fun to see Pennywise take on some iconic monsters from the 1980s — the film was released by New Line Cinema and does show “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child” playing in the town’s movie theater — only Eddie’s oozing leper actually makes the cut. Bill, of course, is haunted by Georgie, but Mike doesn’t see a giant bird, and Stan doesn’t see drowned children. Richie’s werewolf is gone, and while the film shows the iconic Paul Bunyan statue, it doesn’t come to life. Still, the film does update Beverly’s iconic bloody sink scene, making it even more sinister, and it’s definitely one of the best scenes in the film.
The novel is loosely narrated by Mike Hanlon, who serves as Derry’s librarian when he gets older, and who is responsible for bringing the Loser’s Club back to Derry for the final showdown. Mike has spent much of his adult life gathering information about the town’s dark history, which all seem to be tied to the appearance of a clown who is either seen before a huge tragedy, such as the Easter Sunday Kitchener Ironworks explosion in 1906, which killed 88 children, or an act of bloodlust by the townspeople, where he eggs on citizens and participates in murder.
In the film, the role of historian is shifted to Ben, who walks the rest of the Losers Club through the town’s history via his own homemade scrapbook. And this isn’t the only change to Mike’s character. While he shares a special connection with his father in the novel, Mike has lost both parents in a fire (something Pennywise uses against him in one of the film’s more horrifying images), and he now lives on a farm with his grandfather. The trusty slingshot and silver slugs that the characters use in the novel to take down Pennywise as kids has also been upgraded to the captive bolt gun Mike’s family uses to humanely slaughter animals on their farm.
Henry Bowers and his gang
Rest easy, the menacing and sadistic Henry Bowers and his goons still haunt the streets of the new cinematic Derry. Henry still has it out for Ben, allowing Ben to meet Bill and Eddie, although they aren’t building a dam this time. Although the film is over two hours long, it still doesn’t quite capture how much of a constant threat Henry is for the Losers in the book. He pops up every now and then, the iconic rock fight still happens, but the film definitely uses its time to establish Pennywise as a constant threat instead. Which certainly isn’t a bad thing.
Despite a reduced presence, Henry’s character is still fairly close to the book, and while his father has been upgraded to an abusive policeman, rather than a farmer, Henry still gets his revenge courtesy of a gift wrapped knife from Pennywise. One major exception, which will likely be addressed in the sequel, is that Henry seems to meet his end during the film’s final showdown with Pennywise. He also doesn’t see Victor or Belch get murdered by Pennywise, and doesn’t take the fall for the child murders.
Patrick Hockstetter also appears in the film, but he meets his end early on in the sewers, without any hint of his terrifying serial killer behavior that is described so chillingly in the book.
That Controversial Sex Scene
One of the more outrageous scenes in King’s novel occurs just after the Losers defeat (or so they think) Pennywise as children. The kids begin to bicker and splinter apart after the traumatic event, and find themselves lost in the sewers. As a way to bond them back together, as the book continually stresses the significance of their circle of seven, Beverly undresses and offers herself to the group. It’s a weird and wildly-inappropriate scene, the impact of which even King didn’t fully anticipate.
“I wasn’t really thinking of the sexual aspect of it,” King explained via a messageboard on StephenKing.com. “Intuitively, the Losers knew they had to be together again. The sexual act connected childhood and adulthood.”
Still, it’s a scene that thankfully didn’t make the cut, and “It” director Andy Muschietti explained to Collider why it wasn’t necessary. “In the end, the replacement for it is the scene with the blood oath, where everyone sort of says goodbye,” Muschietti said. “Spoiler. The blood oath scene is there and it’s the last time they see each other as a group. It’s unspoken.” So there you have it.
There’s so much the film gets right with Bev, and so much it bungles. The film turns Bev into a damsel-in-distress of sorts, allowing Pennywise to kidnap her as a means of luring the Losers into his lair. Much like Audra years later, Bev sees the deadlights and floats in a catatonic state — until a kiss from Ben wakes her up. It’s a cheap ploy that stands out as one of the film’s few glaring mistakes. Bev was always brave enough to go into the sewers, she didn’t need to be taken there as bait.
Bev’s uncomfortable relationship with her father is very much present, although the film weighs heavily on the creepy, inappropriate, and incestuous overtones, and skips the violently abusive relationship described in the book. Bev also deals with slut-shaming, which adds an interesting layer to her character, and of course, the love triangle between Ben, Bill, and Bev is very much present. It will be interesting to see how the sequel deals with her character’s abusive marriage, or if this will also be changed going forward.
Still despite the changes, “It” pretty much nails King’s classic the film seems more than likely to be a box office smash this weekend, while meeting the expectations of the book’s biggest fans.