IT special- Part 1: The origins of fear
It was on a cold, dark night some sixteen years ago when I picked up that ‘clown’ film from the dusty shelves of Kamran’s VHS rental store, the Pakistani Blockbusters. I won’t ever forget that feeling of nervous excitement. Being around 11 at the time, IT wasn’t something I was supposed to see and it made it even more exhilarating. My younger brother, 8, nervously watched by my side and I vividly recall that feeling of pure unadulterated fear taking hold. It was palpable like a living thing in the room beside us. The very idea of a white-faced clown stalking and devouring children sparked night terror and disturbed my sleep for some time after. Convinced IT was prowling the hallway outside my room at night as I lay there helpless, it’s only now I can reflect on the power of Tim Curry’s iconic turn as the ‘eater of worlds’. His lifelike portrayal of the evil dwelling in the sewers of Derry still sends shudders up the spine. That evil laugh, the hideous grin and the razor-sharp teeth reside permanently in the shadowy depths of the mind awakening every few years to torment again.
Seeing It gave birth to new fear. Fear that evil was very real. The idea that this ancient evil somehow knew my deepest, most secret fears made it personal. He wasn’t just masked killer on the rampage but an intelligent being that somehow could tap into the most primal truths. It preyed upon those adolescent insecurities and that naive vulnerability. If Big Bill could be tormented, then there was nothing keeping me safe. Especially given the fact that the adults of Derry were powerless and ignorant to the existence of this deranged monster stalking their children right beneath their very eyes. Were they just ignoring it? Or were they just as terrified as the kids? Adults were meant to be immune, fearless and capable of protecting us from any form of danger. It was this thought that ‘they were all in it together’ that gave IT the power to transcend the screen in the similar vein to Wes Craven’s dream demon Freddy Krueger.
It wasn’t until earlier this year that I finally plucked up the courage to read Stephen King’s seminal, brick-like novel. There’s real darkness in King’s epic, sprawling saga that spans generations of heartache caused by the sentient being beneath the streets. It became clear just how much of a departure the miniseries was from its source material. Would the series have had such an impact if I’d read the novel first? Probably not. King’s meditation on how time fades memory of the past and eats away at those dying flashbacks of friendship is devastating. But everything has its time and place. I was convinced back then that the clown was real and was after me and that feeling has never quite left me. The dread that what’s on screen might, just might, be real after all. Curry’s performance has stood the test of time and the new villain would need to conjure some of that devil to come anywhere close.