There was a point in time when “Stephen King horror flick” truly meant something. With movies such as Carrie, Pet Sematary, Salem’s Lot, Cujo, and Children of the Corn, to name but a few, King has had a hand in some of the scariest cinema of the past 40 years. One of those so-scary-it-will-traumatize-a-child movies was the made for tv classic, IT. Telling the story of seven children whose lives are changed by an ancient creature that feeds on children and disguises itself as the scariest clown ever put on film, IT is one of the scariest King movies ever made. For years, talks of a reboot have made the rounds and now, the reboot is alive and kicking at New Line, but not without issues. The biggest issue was the recent and unexpected departure of director Cary Fukunaga. In a new interview with Variety, the True Detective director has opened up on why he left. Turns out, not everyone is on board for an even scarier trip to Derry, Maine.
Die-hard fans of Stephen King, without fail, refer to the 1990 miniseries, IT, when providing evidence that King is the undisputed, um, “King of Horror”. While this is fair evidence to bring into the conversation (after all, how many people are plagued with coulrophobia thanks to Pennywise?), the fact is that over the years, as King allowed more and more people to take control of the films based on his works, King’s movies have lost a bit of steam. Sure, the dramatic films based on his work are still gold (Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, The Green Mile, etc.) but when it comes to the scares, most King films have opted to use low budget, silly scares that induce more eye rolls than screams. Remember The Langoliers? How about Golden Years? Huge fan of Sleepwalkers? Okay, that last one was a bit of silly fun, but you get the picture. When Fukunaga took up the reins of the IT remake, fans were cautiously optimistic and hoped the director would do the film justice. As it turns out, according to new comments made by the director, it appears that fans were right to be optimistic, as Fukunaga had a brilliant vision for the remake:
The main difference was making Pennywise more than just the clown. After 30 years of villains that could read the emotional minds of characters and scare them, trying to find really sadistic and intelligent ways he scares children, and also the children had real lives prior to being scared. And all that character work takes time. It’s a slow build, but it’s worth it, especially by the second film. But definitely even in the first film, it pays off.
Those that are familiar with the novel, as well as the Dark Tower series, are very tuned in to the fact that Pennywise isn’t a clown at all: he is actually a very ancient creature (and an enemy of The Turtle, Maturin) who disguises himself as a clown to lure children to him. The fact that Fukunaga seems to have grasped this issue, at least to the point that he is “more than just the clown”, and planned on using this information to bring true, psychological terror to the screen truly indicates that this was the right person for the job. So, what happened over at The House That Freddy Built to cause such a great director to walk away from an even greater vision?
I was trying to make an unconventional horror film. It didn’t fit into the algorithm of what they knew they could spend and make money back on based on not offending their standard genre audience. Our budget was perfectly fine. We were always hovering at the $32 million mark, which was their budget. It was the creative that we were really battling. It was two movies. They didn’t care about that. In the first movie, what I was trying to do was an elevated horror film with actual characters. They didn’t want any characters. They wanted archetypes and scares. I wrote the script. They wanted me to make a much more inoffensive, conventional script. But I don’t think you can do proper Stephen King and make it inoffensive.
Considering the subject matter, i.e. a child killing creature disguised as a clown, it is easy to see how the script could quickly become offensive. Especially, if Fukunaga was trying to keep in a certain scene in the book in which the children at the center of the story decide to solidify an oath by having the male children take turns having sex with the female child at the center of the story, to her approval. Yes, King wrote about six 12 year old boys gang-banging a 12 year old girl, who willingly takes them on, even going so far as to describe her first orgasms. Yes, there is definitely plenty of room for the script to become “offensive” but other than this scene, which could easily be cut without losing any integrity to the story, it is likely that Fukunaga planned on taking the children’s deaths to a more graphic place, which could make some viewers uneasy.
New Line has never been accused of producing only the finest in horror entertainment, especially after removing some essential elements when rebooting Nightmare on Elm Street and turning Jason into an angry pot farmer in the Friday the 13th reboot. Generally speaking, New Line has produced some fun but not necessarily scary films over the past 10 years and there is a good chance that most filmmakers that sign on to work with them are familiar with their patterns when it comes to what kind of movies the studio would like to make. Still, considering this wonderful path that Fukunaga could have taken audiences, it is a bit strange that New Line dug their heels in the sand on this one.
It was being rejected. Every little thing was being rejected and asked for changes. Our conversations weren’t dramatic. It was just quietly acrimonious. We didn’t want to make the same movie. We’d already spent millions on pre-production. I certainly did not want to make a movie where I was being micro-managed all the way through production, so I couldn’t be free to actually make something good for them. I never desire to screw something up. I desire to make something as good as possible.
For those that missed it, Fukunaga’s original concept art from Vincenzo Natali truly took Pennywise to a new place and it is easy to get an idea of his vision.
As of now, Mama director Andres Muschietti is rumored to be taking the seat left by Fukunaga, and Fukunaga is breathing a sigh of relief that the studio has decided to completely rewrite the script that he left on the table.
We invested years and so much anecdotal storytelling in it. Chase and I both put our childhood in that story. So our biggest fear was they were going to take our script and bastardize it. So I’m actually thankful that they are going to rewrite the script. I wouldn’t want them to stealing our childhood memories and using that. I mean, I’m not sure if the fans would have liked what I would had done. I was honoring King’s spirit of it, but I needed to update it. King saw an earlier draft and liked it.
Whether or not the newer script will work or not is still to be seen but one thing is clear: Stephen King fans, nay, HORROR fans across the world just lost out on what could have been the scariest adaptation of a King novel ever put on screen.
What do you think of Fukunaga’s vision? At this point, should the reboot soldier on, or should New Line just let the dead stay dead?