Since it’s release shortly before Halloween, the recent remake of Stephen King’s killer clown tale ‘IT’ has been smashing box office records. With record breaking profits on opening weekend and beyond, it was a matter of weeks until the sequel was unveiled to horror fans. The tale of outcast youth fighting for their lives against a force of darkness is, of course, nothing new. But has Hollywood missed the point of what makes Pennywise such a compelling and terrifying entity?
It’s been a year since the worldwide ‘killer clown’ hoaxes, mostly consisting of teenagers putting on a dollar store mask and running at cars making noises. Yet the fear of clowns is more widespread than ever, to the point more of us have seen one in a scary film than a circus or party. Images of the entertainer’s covered in soot attempting to put out fires in the days of the paraffin coated Big Top might have something to do with it. But for even the coulrophobia among us, I’ve yet to hear anyone say they were genuinely scared by IT. In response to the usual questions, they answer is always ‘no’. ‘No…but the kids are great’ ‘No, but it’s just like Stranger Things’ – but no all the same.
There’s no doubt that the young stars stole the show from the infamous dancing clown. Finn Wolfhard, making a name for himself in horror at a young age, is a fantastic actor. And judging by the reaction to IT, there is clearly a wealth of young talent about to descend upon horror. And for the betting among us, aside from visiting New Zealand Casinos, we are left to specualate as to how this will direct the films coming in the near future. Are we happy to sacrifice scares for character driven stories? Or will the trend leave many horror fans longing for the days when the victims were forgettable and the villain was the most memorable and likeable part of the franchise.
It’s impossible to ask these questions without looking at Stranger Things. The Netflix original series has surpassed all expectations, winning a place in horror history and being parodied by pugs the world over. Featuring a surreal version of purgatory, otherworldly creatures and owing a great deal the stories of Lovecraft – again the focus has been on the child characters. The eighties setting helps – evoking nostalgia among horror fans who lived through the era and see themselves in the bullied misfits. Perhaps horror audiences are confused by their willingness to root for the ‘good’ characters, and lack of resonation with the monsters. But they’re willing to sit through an entire series – something Freddy’s short lived TV career couldn’t muster.
It will be interesting to see if upcoming horror movies will follow suit – relying on their leading children rather than old fashioned spooks. It seems they may take the risk, that their audience will find fear in their desire to protect the young characters and their inability to do so. ‘Slenderman’ – set for 2018 release – may well see similar treatment, particularly when an associated real life crime involving children is more chilling than any folklore. Turning away from it’s reputation for horror-comedy, New Zealand also has some films of a similar vein set for release. In Enmity, a young woman faces a terrifying ordeal alongside five friends. It will be interesting to see if this is a film about five friends, or a crazed killer with five victims. Odds Hunter might not yet be taking bets, but the fan speculation is rife.
Children and horror are nothing new. We’ve seen children as hosts or bringers of evil, as victims, as messengers, as innocents. We’ve even seen teenage characters take on slashers singularly – or coming together to do so. And in films aimed at a younger audience, such as ‘Hocus Pocus’ the trend has existed forever. It simply remains to be seen how close children’s films and blockbuster horror will come, and how long they will remain so closely linked.