A+E: Steven King’s classic “It” is scary good.
“It.” “The Shining.” “Carrie.” “Misery.” “The Dead Zone.” Twenty years ago Stephen King was the undisputed master of the horror genre, the writer who collectively thrilled us by exploiting our deepest fears and gave us goosebumps in places we didn’t know we had. He virtually gave birth to the whole scary clown trope with the immortal sewer- dwelling creature Pennywise. But now, even with the “It” reboot ready to haunt theaters, some suggest his crepuscular legacy may have lost some of its steam. Indeed, none of his recent books made the Barnes and Noble best horror list for 2016 or the most anticipated list for 2017. Certainly recent novels such as “End of Watch” and “Gwendy’s Button Box” didn’t generate the buzz and accolades his stories usually do. So, don’t sic Cujo on us, but we’re wondering if King, one of the most adapted authors of all time, is still the
reigning king of scares.
Of course, in terms of sheer shiver-inducing volume, it’s hard to argue against the significance of King, who has written so many stories you have probably forgotten some of them. Remember “Creepshow?” Bonus points if you recall “Salem’s Lot.”
And when it comes to television and big-screen adaptations, King remains as ubiquitous as ever. “It,” which is already anticipating a sequel, is just one of six King projects slated for 2017. There’s also “The Mist” and “Mr. Mercedes” wafting onto television and “The Dark Tower” casting shadows in cinemas. “Gerald’s Game” and “1922” are set to debut on Netflix in the fall. A “Children of the Corn” remake is also sprouting up.
Certainly devotees of the King genre are resolute in their loyalty.
“Stephen King has never stopped being the king of horror. Today, he’s more important than ever. His legacy will endure long after he’s gone,” said John Squires, a writer for the Bloody Disgusting website. “King has remained prolific and relevant for over 40 years. He’s the first face I’d carve into the horror Mt. Rushmore.”
“Stephen King still rules,” as horror aficionado and movie writer Brett Gallman puts it.
Indeed, Squires, and many fellow fans, take umbrage that anyone would have the temerity to cast doubts on King’s place in the pantheon of spookiness.
“I’m trying to figure out how that’s even a question given everything Mr. King has done for the genre, let alone his hulking body of work,” said Monica S. Kuebler, contributing editor to the horror website Rue Morgue.
Others fear his genius for menace has been undermined over time by the commercial pressures of Hollywood, which often puts profit before art. The less said about “The Dark Tower,” the better.
“His early originality spawned a coven’s worth of great films such as ‘Carrie,’ ‘ The Shining,’ ‘Christine,’ ‘ The Dead Zone,’ ‘Firestarter,’ and a few others,” said former Berkeley Pacific Film Archive curator Steven Seid. “But in that period post‘Misery,’ it seemed as though there was now an vampiric industry that couldn’t help but suck the blood out of the King corpus, making it anemic at best. Now TV shows like ‘Under the Dome’ and ‘The Mist’ are just the death throes of a formidable literary enterprise.”
While it may seem unfair to judge a novelist for the TV shows and movies their work inspires, many horror aficionados now feel that King’s body of work has taken on a life of its own. They see the movies, books and TV shows as part of the same canon.
For many of these fans, it’s always been King’s embrace of subtlety over schlock that helps his stories endure. When the creeps peter out and the jump-scares rise, the horror is diminished.
For the record, the horror icon has given this “It” remake, which stars Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, his blessing. As the author recently told Bloody Disgusting, “I had hopes, but I was not prepared for how good it really was. It’s something that’s different, and at the same time, it’s something that audiences are gonna relate to. They’re gonna like the characters. To me, it’s all about character. If you like the characters… if you care… the scares generally work.”
To be sure, his most terrifying tales are spiked with the deliciously dreadful knowledge that despite whatever beasts may lurk in the shadows, the main thing we need to fear is usually human nature. The demons within are always more threatening than any supernatural villain.
“The aspects that distinguish King’s work are the characters and storytelling, more than the scares. I think people have become anesthetized to scares in general with the proliferation of over-thetop violence and gore in the genre,” said Halfdan Hussey, head of the Cinequest Film Festival. “Now things that used to be scary are laughed at in the movies. I think King’s legacy will continue because of his capacity to tell stories with incredible characters rather than the scarefactor that perhaps made him famous.”
In “Carrie,” we relive the horrors of high school, the bloodthirstiness of peer pressure and the paralysis of wanting to fit in. In “Gerald’s Game,” a sexual fantasy gone wrong releases a long repressed childhood trauma.
In “It,” the bullied kiddos known as “The Losers Club” must grapple with the end of childhood. They confront the dawning realization that no matter how much their parents love them, there is no shield from the dangers of life. The monster skulking in the sewers is a metaphor for the chilling truth of coming of age.
Master of horror Stephen King
From left, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard and Jack Dylan Grazer try to avoid the perils of Pennywise and growing up in the remake of Stephen King’s “It.”
Stephen King’s “Dark Tower: The Gunslinger” was turned into a movie that was released this summer. More than 50 of his works have been adapted into film or TV shows.