A+E: Steven King’s clas­sic “It” is scary good.

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - MOVIES By Karen D'Souza kd­souza@ba­yare­anews­group.com

“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.

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