It's all about the teenagers this week. By the end of the show I'd talked myself out of this being a 'wimmins' episode.
***Spoiler free ***
I wasn’t looking forward to the 2017 film version of It.
I’ve read the sprawling Stephen King novel many times, and always felt it was just too complex to be boiled down into a movie. I’ve never been a fan of the 1990s miniseries (mainly, it is true, because I couldn’t get my hands on it).
I didn’t see how there could be anything good about an even shorter screen adaptation, especially one directed by Andy Muschietti, who made the deeply disappointing Mama (2013).
It’s lovely to be wrong. Pretty much everything about the film is perfect. There’s not a single bad performance – the child actors are all brilliant. The cinematography is stunning, capturing that sweltering summer King wrote about so vividly. And Pennywise. Oh boy, Pennywise.
At the heart of It is Pennywise, the most malicious clown in literary history. When I read the novel as a teenager, a strange ecstasy used to come over me during the Pennywise interludes. He was a kind of fear-poem that sneaked around every logical barrier and … I don’t know… scared me and yet gave me something I needed.
It was Pennywise I was least looking forward to in the film adaptation. Because how could anyone capture that strange celebratory malevolence? Like I said, I haven’t seen the miniseries, but Tim Curry never looked particularly convincing to me.
Bill Skarsgard, however, is a revelation. He’s helped out a little with special effects – in particular, they play around with his size so that he’s just slightly too large. But on the whole it’s all Bill, pulling faces and throwing shapes and delivering his lines with a terrifying mad energy that actually does the book justice. Each time he appears, the film comes to joyous, terrifying life, just like the book used to do.
To my surprise, the next day Pennywise stayed with me. I felt as if he was following me around the streets. It was a good feeling.
It was as if Shirley Jackson's classic novel had been haunting me from the future.
I read about it some decades ago in Stephen King's Danse Macabre, and was desperate to get my hands on it, but it wasn't available anywhere in the UK at the time.
At some point I saw film of the book - 1963's The Haunting - and was reminded again of this maddening original text that was so acclaimed and yet unavailable.
Now, finally reading it in midlife, it's lived up to expectation. It really is that good.
A group of people gather in a haunted house to explore paranormal events. One member of the party, unstable Eleanor, gets sucked in deeper than she expected.
The Haunting of Hill House is so powerful I'm - almost - glad I didn't read it when I was an impressionable young woman. It would have been just one more reason to fear growing up... It would have made me see Eleanors all around me... and even worse I'd have seen Eleanor inside me. There's always one inside and that's why we find these characters so interesting.
But I also missed out one of the most compelling characters in literature and for that I'm sorry. As a writer of horror fiction, I'm particularly sorry. I'm intrigued that apparently Stephen King's iconic character Carrie was in part inspired by The Haunting of Hill House. Eleanor, Carrie - so maladjusted young women make good horror? Hmmm.... now do I know anybody like that? Have I got any stories in that vein? <scratches head emoticon>
Sour and sad and yet exhilarating in its mastery, The Haunting of Hill House is everything it's said to be.