Monday, 15 August 2022

Your worst nightmare isn't clowning around

Your worst nightmare isn't clowning around

IT can seem as though there’s almost too many to keep track of — but one Netflix series that has been busily making a dent in the popular imagination of late is Stranger Things.

Set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, in the Eighties, the first season focuses on the investigation into the disappearance of a young boy amid various supernatural events that start occurring around the town.

Everyone has their own set of pop cultural reference points, but as a child of the Eighties myself it was immediately apparent that Stranger Things had the work of the two Steves — King and Spielberg — embedded firmly in its DNA.

By some mysterious means of cultural osmosis the show’s creators have succeeded in capturing the glowing atmosphere of childhood innocence confronted with something “other” that characterised both E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Stand By Me (1986).

That same year, 1986, King published what was to become perhaps his most resonant tale on this theme.

By any standards, It was a beast of a book, telling the story of seven childhood friends drawn together by their outsider status. As they come to know each other better — giving themselves the self-mocking name “the Losers’ Club” — the friends gradually come to realise that each of them has had an encounter with a mysterious shapeshifting being notable for its ability to take the form of whatever they most fear.

Lacking any other name for this boogeyman — but knowing that it represents their worst nightmares come to life — they refer to the creature simply as “It”.

Following the success of King’s novel, a 1990 TV series was made starring Tim Curry in the title role — usually appearing in the guise of a clown called Pennywise.

At this point, I confess, I opted to steer clear. The magic of reading the book is that you can picture the monster however you wish.

Spielberg, making Jaws, found himself constrained by the special effects shark’s technical limitations. His subsequent decision to use it as sparingly as possible is one of the best known proofs of the maxim “less is more”.

In the age of untrammelled visual effects we now inhabit, this seems to be a lesson that is frequently disregarded.

Whether the makers of the feature film version of It that hits cinemas today (Friday) will be able to transcend this problem and cleave to what was most important in King’s novel remains to be seen.

Stranger things have happened, I guess.

Either way, it will be interesting to see whether today’s Netflix hit has in turn influenced the retelling of a tale that can be seen as a key plank in the materials out of which it was constructed.

It is now showing at Henley’s Regal Picturehouse.

Matthew Wilson

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