I’m a big fan of popular horror franchises. Particularly, I like one where a group of tweens ride around on their bikes sometime during the 1980s and fight supernatural beings that only seem to target their hometown. This group contains four boys, who are friends from the story’s beginning, and new allies they pick up along the way (including a girl with badass tendencies that stem from her tortured past with an abusive father figure). It also features a friendship with unspoken and possibly unrequited romantic undertones between Finn Wolfhard (“Supernatural”) and his short, nervous best friend. And, most importantly, it includes a found-family who come into each other’s lives at the right time and change one another for the better.
I’m a fan of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and Stephen King’s “It.” But when I tell people about my love for the two near-identical stories, I receive two very different reactions: “Oh, I love ‘Stranger Things,’ too!” and “Oh… I could never watch that.” And my question is, if you’re so capable of enjoying “Stranger Things,” what makes it so hard for you to give “It” a chance?
For starters, I’m sure having the name of a man whose least scary book is called “The Body” slapped on the front of every movie poster certainly doesn’t help to encourage non-horror fans to watch “It.” As the reigning champion of the horror genre, any association with King is bound to put an image of what to expect in a viewer’s mind: blood, guts and terror. What people often forget is that King didn’t just create the horrifying and disturbing “Carrie” and “The Shining,” but also the previously mentioned “The Body,” better known by its iconic movie adaptation’s title, “Stand by Me.” As much of a red flag as this author can be for any scaredy-cat, he’s not limited to one strength, and, as “It” and “Stand by Me” prove to us, he is not incapable of creating stories of the “Stranger Things” variety — ones filled with adventure and friendship that take precedence over the darker elements of their plots.
“Stranger Things” differentiates itself from “It” in the way that it’s marketed. Obviously, this is a King project — it’s supposed to look scary. But despite the similar levels of scare factor in “Stranger Things” and “It,” the former just doesn’t seem as terrifying. And I’m sure this has to do with the fact that while Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård, “The Devil All the Time”) the clown tends to be the face of the entire franchise despite not being one of the seven leads, each and every poster promoting “Stranger Things” contains the leading characters. Rarely, if ever, is a Demogorgon or another terrifying being of the “Upside Down” the sole feature of “Stranger Things” promotions. It seems to me that, despite their nearly identical messages and character dynamics, Netflix wants to highlight these tamer aspects of “Stranger Things” while still allowing the series to contain darker elements. Meanwhile, the “It” team wanted to highlight the darker elements while still allowing the film to contain tamer ones.
The R rating of the “It” movies might also be a red flag for viewers, signifying that this must be a terrifying movie. But something I noticed the first time I watched the movie was that, to my surprise, it really wasn’t. “It” may contain more jump scares, but in terms of gore and overall scare factor, “Stranger Things” is equal to, if not higher on the scale than the “It” franchise. I can’t say that seeing Pennywise attack someone is any harder to stomach than watching poor Bob (Sean Astin, “The Goonies”) be eaten alive by a pack of “demodogs.” So, why does “It” have the R rating that signals a scarier film, while “Stranger Things” holds onto the TV-14 rating? I genuinely believe that if “It” never contained the “f-bomb,” it would keep a PG-13 rating with its relatively tame level of horror. However, “Stranger Things”’ lack of “intense” swearing, and its lack of Richie Tozier’s (Finn Wolfhard) constant sexual innuendos, helps it keep a tamer rating than “It,” and therefore hold onto an illusion of a tamer level of horror.
I’m not a horror-obsessed person by any means; I’m simply a lover of coming of age stories, especially those that follow true friendship and contain strong comedic elements. But for whatever reason, despite their extremely similar plots, characters and themes, the world just doesn’t have the same approach to my two favorite scary stories. While people often look beyond the horror-related elements of “Stranger Thing”’ and through to the heart and soul of the series, “It’s” author, marketing and rating cause it to be undoubtedly and inseparably intertwined with the horror genre. So if you’re a “Stranger Things” fan patiently waiting for season five, don’t be too scared to dabble in the world of “It” while you wait — you won’t be disappointed.
Daily Arts Writer Olivia Tarling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.