‘IT’: Here’s Everything the Hit Horror Movie Changed from Stephen King’s Classic Novel
Spoilers follow if you haven’t seen IT yet.
Stephen King‘s classic horror novel “IT” totals roughly 1,138 pages and covers 27 years of history in Derry, Maine, more or less. The doorstop of a book follows a group of friends known as the Losers Club both as kids in the 1950s and adults in the 1980s. In each decade, they band together to take on the fearsome foe referenced in the title. The story is brutal, unforgiving, envelope-pushing, and completely engrossing.
Andy Muschietti‘s live-action take on IT captures much of the magic and mayhem laid down in the pages of King’s original story, but since it’s truly an adaptation and not a translation, some changes were made along the way. Enough departures from the source material exist to encourage discussions about which version is better for years to come, especially since some changes were made for the better while others, arguably, were missteps.
Plenty of things from King’s acclaimed novel made their way into the movie. Nearly everything about Georgie, from the brand of wax his brother Bill used to seal his boat to his bloody, severed arm, was a direct translation. The same could be said for Henry Bowers’ sadism, Ben’s fondness for the Derry library, and Eddie taking a stand against his overbearing mother, along with the finer details found throughout. (Like a couple of turtle references for the King faithful).
The biggest change? The setting. Derry, Maine was still the location but setting the story in the 1980s rather than the 1950s drastically changed the design, lingo, and pop culture references. We’ve yet to see how this temporal shift will affect the follow-up film, IT: Chapter Two, but clearly the sequel story will be set in the 21st century. In other words, expect more changes in the future; for now, we’ll stick with what we know.
Most of the changes concern the Losers Club, a.k.a. Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), big-boned Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), comedian-in-training Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), neatnik Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff), the
historian hard-working Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer) and tomboy Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis). I’ll start by addressing them one by one before moving into other changes the film has made from the book:
Beverly gets a much-needed overhaul in the movie, which vastly improves on King’s arguably one-note depiction of the character in the book. Bev is still treated as the subject of both sexual attraction and abuse from just about every male character on screen, but she also suffers at the hands of her school’s “mean girls” early on in the picture. That’s a subtle but interesting wrinkle added to her character in the film and one that actually helps to flesh out Bev as a real, live person with her own struggles.
Bev also deals with the specific pressures of adolescence that only women have to handle. Themes of womanhood, sexuality, and puberty were always strong in the book, but Bev’s character gets a whole new exploration of these coming-of-age struggles in the film. There’s honestly enough thought given to this arc throughout the film to support a full-on feminist critique just dealing with Beverly’s role and portrayal. (Someone more versed in literary feminist critique than I am, please, I implore you, write a criticism from this perspective.)
But it’s not all great for Beverly when it comes to the movie’s changes: Despite retaining her fearless, heroic actions from the book (she saved the boys a number of times thanks to her marksmanship skills with a slingshot) she winds up being a “damsel in distress” captured by It in order to lure the boys into It’s lair where they save her, of course. Her catatonic, floating state does, however, give us a glimpse of It’s “dead lights”, one of the more mystical and celestial descriptions from the book.
Interestingly, the movie turns the sexual advances from Beverly’s widower father way, way up. In the book, Alvin Marsh is abusive, usually for strange reasons “because he cares about Beverly” (he cares a lot) but he’s also shown as appropriately affectionate at times; he also dies of mysterious causes well after the first encounter with It. In the movie, however, Beverly takes her father’s life in self defense when he attempts to sexually and physically assault her. This is a bold stance, but one that makes sense within the movie’s context since Beverly, who could honestly be considered the film’s co-protagonist since her arc is among the strongest, has a violent entry into womanhood, one that comes with confidence of being freed from the fear that plagued her throughout the rest of the film.
While Beverly gets a much-needed character expansion from book to movie, Mike gets the short straw. In the books, Mike talks to his father—who is dying of cancer—about his past experiences in the military and in Derry. It’s from his father that he learns much of Derry’s history and obtains old photographs as records to corroborate those stories. It’s also through his father’s stories that he first learns of the ancient evil known as It.
In the movie, Mike’s parents died in a house fire which he barely escaped; the memory of the event still haunts him. Clearly this is a change from the book. Even Mike’s relationship with his grandfather is now altered. Rather than a nurturing, mentor-like experience, Mike gets more of a tough-love lesson about the real world; you’re either the butcher or the cattle, basically. All well and good for sucking it up and getting the job done, but not very useful in figuring out the nature of It.
Mike was the local history buff in the book, but the movie shifts this trait to Ben. Also in the book, Mike encountered It while investigating the ruins of the exploded Kitchener Ironworks where It takes the guise of a giant bird. This last part was wisely left out of the movie’s adaptation since it was always rather silly, and the decision to have Mike’s burned parents haunt him throughout the film was a much more effective one.
Unfortunately, the racial tension between the Bowers family and the Hanlon family was pretty much absent in the movie. This family feud went back at least one generation in the books, though it fell to the younger Bowers and Hanlon to carry on as both kids … and likely as adults. (Perhaps this will come into play in the sequel, possibly when we learn more about the house fire since Henry, curiously, comments on it when taunting Mike in the movie.)
Another change was Mike’s weapon of choice. Instead of the Losers bringing a slingshot to battle It–which Beverly wields in the book, armed with silver slugs crafted by Ben–Mike brings the slaughterhouse’s captive bolt pistol to use against It instead. Interesting change and the best use of the weaponized tool since No Country for Old Men.
Oh, Ben. I’m delighted that Muschietti and casting director Rich Delia did such a fantastic job at choosing the young actors for the Losers Club and the Bowers Gang. They easily could have aged up the characters (despite the book’s clear descriptions) or shied away from their physical characteristics, but I’m happy to say they did not.
That’s not to say all personality traits survived the adaptation process. Ben was obsessed with the Derry library in the book, but more for architectural and structural reasons than the books it contained. The fact that it offered sanctuary from bullies, however, was pretty consistent in both versions.
In the book, it’s Ben’s engineering aptitude helps the Losers build a dam in the Barrens as well as their impressive underground hideout. The things he’s able to build seem to appear before his eyes as if fully formed while they are too complex for the rest of his Loser friends to grasp. Since the movie pretty much abandoned any craft-making or fort-building–more on that later–Ben’s book strengths would have been largely useless, necessitating the change to a bookish historian. (Sorry, Mike.)
As for the interactions with It, Ben’s first run-in with the title terror in the book was at the town’s canal. He watched as one of the infamous red balloons floated toward him against the wind. Distracted, he was quite surprised to find that Pennywise the Dancing Clown had transformed into a mummy and had nearly dragged Ben down into the frozen water. This mummy is only referenced briefly in the film, but at least the scene is a nod to the original source of fear for Ben.
Eddie’s hypochondriac nature and rapid run-downs of possible perils and side-effects throughout the movie were a delight. The decision to make him the group’s medic, however, was a strange one considering he’d probably have an aversion to blood. His familiarity with Keene’s pharmacy made sense though considering that he has been picking up his asthma medication here for as long as he can remember.
It’s here that another change from the book occurs. Though Eddie eventually learns that his asthma medication is a placebo, in the book it’s actually the pharmacist Mr. Keene himself (likely under the sway of It at the time) who tells Eddie the truth, not a classmate. The revelation was meant to shake Eddie up a bit and make him distrust authority figures more than before, but in the movie, it’s just an excuse for a mean girl to pick on the boy and write LOSER on his cast. (Speaking of that, wouldn’t it have been sweeter if someone else in the group had changed LOSER to LOVER, and not Eddie himself? Oh well.) Either way, the event actually encourages Eddie to stand up for himself and shut down his overbearing mother.
But speaking of that cast, Henry Bowers and his gang actually broke Eddie’s arm in the book, while it’s a fall in the Neibolt House that does it in the movie. The change certainly raises the stakes as far as the danger posed by It is concerned, but the book does a real number on the reader by making the very personal violence between the kids visceral and disturbing. Still, not a bad way to include the “bad break” for Eddie, which may be revisited in the future…
As for It, Eddie’s encounter with the leper at the House on Neibolt Street is terrifying but decidedly less sexually tinted than the one in the books. There the leper offered to “blow” him for a dime, a nickel, and eventually for free. Too strong, even an R-rated cut of It, apparently.
In both the book and the movie, Stanley was always the character that felt the thinnest for me. He’s supposed to be the group’s most skeptical member, a fastidious kid whose only other distinguishing characteristic seems to be that he’s Jewish. This is enough for the Bowers Gang to pick on him, of course.
Unfortunately, one of Stanley’s two most defining moments from the book was given to Bill in the movie. Despite his skepticism, it’s actually Stan who uses the shard of a broken glass bottle to cut the Losers’ palms for their blood oath, not Bill. (We’ll have to wait until the sequel to find out if his other memorable moment is kept intact.)
In the book, Stan’s hobby is bird-watching, which sounds pretty quaint and in no way useful when it comes to fighting fear itself, but it actually helps the Losers Club out in a number of ways in the book. This is dropped completely in the movie, probably for good reason. (“Birds in horror” only ever really worked for Hitchcock.)
Stan’s encounter with It in the book had nothing to do with his bar mitzvah or a twisted woman playing the flute. Instead, it took place at the Derry Standpipe, a sort of tower capping the town’s water supply. In the book, Stan became trapped here with the “dead ones”, walking corpses of those who had disappeared over the years. Stan managed to escape thanks in part to his love of birds (don’t ask). The Standpipe is briefly seen in the movie, however, and the floating “dead ones” may be referenced by the spiral of corpses found in It’s lair at the movie’s end.
Richie has long been the group’s jokester, always quick with a one-liner and rarely short on words. Wolfhard’s portrayal of Richie was spot-on in the movie, though some of the character’s finer points didn’t carry over from the book.
Most of those changes revolve around Richie’s encounters with It. In the movie, he’s the last one to see It when Pennywise takes over the slide projector and bursts through the wall in terrifying fashion. In the book, however, Richie notices that the pictures are moving in Bill’s family photo album when he sees Georgie smile at him. This is one of those moments that the kids, collectively and frustratingly, keep to themselves until it becomes clear to each of them in turn that they’re not just seeing things and every one of their friends has also encountered Pennywise in various forms.
The things Richie sees in the book are among the strangest shapes that It takes on. That Paul Bunyan statue shown in the movie? Yeah, it came to life and chased Richie in the book. Richie also fears the titular creature from “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” which chases him and Bill outside of the house on Neibolt Street. So, now Pennywise’s brief transformation into a wolfman creature makes a bit more sense, huh?
The ostensible, de factor leader of the Losers Club, Bill is quite capable in both the book and the movie, despite his obvious stutter. I’m thrilled that they kept that aspect of the character in the movie even though it wasn’t quite as big of a point of frustration for Bill as it was in the books. (“He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.” I love that they included this, though it probably confused some casual viewers.)
Bill’s focus in the movie is on finding his brother, dead or alive. An interesting addition here was Bill using his dad’s blueprints (and his hamster’s extensive tube setup) to recreate the Derry sewer system; nice touch, though it would have been cool to see Bill working on that project with one of the other Losers. In the books, however, he’s well aware that Georgie is dead and, instead, focuses his efforts on surviving the summer with his friends.
One of the tools that keeps Bill safely out of the clutches of It (for a while) is Silver, his trusty, rusty bicycle. The bike has an epic mythology built up around it in the book but it’s left to a couple quick reference shots and a one-liner in the movie. It’s okay, Silver, I’m sure Bill will take care of you for (27) years to come.
While in the movie, Bill ends up wielding Mike’s captive bolt pistol to put an end to It, in the book, he packed his own father’s PPK .380 pistol. Perhaps a real gun in the hand of the movie’s 11-year-old hero was too much for the studio to sign off on, but Bill was more than willing to take up arms when he needed to. What’s strange is that, in the book, he didn’t really need to resort to physical violence. The other mythology not glimpsed in the movie is Bill’s involvement in the so-called “Ritual of Chūd”, which allows him to temporarily defeat It through a sort of psychic battle of wills, no guns involved. Only “mind bullets.”
Henry Bowers’ over-the-top sadism in the movie was, believe it or not, a bit toned down from his behavior in the book. Henry’s realistic violence is often more terrifying than the other-worldly “fear magic” conjured by Pennywise since it hits much closer to home. The movie leaves the explanation of Henry’s anger issues up to subtext with the exception of a scene between him and his father; that’s really all you need to get the point across, but King’s writing lays out generations’ worth of abuse and the rage cycle it encourages.
In the book, Henry’s dad Oscar “Butch” Bowers is a military veteran who was relieved of his duties. His long feud with William Hanlon and his family included such notable events as Butch killing William’s chickens and painting a Swastika on his property, for which Butch had to sell his beloved car to pay for the damages. The feud temporarily stopped when William held Butch at gunpoint and stood his ground. Psychotic and abusive, Butch Bowers’ violent and racist tendencies were passed onto his son, who took out his own rage on the Losers Club.
Henry terrorizes the Losers throughout both stories, but it’s their final confrontation (at least as far as their childhood selves are concerned) that gets a change in the movie. In the book, Henry leads his remaining bully pals into the sewers after the Losers, rather than going it alone. He manages to survive and escape, but goes insane and is committed to an asylum. (I’ll explain why below.) The movie leaves it ambiguous whether or not Henry survives his final fight with Mike, so we’ll have to wait until the sequel to see how that all shakes out.
Let’s take a look at Bowers’ boys to see how they changed from the book to the movie:
Victor Criss (Logan Thompson) is the smartest of Bowers’ crew, but he almost joins up with the Losers in the book. Unfortunately, he sides with Bowers and tracks the Losers through the sewers where he is soon beheaded by It in the form of a Frankenstein’s monster. (Yep.) Wisely, this was changed for the movie; Victor basically acts as one of Henry’s lackeys throughout and doesn’t get much of an opportunity to distinguish himself.
Belch Huggins (Jake Sim) also heads into the sewers with Bowers in the book and, despite attacking It, is killed by the rarely seen tactic of severe facial mutilation. (It, the entity, also takes the form of Victor and Belch at other points in the book to torment and manipulate Henry.) In the movie, Belch also tags along with Henry, but he’s the one friend who pulls up a bit short once the Bowers boy starts carving into Ben’s stomach.
Patrick Hockstetter (Owen Teague) is far more twisted in the books: He has a refrigerator out in a junkyard where he traps small, injured animals and keeps them there until they die; he keeps a pencil box full of dead flies in school to show people; oh, and he murdered his infant brother by suffocating him. Yeah. (Patrick also gives Henry a handjob when they’re alone and offers to give him a blowjob, as well, for whatever that’s worth.) He’s killed by It when a swarm of flying leeches burst from the refrigerator, drain his blood, and drag him away. So even though he meets his end in the sewers in the film, it’s off-screen, far less gruesome, and much less deserving than his book version.
Picturesque Derry, Maine looks pretty much like you’d expect in the books once you take the 1980s aesthetic into account rather than a 1950s vibe. Personally, I wish the movie would have spent a little more time letting the town itself breathe and feel like a lived-in space rather than simply hopping from location to location, but this is nitpicking. (It may be more important to do so in the sequel, however…) So let’s take a look at some of those locations to see how they changed from book to movie:
The House on Neibolt Street:
While its rundown appearance is pulled right from the book (and readers’ imaginations), it’s even more of a house of horrors in the movie than it was in the novel. The book version featured the Leper chasing Eddie and the Werewolf coming after Bill and Richie, but the movie chose to pile a bunch of various scares in this house for an extended sequence that saw It splitting up the Losers. There’s a lot that goes down in this scene and Muschietti makes the most of it.
Later on in the book, the house is also the place where the Losers see It retreating into the sewers, but their actual entrance to It’s domain is through a pumping station in the Barrens. The movie, however, sees the Losers lowering themselves down after It into an old well in the basement of the house just before their final confrontation.
This area plays much more of a role in the book than it does in the movie. The film shows the kids playing in the quarry, but the book spends a lot of time in the town’s tract of land that contains Derry’s landfill, a gravel pit, and sewer-pumping stations, since it acts as a sort of overflow area for the town’s water supply. (Not really the best place to play, as the kids are told early on.)
Also in the book, the Losers dam up the water here and make an underground hideout that keeps them save from the town bullies, thanks to Ben’s engineering skills. This hideout also brings them closer together as friends and helps to give them insight into It’s nature and potential weaknesses. The movie avoids the hallucination scenes (wisely) and leaves It’s more celestial origin story off the screen. Will the sequel explore it? We’ll have to wait and see.
In the movie, as I mentioned above, the Losers enter It’s domain through an extraordinarily deep well in the basement of Neibolt House. In the books, however, the plot heads back to the Barrens before the Losers all went into the maze of sewer pipes together. (Yeah, there was no “damsel in distress saved by a kiss” in the book, at least not in the kids’ story. Perhaps Muschietti is setting up a parallel for the sequel, however.) Since the movie spent little time in the Barrens to begin with, it’s not surprising that the plot didn’t take them there to enter the sewer system.
The sewer pipes in the book also descend to impossible levels as the Losers try to pick their way through them. It’s lair isn’t some co-opted pump room but something else entirely, something deeper and more foreign than anything the Losers had ever seen before. That could have been an interesting wrinkle to add to the movie–along with It’s true form–but hopefully they’re saving it for the sequel.
But back to the sewers. This rather disgusting location is also the place that the book’s most controversial scene takes place. After surviving It but getting lost in the maze of pipes, Beverly engages in an orgy with all of the other boys. Intended by King as a way to strengthen their bonds and “clear their heads” in order to find their way out, this was wisely cut from the movie adaptation.
Did I miss any big changes from the book to the movie? Be sure to let me know in the comments!