Queerphobia

The new movie version of IT omits the queer themes–and the real homophobic horror

Oops, they did it again.

New Line Cinema’s new cinematic adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel IT screams into theatres September 8, minus some noteworthy baggage that should have queer folk and horror fans raising an eyebrow or two.

For those that haven’t read the book or seen the fine ABC miniseries from the 1990s, IT tells the story of a demonic clown named Pennywise plaguing the small town of Derry, Maine. In the 1950s, after a series of child murders, a group of kids decide to take on Pennywise, who feeds on human fear. The kids seemingly defeat Pennywise, only to have the demon clown reappear 27 years later.

The new film version of IT focuses on the childhood portions of the novel (reset in the 1980s), possibly because of the popularity of the King-inspired Stranger Things (actor Finn Wolfhard, of Stranger Things fame, also plays a leading role here), and probably because Warner Bros. yearns to stretch the novel into franchise territory with a sequel focusing on the adult years. Jettisoning the adult segments gives the new movie the advantage of a longer runtime, allowing for a richer story. However, the movie also loses one of the most interesting elements of the novel: a queer subplot.

Related: Colton Haynes–Being an openly gay actor in Hollywood is so F*ed up

Readers familiar with Stephen King’s work no doubt recognize that queer themes reoccur throughout his bibliography, and fans of his cinematic adaptations will also note that the films almost always delete those themes in the adaptation process. The new IT proves no exception. In the novel, the kids doing battle with Pennywise also suffer bullying from a group of local teen boys, led by the sadistic Henry Bowers. Bowers, too, becomes an important figure in the adult years, assisting Pennywise in his reign of terror. The novel provides Henry with some fascinating origins for his cruelty. In addition to an abusive, bigoted father, Henry has a sexual encounter with one of his fellow bullies, a boy named Patrick. Filled with fear and shame, Henry’s self-loathing helps drive his torture of the local kids. Henry also blackmails Patrick into submission, threatening to share details of a sexual encounter with the town.

Now, the omission of the Henry-Patrick sexual relationship may seem like a minor deletion in a film full of big special effects and a creepy clown. But removing the detail from IT speaks to a larger issue. For all the supernatural elements of King’s novel, the underlying theme focused on the destructive natures of fear and violence. Pennywise feeds on fear, and to some extent, so does Henry. Unlike the kids who fight back against Pennywise though, Henry succumbs to his fear, eventually going insane and becoming a tool of destruction. The novel further underlined this idea by exploring themes of racism, anti-Semitism and sexism—all of which also conspicuously disappear from the new film version.

For all the popularity of Pennywise, the real horror in the novel IT came from Henry Bowers and his simple human frailties. Driven by fear to violence, Henry became the tragic villain of the story. The new movie continues the long tradition of diluting the richness and social commentary of King’s work, thus robbing it of its haunting, frightening power. Omitting the subplot concerning homophobia, and indeed, the larger points about prejudicial and fearful attitudes, softens the impact of the story, reducing it from an unnerving horror epic to a clown jumping out and yelling “boo.” That the omissions also speak to the larger fear of Hollywood itself in confronting real-life horrors throbs with profound irony.

Here’s hoping the inevitable IT sequel retains King’s commentary about homophobia and bigotry in general; the themes continue in the portions of the novel dealing with the adult years. Otherwise, the filmmakers will rob a story about the nature of fear of its real horror.

Now that’s scarier than any demon clown.

IT crawls into theatres September 8.

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31 Comments

  • LanaBoy

    If I remember correctly, the queer /homophobic violence took place during the 80’s in the books, which means it would take place in the 90s/early 2000’s in the movie sequel, not during the time period when the Losers were children. So nothing has been omitted…not yet anyways. The homophobia was pretty important to Pennywise gaining power again, so it would be nice if the film addressed that topic in its sequel.

    • jrh311

      The hate crime took place 27 years after the kids fought It, so the next chapter will take place in present time. There was stuff about Henry Bowers that you must have forgotten. Don’t count on the hate crime being included in the next half. That’s a subject that’s faaar too deep for this new franchise. They talk about other kids going missing before “the losers” are brought together again, so most likely the next film will start with one of them.

    • trell

      Jrh311 is right. Patrick Hocksetter was in Henry Bowers’ gang, and he was created to be a sexually repressed ‘yes man’ to Bowers.
      Bearing in mind this was a novel written in the ’80s, and the children’s part is set in the late 50s, it does a good job of showing Patrick as a misfit who needs some sort of acceptance but who is also unhappy with himself & cannot form bonds. Throughout the novel, there are many references, but nothing too overt, about Patrick’s sexuality & repression.
      He has a crush on Henry Bowers (think of the sort of relationship that Le Fou has with Gaston in Beauty & the Beast, only nastier and grittier), and at one stage during the novel, gives him a hand job and offers to blow him. Bowers beats Patrick up and uses the encounter to blackmail & control Patrick.
      In my opinion, it was one of the things that really repulsed me about Bowers. He was set up as a villain, and he demonstrated anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny, narcissism, and a lot of other nasty traits, but these have been seen time and time again in fictional villains. Henry’s reaction to Patrick, and use of control over a pretty pathetic and needy person, was a very powerful character development in the book, addressing denial, repression and homophobia.

  • KaiserVonScheiss

    “They all float.” But I get the feeling this movie is going to sink like a rock. It just looks like shit.

    I don’t understand the need to remake things. They tend to fill remakes with crappy CGI and ignore the points of the original or just piss on it entirely. Remember the Clash of the Titans remake? It sucked balls (and not in a good way).

    However, it’s pretty typical for film/TV adaptions to skip stuff from the book. It’s just what happens when you change mediums.

    I’ve never read the book. I plan on getting to it at some point. I’ve only ever read one King book, and that was ‘Salem’s Lot.

    • Juanjo

      Kaiser Von Douchebag has not read the book nor seen the movie but never fear. He knows it is going to sink like a rock and “it looks like shit”. Why? Because he is a douchebag.

    • LanaBoy

      Its already broken Dead Pool’s R-Rated midnight premiere record and is predicted to bring in 70mil$ opening weekend, so I think its gonna be fine. And its at 89% on RT.

    • Neville

      Kaiser, PLEASE do not presume to speak for all about this movie being made-it’s another adaptation of a novel, and people have a right to do another version of It if they want to.

    • DJRM

      Clearly, you haven’t seen any of the exceptional trailers or know anything about this film.

      It looks incredible in the previews and the end result has proven to be even better than expected.

      Utter brilliance.

    • KaiserVonScheiss

      I’ve seen a few of the trailers, and thought it looked like shit. I just figured it would be a flop like a lot of other remakes.

      I kind of want to see it now, to be honest.

  • JPDonahue

    I just got home from seeing it (IT). It’s pretty fantastic!
    KaiserVonScheiss just wants attention. Can’t have the internet without trolls.

  • jrh311

    This movie is about as deep as a puddle. There’s no reason for them to add serious drama just for this tiny aspect of a side character. Not to mention, the movie is far from a faithful adaptation of the book. Hell, Georgie just goes MISSING in this movie. This just really isn’t surprising and not even worth being upset about.

    • JPDonahue

      You must have seen a different cut than I saw today. Georgie didn’t just go missing when I saw it!

    • jrh311

      He was attacked and dragged into the sewer. In the book neighbors came running out when they heard his screams and he died in the street. My point is that this adaptation is not very faithful to the source material except in a very general way: creepy clown scaring killing kids.

  • oddchild1

    So in this article we’re upset they took out the underage jerk off scene where one of the bullies offers the other a blowjob and is witnessed by a horny 12 year old girl who is scared if she is caught she will be raped but the thought of it makes her hornier, that was in the book?

  • geb1966

    I’d suggest you actually get your facts straight before you launch into accusations of homophobia.
    1) You say “probably because Warner Bros. yearns to stretch the novel into franchise territory with a sequel focusing on the adult years.” That’s been the plan since the beginning. Split into two movies. Turning a 4 hour miniseries based on a 1100+ page book into a theatrical movie would not be feasible. Dividing it between the childhood era and the adult era made the most sense.
    2) As someone else pointed out, if you read the book, you’d know that the homophobic parts, as well as much of the racial stuff occurs during the adult years. Thus rendering your “concern” invalid.

    • Jaxton

      Has Warner Brothers ever made a movie with male homosexuality in it? Even one? Doubt it.

  • jjose712

    Let’s be honest here, It has some gay content but It’s a novel with more than 1000 pages, the gay bar storyline is cute but it’s not really relevant (it will be one of the first things that’ll i cut if i was the director) it’s not directly linked to the main storyline.
    And of course, i can live without the gay teen psycho storyline too.

    I liked the book, and King often has secondary gay characters in his novels, but the “gay content” is really small for such big novel, so it’s not surprising it’s not there (i didn’t expect to be there).
    This is not like other times where Hollywood skipped an important gay storyline or a main gay character

    • Jaxton

      You are being too kind to Hollywood. Hollywood hates male homosexuality.

    • chris_clb614

      @Jaxton: unless it’s an Oscar contender (Brokeback Mountain, Moonlight, Call Me by Your Name(?))

  • He BGB

    Spoilers! Just saw it an hour ago. The scary parts are very good, very well done. My problem I suppose is that all the adults from parents to librarians are mean to kids or just crazy, and the kids are all heroes. Maybe it’s that way in the book? Even the girl is creeped out by the pedophile pharmacist AND her pedophile father. Also I hate when they have tween romance in horror movies. Only Hollywood does that ….pandering to a certain audience imo. Also the kids go towards scary dark places and don’t run immediately when the clown attacks them. They stand there! Not very logical but maybe they know fear is what it feeds on. They may leave out some social issues but there is alot of fat shaming. The fat kid gets brutally attacked by Henry but nobody reports it to an adult? Also the kids get hit in the head and all over with huge rocks but aren’t fazed in the least, get up and walk away. So to enjoy it you have to let your logical mind sleep and just enjoy the scares. Does King make a cameo in this one like he always does? Didn’t recognize him if he did.

    • oddchild1

      Actually in the book they have a tween gangbang in the sewers. So the tween romance is just the soft version of that.

  • paul dorian lord fredine

    yes, the adults are all oblivious/indifferent even mean in the book (the girls father, an example). until i see the movie i’ll make no further comment except if it doesn’t end like the book i’ll be very disappointed. the ending of the t.v. version (good and rather on point with the book) was sappy and totally TOTALLY different from the book and disappointing. granted, that might have to wait for part ll.

    • chris_clb614

      Compared to the miniseries, the IT movie made significant changes. The third act with Pennywise taking the form of each of the kid’s fears was an improvement- sorry if that spoils too much. One good thing about the movie- not one scene with them as adults.

  • Keebler ILF

    Bill Skarsgard’s performance as a vampire in Netflix’s Hemlock Grove was hypnotic (as was his brother Alexander’s vampire in True Blood). I wonder if he’s just as good in IT. I’ve only read two of King’s books; Pet Sematary, and The Stand. I had no idea that the IT book was so NC-17 rated. I’ll have to get it.

    What’s with all these scary clowns lately. People around the country reporting creepy clown sightings. American Horror Story has clowns again for season 7. And now IT. Kids today won’t have a lovable Bozo like my generation had.

    • 1EqualityUSA

      noclownsarelovable

  • TheRuh

    You want to see two underage boys jerking each other off? Is that what you’re into?

    And then what if they did put that in for some unfathomable reason? You would have complained that the writers of the film were equating gay sexual relationships with evil characters.

    Way to miss the point.

  • DJRM

    The subplot was not really necessary to the story, so ultimately, I am glad they didn’t bother pull focus by including it.

  • mhoffman953

    I just saw It. I didn’t like it at all. I had high hopes but it just wasn’t scary. Way too much unnecessary CGI, sometimes they focused on Pennywise too much in the shots which killed the spookiness. Pennywise could’ve been creepier if they would’ve given him more dialogue. The kid actors did really good. The house where Pennywise stays seemed too hokey and too stereotypical horror story, could’ve been more natural / real.

  • Jaxton

    Hollywood is terrified of male homosexual desire. It has an anti-homosexual filter. Everybody knows that.

    Liberal Hollywood is not so liberal after all.

  • Jaxton

    Has New Line Cinema ever done a movie with male homosexual themes? Doubt it.

    Hollywood puts almost all its movies through a filter that is designed to remove themes that are considered box office negatives. One of these is male homisexuality.

    From screen writers to directors, Hollywood is one big homophobic cesspool.

  • lcandela123

    We saw the movie last night. Had a lot of horror movie cliches.

    Hey kids! I have a great idea! Let’s all go into the creepy haunted house with the kid-eating monster, and then split up!

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