Is 'It' the Most Frightening King Adaptation Ever?

There's no question about It — the horror film is a bona fide hit. 

Scaring up a massive haul at the weekend box office, director Andy Muschietti's adaptation of Stephen King's 1986 novel is the most successful September opening in history and it's due in large part to the chemistry of the film's young cast, its nostalgic setting and, above all, the Bill Skarsgard's horrifying performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

Over the past three and a half decades, adaptations of King's works have thrilled, touched and enthralled audiences worldwide, with over 50 adaptations made. From classic horror films like Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and Tobe Hooper's Salem's Lot to Oscar contenders like Frank Darabont's Shawshank Redemption, King's novels and short stories have resonated with audiences on many levels. However, perhaps none have been as viscerally frightening and bone-chilling as this year's It.

Breaking down exactly what made the film, which is the second adaptation of King's work following the 1990 ABC TV miniseries, such a horrifying success, The Hollywood Reporter's Patrick Shanley and Pete Keeley discussed the chemistry of the cast, the major scares, Skarsgard's standout performance and everything else that made It float too.

Pete Keeley Stephen King’s done something like 50 films and this is the best opening weekend.

Patrick Shanley Which is astonishing, right?

Keeley Yeah. Suffice to say, It easily shattered the King record. I personally think that it’s going to be a phenomenon.

Shanley This has kind of been the year of Stephen King. Earlier we had a not as well received King adaptation of the Dark Tower. We also had TV adaptations, The Mist and Mr. Mercedes. For me, personally, this is the best one I’ve seen since possibly Shawshank.

Keeley I think that the whole thing about Hollywood, the box office going down, what do we need to do to get people to the theater? You have to do movies like this. I love Shawshank, I love Stand by Me. I don’t need a 40-foot screen to enjoy those movies. I saw this in a screening room at Warner Bros. I can’t wait to go see this in a crowded theater. It’s just relentless and terrifying. I liken it to when I first saw the original Nightmare on Elm Street.

Shanley You and I had very different screening experiences. I was lucky enough to attend the premiere and watch it in the massive TCL Chinese theater with a big crowd. I got to experience it sort of like a haunted house. There were big scenes where you’d look out at a sea of people and everyone was squirming about and giggling. This is an experience. Watching this film is something you feel. It dogs you. It’s relentless. Every time the music drops or a kid is isolated, you just kind of cringe in anticipation.

Keeley We should talk Pennywise for a little bit. I was 9 when the original miniseries came out with Tim Curry playing Pennywise. He was the best part of the film and pretty iconic. I didn’t even know who Bill Skarsgard was before this. Curry was much more of a clown, Skarsgard is much more overtly creepy and sinister. Almost to the point where in the first scene with Georgie it’s almost believable with Tim Curry being a clown in the sewers, but with Skarsgard’s Pennywise if I was Georgie I’d be getting the hell out of there immediately. He’s just great.

Shanley The setting really comes alive. This is now set in the ‘80s and it feels like the ‘80s. It feels very familiar after the phenomenon of Stranger Things last year. Its fun and very Stand By Me. But Skarsgard is not a bit like Curry’s Pennywise. There’s no charm to him. He’s very much a demon the whole time. He’s very much fueled by hatred and his desire to eat children. The chemistry of the cast is also so strong. These kids all have such a great chemistry with each other. They created a real bond with these actors. It’s so much fun just to watch the film through the eyes of a child.

Keeley I think the only disappointment I’m feeling, mostly as someone who’s read the book, is that the source material has such potential to be a really great film outside of just a wonderful horror experience and I don’t think they quite achieved that here. The problem is that in the book is that the adults are the ones who really bear the brunt of Pennywise’s wrath so when you have just the kids’ half it seems pretty low stakes.

Shanley Would you say its the scariest King adaptation of all time?

Keeley I would, yes.

Shanley Me too. Even more so than The Shining.

Watch the full conversation in the video above.

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