So far 2017 has been an absolutely phenomenal year for horror. We have astonishing indie gems Raw and It Comes At Night, brilliant box-office-buster political satire horror Get Out, a studio sequel that is far scarier than it has any business being with Annabelle: Creation and of course, there's It, which floated up from the sewers to break a whole bunch of box-office records, including scoring the highest opening weekend for a horror movie ever.
Outside horror, though, it's been a bit of a sketchy year, with big disappointment for several summer tentpoles (Wonder Woman is the exception).
But though most people admit that the best horror movies can be intelligent, funny, political, ground-breaking, entertaining and fun for all the family (okay, most of the family) while also bringing in a heap of money, somehow studios are still reluctant to treat them like blockbusters.
With the success of It though, that might just be about to change.
It has been treated much more like a blockbuster in its marketing and lead up to release than any other horror we can remember – and it seems to have paid off. While It is still a low-budget movie made for around $35m, it neither looks, nor feels like one.
You can watch It in IMAX for example. The Alamo Drafthouse did a 'clowns only' screening of It (thereby making the film into an event, as it did with Wonder Woman).
The star of the movie, Bill Skarsgard, a relatively unknown actor doing good but fairly low-profile work, appeared on big-ticket American talk shows Conan and Jimmy Kimmel. Websites are filled with articles about the man behind the clown – he seems to have become the internet's new boyfriend almost overnight in a way that is most reminiscent of Tom Hiddleston's star rise after his appearance as Loki in Avengers Assemble (and remember, he'd already done Thor by then).
None of this is accidental. While studios sometimes treat horror movies like dirty secrets, refusing to screen them to critics ahead of release, limiting the theatrical run, keeping publicity low-key, or hiding their horror light under a 'psychological thriller' bushel, It screened wide and early and never claimed to be anything but a horror.
But then, weirdly, when you watch it, It's actually not as scary as all that. It's a sheep in clown's clothing, if you like. Not so scary that people will be traumatised, not subversive, disgusting or controversial, It is a wonderful ghost train, a movie which promises to be a scary clown film, and is, but is really a mainstream coming-of-age tale which understands how much horror non-horror fans can cope with.
It's as concerned with character, story, subtext and emotional resonance as it is actual scares and so therefore isn't alienating to the uninitiated. If you've read the book and seen the '90s miniseries – great, you'll be happy. If you haven't – great, you'll be happy. The only group of people who seem to be unhappy are some horror fans who were expecting to be scared and weren't (and even most of those still admit it's a very enjoyable film).
This is reminiscent of how Marvel moved comicbook movies into the mainstream. Comicbook movies were already massive after X-Men, Spider-man and Nolan's Batman. But the start of the MCU made it clear that comicbook movies weren't niche or genre anymore, but WERE the mainstream. What was once geek culture now belonged to everyone.
By starting with Iron Man, which was a risk, they also set out a stall which said, "Never heard of Iron Man? That's alright, nor have most people" (unlike starting with, say, Hulk, which would have come with baggage, preconceptions, and a sense that if you hadn't read the comics you weren't in the club).
It has done the opposite and to the same effect. By choosing a very popular text published in 1986 and read by many people when they were young, and then setting the movie in the '80s, they've captured the perfect nostalgia hit for those in their mid thirties and up. Because the mini-series came out in 1990, they're getting familiarity and warm-fuzzies from a slightly younger audience.
By casting Finn Wolfhard and making the trailers look so conspicuously similar to Stranger Things (accidentally for the filmmaker perhaps, no way accidentally for the marketing team) they're bagging a younger audience still.
Unlike Iron Man the message is: "Okay, you don't like horror but you can watch this one. You know what this is".
It's not alienating – in fact It has captured exactly what horror should be – a communal event where crowds get together to hide behind their hands (but not too much).
It is not the first horror to be marketed well and make lots of money. The Conjuring and its ongoing expanded universe certainly seem equally comparable in scope to the MCU and DCEU. But they're still trapped slightly with a horror box that It may well spring right out of.
Chapter 1 was cheap, it's true, but look at the dream casting rumours for Chapter 2 – the story which concerns the adults. Jessica Chastain for Beverly. Chris Pratt for Ben. Paul Rudd for Richie, Chadwick Boseman for Mike, Christian Bale for Bill.
Okay, we know this isn't going to happen. But surely joining the second part of a project which has a massively successful first part, loved by critics and audiences alike, has got to hold an appeal for big name actors – particularly given the positive attention Bill Skarsgard has earned.
The time is right and this could be a turning point in horror. The moment where studios invest more in the genre and coax it into the mainstream. This doesn't mean dumbing down – the MCU is rarely accused of being dumbed down – it means scaling up. Bigger budgets, bigger stars, more care and attention paid to every single title, while Indie horror and arthouse horror should hopefully flourish from the genre's extended fan base. If this one floats, well maybe they'll all float too.
It is in cinemas now.
You Might Also Like
- Hollyoaks: 15 new spoiler pictures from the 'Who Killed Amy Barnes?' trial week as the suspects gather
- Coronation Street: 27 new spoiler pictures reveal Michelle Connor's stalker fury and Pat Phelan's panic
- EastEnders: 32 new spoiler pictures as a gas explosion, arson plan and shock shooting rock Albert Square