“BOO!”—Well, I bet that scared you. This bland word is wrongfully believed to correlate to our human ability to strike fear into those around us. When shopping for Halloween decorations, your eyes read and reread this word until you can no longer stand even the thought of it. Since we can dismiss the idea that someone jumping out from behind a corner and shouting “boo” will cause your toes to curl, the question arises of what will cause you to dread what is hiding under your bed or watching you from the dark enclosed structure of your closet. When I think of which fictional character has caused my irrational fear of the dark, Stephen King and his horrifying creation, Pennywise from his hit novel, It comes to mind first. Try to think of what made you lay awake staring at the slightly open crack of your closet for hours on end until you no longer could bear the thought of what lays beyond the darkness? Of course, this occurrence became less and less as you grew up because you realized that there was no glowing-eyed monster living with your neatly hung clothes in your childhood closet. However, that does not mean you do not wonder what hides in the darkness of your furnace room as you spend another Saturday night curled up on the sofa watching a classic Stephen King film. So the real question is: why are humans so attracted to being exposed to such acts of violence and terror caused by supernatural beasts? What causes us to seek another night of questioning thoughts and sweaty palms because you wonder if Freddy Krueger will find you in your nightmares?
Indulging in a few hours of Stephen King’s amazing and frightening works of fiction might sound like the perfect pastime. Reiterating back to the familiar word “boo,” you may be wondering what does sends shivers down the spine of even the most rigid realist. Although it is not always as simple as having your friend pop out and scare you, reading Stephen King’s beautifully horrific It certainly is a step closer to raising your pulse. It is an unsettling thought of how published horror writers know our deepest fears. According to John Carpenter, a horror filmmaker, “what scares me is what scares you. We’re all afraid of the same things. That’s why horror is such a powerful genre” (Clasen, 2012). It is soothing to come to the conclusion that others share some of your most irrational fears, but at the same time, it is fear inducing to know others can recognize what can scare you the most.
Clowns are known to be goofy performers’ with a big red nose, but they cause uneasiness to some. King took this collective fear and developed a novel that contains over a thousand pages and released three separate films that have hit the big screen, one in 1990 and two modernized adaptations in 2017 and 2019. King wasted no time and introduced the gory scene of Georgie Denbrough having his armed ripped from his body only to be dragged away by Pennywise within the first 300 pages of the novel and the first few minutes of the film. No matter your preference of delivery, this scene carries a heavy grasp on your heart and your mind. The level of violence differs minimally from the novel to the films, and if your stomach is too weak for such scenes, my personal advice would be to watch the 1990 adaption since there is no explicit scene showing this attack. Although the novel may not have a visual aspect, King uses our imaginations against us, and we can be left with something just as graphic as portrayed in the 2017 film. This scene sets the tone for the rest of the fictional work and raises the audience’s overall anxiety. You will question the safety of walking along any storm drain and become weary of the travelling circus because Pennywise, the psycho clown, can hide in our thoughts days after finishing, It. No matter how aware we are that what we are watching or reading is fiction, our minds have a natural reaction to the possibility of danger and send us warning signals such as a raised heart rate.
So, is it easy enough to come to the conclusion that as humans, we pay to watch our greatest fears come to life on the big screen or spend our precious time reading a novel that overwhelms our thoughts? Do we pay with our money, our time, and a good night’s sleep to jump-start our primitive fear reaction for our own enjoyment? Stephen King’s creation of Pennywise, the serial-killing clown, evokes a shared fear. If you never feared clowns before experiencing the masterful work It, there is a high chance a fear may develop. Perhaps we enjoy controlling what scares us, and choosing how and when we can experience our fear of clowns gives a person a sense of control. No matter why we, as a society, take an interest in ghosts and killer clowns, we can all agree that these fictional creatures need to stay just like that, fiction.
Clasen, Mathias. “Monsters Evolve: A Biocultural Approach to Horror Stories.” Review of General Psychology, vol. 16, no. 2, 2012, pp. 222–229., doi:10.1037/a0027918.
King, Stephen. It: A Novel. First Scribner trade paperback edition. New York: Scriber, Print
Muschietti, Andy, director. It Chapter One. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2017.
Muschietti, Andy, director. It Chapter Two. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2019.
Wallace, Tommy Lee, director. It . Warner Bros. Pictures, 1990.