I don’t think IT is really a “horror” movie (but it is a good one)

IT opened to the largest box office opening of any horror movie ever.

Which is kind of funny because I don’t think it’s really a “horror movie”.

Despite having read and written a great deal of horror, I’m not been much of a horror movie fan. (Reading it is different, somehow.) I intensely dislike jump-scares and definitely loathe body horror, torture porn, and gross-out movies. Give me Army of Darkness over the original Evil Dead any day.

I do enjoy what I tend to “dark fantasy”: movies on the other end of the horror spectrum that contain fantastical elements and dark themes. Movies like Pan’s Labyrinth, Horns, and The Lady in Black. (I also like Daniel Radcliffe as an actor but that’s a separate point.)

I’ll admit, it’s a blurry line: 28 Days Later, despite all the zombies, falls into “dark fantasy” for me, while Alien is definitely horror. 

Which brings us back to IT.

I think the 2017 version of IT falls into the dark fantasy side of genre for one simple reason: 

The movie isn’t about the monster.

Instead this is a movie about people, mostly the kids, but also the adults in the town. This is a movie that does what genre is supposed to do: hold a dark mirror up to reflect society and allow us to see ourselves more clearly.

Yes, the monster appears, and does damage to the town, and is delightfully creepy (though almost over using every horror movie monster trope developed over the last few years).

But the threat of Pennywise is not just there for jump scares.  Pennywise’s actions – and the actions Pennywise inspire – serve to reveal the core of the human characters and the relationships between them.

That exploration of character and relationships is the power of this movie, from the quiet brotherly love of the first scene to the quiet, slow separation of the group in the last, so reminiscent of the promises to always stay in touch after high school.

I greatly enjoyed the film, and suspect you will too.

One thought on “I don’t think IT is really a “horror” movie (but it is a good one)

  1. I'm the editor of Pseudopod, weekly horror fiction podcast, and have been reading horror fiction and watching horror movies and television since I was roughly 6 years old (watching, reading came a little later). If context is needed I will be 50 years old in a couple of days.

    Like you, I have contrived a definition for myself as to the difference between "horror" and "dark fantasy" – mostly in the effort to feature more of the former than the latter on the podcast, as it is my personal feeling that a "too inclusive" approach to what constitutes horror, that folded in "dark fantasy" has led to a corrosive dilution of that genre brand starting in roughly the 1980s.

    But I have to say I find your definition severely lacking. Needing to be "about the monster" is an extremely reductive and limited definition of horror as a genre in both fiction and film. "Don't Look Now" and "The Haunting", two of the greatest horror films ever made, are in no way "about the monsters", just off the top of my head.

    If you are interested, my definition of the differences goes like this. Horror, in any format, in the whole is attempting to frighten, disturb or unnerve the audience. Dark Fantasy uses the tropes or figures of horror, but in its overall thrust is not intending to scare, but to achieve something else – whatever that may be and regardless of the use of the tropes and figures.

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