WHEN STEPHEN KING’S horror novel It came out in 1986, the book’s arrival was part publishing event, part worldwide dare: Weighing in at 1,138 pages and carrying a then-shocking sticker price of $22.95, King’s epic was a backpack- and budget-busting time-sucker that many readers dragged around for months on end, and that others abandoned before the 50-page mark. So it wasn’t until a few years later, when ABC broadcast a hugely successful two-night TV version, that It crept out of the sewer and into mainstream consciousness, thanks in large part to Tim Curry’s giddily nasty portrayal of Pennywise, the killer clown who torments a group of friends from the 1950s through the ’80s. The four-hour It remains a goony delight, full of blood-splattering balloons and creepy-crawly fortune cookies and genuine intra-character connection. And even though the whole thing wound down with a campy killer-spider attack—and was forced to adhere to prime-time standards—the TV version of It still mostly floats.
That’s something you can’t say for a lot of the horror-leaning King adaptations that dominated movie screens and video-store shelves throughout the ’80s, films that ranged from scarily great (The Shining and Carrie, obviously, but also underrated thrillers like Christine) to garbage-y great (the hare-brained schlock-fest Maximum Overdrive) to straight-up children-of-the-corny (Silver Bullet, Firestarter). With a few exceptions, those initial King-flicks emphasized the author’s love of EC-inspired scares and pulpy melodrama, and made only cursory nods to the more adult issues beneath, from alienation to addiction to abandonment. This changed a bit in the mid-’90s, as filmmakers finally started taking King’s spookier works more seriously, first through a series of post-It TV-movies (The Stand, The Shining), and eventually with films like the unsettling, nightmare-feeding version of The Mist.
But a lot of King’s Reagan-era efforts never quite got the fully grown-up, properly budgeted treatment they deserved—which is why so many people, myself included, are excited for the new theatrical version of It, the first trailer for which debuted today. The two-minute-plus glimpse focuses on the book’s terrifying first few pages, in which a young boy named Georgie heads out into the rain with a brand-new paper boat made by his older brother, Bill (played by Midnight Special’s Jaeden Wesley Lieberher). When the boat heads into the sewer, the story claims its first major victim—and we get our first look at the shadowy Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).
Shortly after Georgie’s death, Bill and his small group of pals, nicknamed the Losers’ Club, realize that their hometown of Derry, Maine has an uncommonly high death rate, and ultimately discover that Pennywise has them in his sights. The teaser is full of ominous moments, all of them briefly glimpsed: A red balloon floating through a library; a swarm of hands trying desperately to open a door to exit a burning building; black ooze exploding from a bathroom faucet.
But there’s not a lot of Pennywise to be found in this first teaser, which is a promising sign. Thirty years ago, a Stephen King monster would have been the front-and-center selling point for an adaptation like this, yet director Andrés Muschietti—who last worked on the 2013 hit Mama, and who joined It after True Detective’s Cary Fukunaga abandoned ship—appears to be favoring slow-reveal dread over the low-end shock that dominated movies like Creepshow 2. The teaser’s scariest moment features no gore or gotcha-ness; instead, it involves a misfiring slide-projector and a barely discernible clown-grin. Nothing in the It trailer feels like a cheap thrill, which is all the more thrilling.
Yet there’s another, slightly more subtle reason to get excited for this latest take on It, especially for long-time King-lovers. As if you couldn’t tell from the trailer’s surplus supply of ringer tees and station wagons and latchkey kids, the new adaptation begins in the ’80s—a move that resettles King’s characters to the decade that both confirmed his super-star stature, and nearly ravaged his big-screen reputation. For some viewers, that may give the trailer a distinct Stranger Things vibe (which is fitting, given that King’s DNA was all over that show). But for those who always hoped that the author’s earlier scare-fests would finally be elevated beyond just a few gory big-screen jolts, it’s more proof that, after all these years, Stephen King may finally get the ’80s movie he always deserved.