The movies It and It Chapter Two are the story of a supernatural clown monster that comes back every twenty-seven years to kill left handed guitarists from the Pacific Northwest. Okay, maybe it isn't about the 27-Club, but it is the 27-years-later conclusion to the movie It from a couple of years ago.These Stephen King movies are more than just horror movies, they tell a story about formative growing up of a group of kids in a small town and shows the horror that that their younger selves would fear, that they would forget their relationships and experiences of childhood after they leave their hometown.
It brings back memories of my own youth realizing that there were playground friends in elementary school whom I don’t remember their names or exactly when they moved away. One of the most outlandish things about It Chapter Two was that Mike had phone numbers for all of his childhood friends. There are old friends that I don’t remember how to spell their last names and they aren’t on facebook. It’s as though they never existed until something little sparks my memory and suddenly I’ll flashback to a birthday party, a playdate sneaking into the woods, a confrontation with a bully.
In It, the gaps in childhood memory are supernatural, but they very much represent the distance in time from the developing brain’s formation of memories and adulthood. Chapter Two makes reference to movies adapted from Stephen King’s writing as though they are memories of the audience in general of King’s career. At one point Jessica Chastain’s character, Beverly Marsh, finds herself covered in blood, striking a resemblance to Sissy Spacek in Carrie just before she burns it all down. Beverly is trapped in a flooding bathroom stall with a shapeshifting Pennywise taunting her with the faces of all of the people that tormented her in the past, they peep their heads through the stall door with a “here’s Johnny” menace from The Shining. One of the taunting faces calls out “you smell like Lois Lane,” no doubt a reference to Chastain’s and the younger Beverly, Sophia Lillis’, resemblance to the cinematic Lois Lane, Amy Adams. This makes for one of the biggest laughs in a surprisingly funny movie that happens to be heavy in horror elements.
Another scene shows the grown bully Henry Bowers, as he escapes from an institution to a classic car. The camera lingers on the front grille of the car in just such a way that it calls back to the murder hungry car “Christine.” One of the final scenes has James Denbrough (James McAvoy) sitting in his home office writing the story of “It” in a dark wood library room with large windows looking out to a lush green yard. This looks just like the home office of the writer in Stand By Me shot with the same angles as he wraps up his book to join his kids after explaining the fates of his own childhood friends, just with a much newer home computer.
Throughout his stories Stephen King never shies away from writing characters that he relates to. It’s even closer than just white guys substance abuse issues, past or present, but a whole lot of his characters happen to be writers. Sometimes they’re pulp writers that aren’t respected like 1408, or they are as he sees himself, perhaps, as a flawed writer in It, facing criticism from all laypeople about the endings of his stories and Secret Window where he faces questions of authenticity. His writers are just starting out in The Shining, or bothered by their own success like Misery. He places himself as the audience’s surrogate so many times that it’s funny to see him make an appearance as an opinionated Mainer chastising a version of himself in It Chapter Two in the form of a cameo.
The real life Stephen King or the filmmaker could be faulted for writing these two movies because the way to defeat the villain is to not believe in the villain. This is much the same psychology that Wile E Coyote is able to float on air after walking off a cliff. It isn’t until he sees the ground below him, that he no longer believes that he is on solid ground and is reminded of his fear of falling that he succumbs to the laws of gravity. Overcoming fear and being aware of horrific illusions are keys to defeating Pennywise, at least that’s the information that Mike arms them with. It isn’t the monster that is the danger, it’s your own fear that consumes you. Stanley’s end didn’t come from the hand of a murdering clown, or sharp toothed monsters closing in from all directions. It was his own memories, his own fear, not just of the supernatural but of his own inadequacies to confront his childhood that leads to his death.
The 1980’s were the time of maturation for the kids of divorced parents after World War II. Steven Speilberg’s parents split up when he was in middle school, an event that he blamed his father until much later in his life. It wasn’t until after his moviemaking career had already been underway that he learned the truth of the divorce and reconnected with his father, having already filming a deserting father in Close Encounters and a missing one in E.T.. Stephen King never had the same kind of reunion. His father disappeared when he was two and he claimed his mother might have been looking for him ever since. She relied on her siblings and community to help raise little Stevie and his brother as he claimed the two of them were a bit of a handful.
Fathers in King’s stories didn’t disappear; rather, they are often the biggest boogiemen of all. The father in The Shining is perhaps one of the worst in popular culture: alcoholic, physically and possibly sexually abusive, and ultimately murderous. Beverly’s father in the It movies carried more menace and abuse than Pennywise. While she had forgotten the clown horrors of Derry, her life is unable to rid itself of her grown up abuser, her husband, until she leaves to fight Pennywise.
Stephen King and Baseball
It Chapters 1 & 2 are hardly baseball movies even if one of the kids might carry a bat around for more violent purposes than a ball game. There could have been alternately telling of these characters’ story as The Sandlot, but with a lot more violent bullying, swearing, abuse and terrifying clowns at the county fair. That telling wouldn’t be possible, not because the losers are two short of fielding a starting nine, but because Beverly seems like the only one of them to be any good at any facet of playing baseball.
In college I had a professor who had previously lived in Maine and his son was a little league team mate of one of Stephen King’s sons. This happened to have been around the time that The Shining was coming out and King could be heard screaming over the phone to someone, an agent, producers, Kubrick himself, over his displeasure of the adaptation. King is a well known Red Sox fan and is one of the commentators in Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary, but he has also based a couple of his stories around the game, to some extent. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is about a girl living in the forest who listens to a supernatural radio, or some such, and Blockade Billy is the story of a baseball catcher from years gone with the seemingly supernatural ability to hurt other people on the field who ends up having a secret history as a rural murderer with an assumed name. Blockade Billy seems to have a bit of a resemblance to a real player, although it’s a guy that played a bit before the when the story takes place.
Marty Bergen - A Real Life Stephen King Character
If ever there were a baseball player to come out of the mind of Stephen King it would be Marty Bergen. Playing in the mid to late 1890’s for the Boston Beaneaters (an early name for the Boston Braves), Bergen was the best catcher in the game, leading Boston to a pair of championships. He wasn’t the best hitter, but he had such a great arm from behind the plate that the odd things about him were ignored so that the team could win. Apparently his fielding ability ran in the family. His younger brother Bill Bergen was one of the best fielding catchers in the time he played, from 1901 to 1911, but he is still perhaps the worst hitter in MLB history, only hitting over .190 once in his career, and retiring with a .170 AVG and .198 OBP.
At the beginning of one year Marty Bergen threatened his teammates that he would beat them to death at the end of the season. Another time he disappeared for weeks at the end of the season then suddenly showed up as though nothing happened. There was an incident where he dodged the ball as it was thrown to him instead of catching it because he perceived it as hit men trying to stab him. He was convinced his teammates were out to get him although reports at the time noted his manager and teammates went out of their way trying to help their troubled catcher.
Bergen disappeared from the Braves every season that he played to go back to his family. Before any home game he would be on his farm playing with his three kids all day, never associating with any other people aside from a life-long friend, Dr. Dionne. The 1899 season was a trying year for Bergen, he started the year injured with a hip abscess. In April his five year old son died from diphtheria while he was off on a road trip. He left the team for two weeks, but when he came back to the team he fell into a deeper depression. He played the rest of the season but missed the final game of the season having broken his hip. Confiding with Dr. Dionne in the offseason he admitted that he feared that this injury could end his career resulting in another bout of depression. Dr. Dionne learned that Bergen had been acting “wild” in the offseason, and Bergen told others that he believed Dr. Dionne was hired by the National League to kill him. One night in January 1900, Bergen calmly emptied the cooled wood stove before something made him snap. First he beat his wife to death with the blunt side of an ax before killing his son and daughter with the same ax. After his family died, he went to the bathroom, pulled out a straight razor and slit his own throat, cutting so deeply that he nearly decapitated himself.
It was later determined that mental illness was to blame for the Major Leaguer’s ax murder rampage. Even at the time, there was a sympathetic view of his struggle with mental illness rather than seeing him as a monster. He hit .265 with 339 hits and ten homers in his four year career and despite the horror of the end of his life he still received Hall of Fame votes from 1937 trough ‘39.
I think a good place to end this post is with an image from the 1976 movie Carrie from a classroom where beloved video game character Mario makes an appearance.