is it a horror movie

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: It is a horror movie, even if the internet insists otherwise.) 

You’d think that when a horror movie – in this case Andy Muschietti’s It – shatters box office records (to the tune of a $123 million), it’d be a joyous occasion. To be clear, it is. Yet, as horror fans know, this kind of event does not bring praise and congratulations from onlookers, but instead one of cinema’s nastiest trends – the “X isn’t a horror movie” stans who refuse to let horror fans have even the slightest moment in the sun.

Nah, I’m not going to let this slide this time. Let’s have a chat, internet.

Stephen King's It Trailer

It is a Horror Movie

Here we are, once a-mother-loving-gain, subjected to same elitist slander that kicks up every time a horror movie lays a new milestone. I can set my watch to searing hot-takes that suggest said film isn’t actually a “horror movie,” because “horror movies” obviously don’t deserve prestigious acclaim or success. A24’s indie darling The Witch couldn’t possibly be horror because “it isn’t scary.” Jordan Peele’s smash-hit Get Out isn’t horror, it’s a “social barnburner.” And now, with takes spewing like lava from the mouth of Vesuvius, Andy Muschietti’s It is being dubbed a “psychological thriller” because many still refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of the horror genre. New movie, new benchmarks, same old song and dance. Spare me.

To be clear, we’re talking about It. The Stephen King adaptation about a carnivorous alien-demon-entity that feeds on a Maine town’s child population. Bill Skarsgård turned into an antique clown from Hell (another dimension, whatever), munching on a dismembered arm while school bullies beat another boy within an inch of his life. Scenes built around exploitative fears, an Evil-Dead-meets-A-Nightmare-On-Elm-Street blood slathering, that great library chase, a literal haunted house, a defined monster. YOU KNOW, YOUR AVERAGE PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER. There’s a reason why no one is making the same argument about Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s thematically similar Among The Living – because it’s an argument without merit. But,only a fraction of audiences watched Among The Living (a stellar Shudder exclusive). It, unfortunately, feels the bulkish weight of close-minded masses.

Hold on. I know it’s around here somewhere. *grabs megaphone* Ah, perfect.

Ahem. You listening? IT – THE 2017 FILM – IS A HORROR MOVIE AND YOU ARE WRONG TO THINK OTHERWISE.

Stephen King's It Reviews

In Case You Hadn’t Heard, It is a Horror Movie

I’d expect nothing less from outsider voices who view horror as a stigma, but when I see horror fans proclaiming the same, my heart drops. By suggesting that any horror movie with substance be classified a “thriller” – the vaguest genre classification by far – you’re now reducing the term “horror” to grotesque slasher schlock without a desire to challenge ambition. Sleaze and vileness with no merit. Will these be the same voices that, come awards season, cry when horror is completely overlooked? In being so obsessively protective about what is-or-isn’t horror, the genre’s self-proclaimed guardians are only furthering a narrative drawn by “savvy” marketing campaigns that dodge the very world “horror” (let’s see how many ways publications skirt around calling Darren Aronofsky’s mother! a horror film). Why make their jobs easier?

I mean, do we really need to dive into why It is – without argument – a horror movie? In the very first scene, Georgie is attacked by a shark-like Pennywise who bites his arm clean off. Blood washes into the gutter that he’s thusly yanked into. From here there are numerous horror set pieces – a tremendous garage freakout, Bev’s bathroom explosion, Bill’s flooded basement encounter – and an inescapable sense of dread. Muschietti manipulates both daylight and night shades to make us feel helpless and unsafe. James Wan might be damn-good at cloaking paranormal nightmares in darkness, but Muschietti’s more vibrant cues are still undeniably rooted in horror. It belongs right up there with The Conjuring. Holding hands, laughing while you weep.

This leads into another complaint – people saying It isn’t “horror” because their definition of “scary” differs from another. “It isn’t scary, therefore cannot be horror.” Nope, try again. It isn’t scary to you, while I found Pennywise’s googly-eyed gaze and relentless pursuit to be near paralyzing at times. That spastic flail when charging towards victims. All those undead child shots. Hellish, disturbing and worth shielded eyes that you cannot downplay to someone who felt legitimate fear. Horror is still horror whether it works for you or not. No form “better” or “worse.” Jolts, bloodletting, atmospheric creeps, psychological terrors – all horror.

One of my favorite “scares” is Pennywise standing behind Neibolt House holding his red balloon triangle. All he does is talk to Eddie, but Bill Skarsgård’s white-matted clown makeup and devilish speech pattern finds a middle ground between John Wayne Gacy and Satan himself. You’re not allowed to tell me that’s not scary because, well, I’m telling you it scared the shit out of me. Not in a jumpscare way, but in a seeps-like-a-poison kind of tonal viciousness. Horror is horror whether you like it or not – you’re not allowed to cast titles aside at your own discretion, nor belittle someone’s personal reaction to a very real brand of horror (because, as shown year after year, horror comes in many shapes and sizes). I am no less a genre fan for believing Muschietti delivered the exact kind of fairy tale horror adventure King’s material necessitates.

Stephen King's It Box Office

Yep, It is a Still a Horror Movie

It is a complete package. That is Muschietti’s greatest accomplishment. He’s able to construct a horror movie that blends Stand By Me spirits with tonal ferocity reminiscent of Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake. Child actors shine, innocence and forced maturity twist in barbed fashion, Derry becomes a living, breathing world – but you’re going to focus on how it wasn’t “scary?” Would you rather It have been yet another 80 minute jumpscare marathon that pays no mind to development or human emotion?

Arguing that “Muschietti isn’t going for horror in every single scene therefore he didn’t make a horror film” once again boils an entire genre down to movies like Ouija. And not Mike Flanagan’s far-superior prequel. God forbid a horror movie try and do more than the bare BOO!-into-camera minimum! There is no transcendent line that graduates a “horror movie” into a “real movie” once acclaim passes a certain point. Bully the horror genre all you want year after year, but be humble enough to note its achievements as well (It breaking records, for instance). But sorry, when a horror film becomes a mainstream sensation, you have to share that with the “freaks” who’ve dedicated their lives to a genre that’s thriving despite everyone’s attempts to demand otherwise. All the delegitimizing is getting a bit old, and in the case of It, desperately ridiculous. Horror is not a cursed word – no matter how hard some try to make it one.

Worst off, these kind of arguments are nothing but a bullshit distraction from larger pictures. Time better spent, in the case of It, on how Pennywise’s peepers drift apart during conversation or a creepy librarian glare you might have missed. On top of that, horror is supposed to be a genre that preaches inclusion. So not only do you have “fans” diverting energy to pointless dick-measuring contests about whose definition of “horror” is right, but possible converts are closed off from the very genre that’s built on the “weird,” “ignored” and unashamedly “different.” Horror fans have been called everything and endure ignorant stereotypes from the outside – there’s no room for such pettiness from within.

Stephen King's It Early Buzz

In Conclusion: It is a Horror Movie

This is not the war we should be fighting. There’s still an Oscars season for everything but horror. There’s still a misconception that horror is just gratuitous tit-shots and bloody carcasses. There are still critics who’ll never give the genre proper regard. Horror will always be the most accepting, malleable cinematic vessel. It’s bad enough that the horror genre is declared “dead” every fortnight. Let’s stop worrying about how to tag our movies on Letterboxd and start appreciating films for what they are, not what we want them to be. It will go down as one of the year’s best horror films, and there’s no goddamn debate. If you love “horror,” then stop bastardizing the very word. Enough with this “well I’m a TRUE fan, you’re obviously not” spite. If you don’t love horror? At least have the respect or decency to let us have what small victories we deserve. We’ll forever be a Losers’ Club in your eyes and we’re just fine with it.

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