Warning: Contains spoilers for Stephen King’s novel, and potential spoilers for IT: Chapter Two.
As far as film adaptations go, the IT movie is pretty faithful to Stephen King’s 1986 novel.
There are some deviations, though. A few characters have been tweaked slightly, and the storylines of others have been altered.
From the fate of Henry Bowers to Its nightmarish true form, here are some of the biggest differences between Andy Muschietti’s movie and King’s book…
1. Patrick Hocksetter’s character
This one was actually a bit disappointing, but I get why they did it. In the book, Patrick Hocksetter has a whole chapter of his own. His character is super disturbing. Essentially he’s a psychopath who kills animals by locking them in an abandoned fridge at the dump and waiting for them to die. In the books he goes out to check on the fridge and discovers that the inside is packed with flying leeches, which swarm out and devour him. It then appears and drags him down into the sewers.
The film obviously decided to chop this section out and simply use Patrick’s character as early clown fodder, which is understandable. But the fact he’s reduced to a generic bully rather than a creepy psychopath makes his character feel sort of bland in comparison to how he’s portrayed in King’s book.
2. Mike’s backstory
Of all the kids in the Losers’ Club, Mike’s the character whose story has been tweaked the most. In the books his parents are still very much alive, for one. His dad also has a rivalry with Henry Bowers’ dad, Butch, which is the cause for Henry’s irrational hatred of Mike.
The story about the fire, meanwhile, does feature in the book — just in a very different form. In King’s novel, Mike’s father tells him a grim tale about how he escaped an arson attack from white supremacists when he was a younger man in the army (one of many stories in the book used to highlight Derry’s disturbing history).
3. The kidnapping of Bev
This doesn’t happen in the book. The Losers are still chased into the sewer by Henry — that much is the same — but in the novel Bev is with them. She never gets taken by Pennywise.
It’s likely this change was simply made to save time, giving the rest of the kids a quick reason to go down into the sewers to rescue her. It does serve the dual purpose of giving us that scene where she’s sent into a trance by looking into the lights in Pennywise’s mouth, though — an early hint at Its true form, which will likely come into play in Chapter Two.
4. The fate of Henry Bowers
Henry Bowers doesn’t die in the sewers in King’s novel — he survives into adulthood, gets the blame for the child murders perpetrated by It, and spends the next couple of decades in a psychiatric hospital. His cronies — Victor and Belch, who appear in the film but who aren’t with him when he goes after the kids at the end — are the ones that die. They get attacked by It underground while Henry manages to escape.
If I had to guess, though, I’d say Henry’s plummet down the well shaft in the film won’t be his final appearance. We don’t see him actually die, after all; it’s possible he simply landed in some water at the bottom and survived. His character still has a fairly big role to play in the story’s second half, so it would make sense for him to last a bit longer.
5. Its final form
In the books, the kids aren’t greeted by Pennywise when they finally reach the lair in the sewers: they’re greeted by a monstrous spider. This is the closest to Its true form It can take in the human world (Its actual form is a mass of pulsing, evil lights — known as “the deadlights” — that exists outside our universe).
Chances are the script-writers are saving this reveal for the second film, which is why they stuck with the clown form for now. (In the book, it’s worth noting that the childhood and adult narratives run concurrently, which means the kids only reach Its lair and discover what It really looks like towards the end of the story).
6. The removal of an infamous sex scene
It’s pretty easy to guess why the script-writers decided to leave this one out.
After the kids have defeated Pennywise in the book, Bev has sex with each of the boys in the Losers’ Club in turn. The scene sounds incredibly weird when it’s written out bluntly like that, but really it’s meant to be symbolic of the group’s loss of innocence: the summer of their childhood is over, and their encounter with It has shoved them irrevocably into the adult world.
“I wasn’t really thinking of the sexual aspect of it,” King explained when asked about the scene. “The book dealt with childhood and adulthood — 1958 and Grown Ups. The grown ups don’t remember their childhood. None of us remember what we did as children — we think we do, but we don’t remember it as it really happened. Intuitively, the Losers knew they had to be together again. The sexual act connected childhood and adulthood.”
Either way, it’s not hard to see why this sequence was omitted from the film.
7. The time period
The 80s setting of the film feels so natural that it’s easy to forget the book is actually set a quarter-century earlier. The film shifts the time period to the 80s, though, which works well for a number of reasons: 1) it helps IT cash in on the current popularity of 80s nostalgia, and 2) it lets them set up the sequel for a modern-day setting.
That second point could have some interesting implications for the sequel, though: will the storyline have to be tweaked to allow for modern-day technology like mobile phones, for instance?
Probably not that much, but there may be some continuity style issues the film-makers need to address in order to update the story for the digital age.