There are some things you just can’t do on TV. That fact comes into focus during the new It movie’s opening minutes, when a monstrous clown visibly rips off a small child’s arm with his rows of fangs. Poor little Georgie wails as he agonizingly drags himself away with his remaining hand, blood darkening the gutter water and washing down the street.
It’s hard to watch, but moments like that bring It closer to Stephen King’s original book than the 1990 made-for-TV mini-series ever got. And it’s thanks to the movie’s R-rating that the filmmakers were able to go darker than ever before.
“What jumps out at you [about the mini-series] is how much they had to hold back because they were a prime time television special,” It Producer Seth Grahame-Smith told GameSpot during a group interview in Los Angeles recently. “As great as Tim Curry was, the menace, the intensity, even the language that’s so pervasive in all of King’s work was just restrained by the fact that they were an ABC prime time special.”
“We wanted to bring the intensity that the ABC mini-series couldn’t,” he continued. “We knew we were going to be rated R from the beginning, and we were supported the whole way. New Line supported us the whole way, never urged us to cut to PG-13, and said, ‘Alright, you’re an R-rated movie starring 13 year olds.'”
Grahame-Smith said that gave all the filmmakers–including he and fellow Producer David Katzenberg, writers Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman, and Director Andy Muschietti–the “freedom” to go as dark as they wanted. That permeates It well past the opening scene, from the sociopathic school bully Henry Bowers to Bev’s abuse at the hands of her father. It doesn’t shy away from any of these, portraying some realistic events that are even harder to watch than the film’s titular scary clown monster.
Dauberman said he didn’t even revisit the 1990 version before getting to work on the 2017 It‘s script. “I loved the mini-series as a kid. It was a big influence [on me], but not on this in particular,” he said. “So we could push it further with the scares, and we could push it further with the language of the kids.”
That’s true–Richie’s plentiful dick jokes, delivered expertly by Stranger Things‘ Finn Wolfhard, are uproariously funny. But that’s just part of a larger theme with 2017’s It: being as true as possible to the original book, even while splitting it up and adding to it wherever needed.
It is in theaters now.