WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for It: Chapter Two, currently in theaters.
There's a moment in It: Chapter Two that is terrifying in a way that feels familiar. Jessica Chastain's Bev is trapped in a manifestation of her middle-school restroom while the personification of her fear bangs on the door. The voice calling to her is her abusive husband's, but the speaker is Pennywise.
If you can tear your grip from the arm of the theater seat and concentrate on it, the scene is evocative of something you have seen elsewhere. The terrified woman cowering in the bathroom, the feeling of helplessness as the approach seems inevitable, the menacing glee in the voice of an abusive partner banging on the door. You almost don't need to hear the "Heeeeeere's Johnny!" line, but the film invokes it anyway as Pennywise takes the guise of Henry Bowers, the Losers Club's perennial bully.
The Stanley Kubrick-directed Stephen King adaptation The Shining is a classic in the pop culture horrorscape of Halloween-time movies. King's works have become such a phenomenon, and enjoyed so many decades of frightening readers and audiences alike, that a viewer almost needs to step back to fully appreciate what's happening: In film, King is such a natural part of the supernatural that his own works are feeding into and reinforcing the effect they create by resonating off of each other.
The "Here's Johnny" moment is not the only parallel between The Shining and the It franchise, as both properties also utilize the same imagery of blood flowing into a room hypnotically. In The Shining, the scene involves elevator doors opening to the wall of crimson liquid, while in It, Bev nearly drowns in the blood that floods around her. But would the blood spilling out onto Bev have the same effect if The Shining weren't already such an iconic film?
Where it gets interesting is that both properties have been around for so long that they are able to look back on one another when getting updated and adapted for new audiences. While the novel, It, came out in 1986, in a then-contemporary '80s, the film adaptation looks back on that era with the influence of hindsight and creates a period piece out of it. The real-world changes over time and nostalgia slowly imbues and effects all pop culture media.
While The Shining did not have so much time to ferment in the pop culture psyche by 1986, the film adaptation of It is able to play up and benefit from the psychological association already present by 2019. The abusive man knocking on the door and the flood of blood spilling out into a room were potent pieces of imagery when they first debuted, but the new It films understand how to re-invoke that same potency while putting their own original touch on it.
To quote an author different from King, F. Scott Fitzgerald: "If there's anything older than the old story, it's the new twist." It: Chapter Two blends the old story and the new twist together so well that, at times, it's hard to tell which is which.
It: Chapter Two stars Bill Skarsgård, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Teach Grant, Jess Weixler, Will Beinbrink, Xavier Dolan, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff and Nicholas Hamilton.
KEEP READING: IT: Chapter Two Makes a Major Retcon to the First Movie