Walking down the Walk of Fame on Vine Street on Tuesday night, after lamenting to a friend over Stout burgers and fries that it felt nearly impossible to write with genuine interest about any TV, movie, celebrity event topic, etc., when what’s happening in the real world is so frighteningly grim, we turned the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and both froze in fear. What must’ve been erected in less than two days, for I frequent this neighborhood often, stood an exact replica of 29 Neibolt Street, the haunted house from Stephen King’s 1,138 page supernatural thriller, It. The hairs on the back of my neck spiked up as I spotted what appeared to be a kid in a yellow rain jacket, holding a red balloon. The words, You’ll float, too, creeped through my mind.
Now, there have been numerous TV show and movie themed pops up around Hollywood. The unofficial Star Wars bar was a major let down, but the current Tim Burton inspired Beetle House LA looks to stay open indefinitely, and I am most excited for the Saved By the Bell replica of The Maxx that will soon open its doors. But there was no crazy press for the opening of ‘The It Experience: Neibolt House.’ The dilapidated fixer-upper truly seemed like it came out of nowhere.
Built across the street from the infamous Capitol Records building as a promotion for Warner Brother’s upcoming film reboot of It, which after many delays, is finally set to hit theaters on September 8. And while this movie previously seemed doomed to fail, based on the current pre-sale ticket numbers, things are definitely floating up. The reboot is expected to rake nearly $50 million in the opening weekend alone.
However, these types of high expectations don’t come as such a huge surprise. For this film couldn’t be more on brand with the current trend in Hollywood in which every single TV show and movie seems to be a reboot. Entertainment studios feel confident investing in projects for which there’s already a built-in audience, and It, which has fans from King’s 1986 novel, the 1990’s TV mini-series starring Tim Curry, and now add to that, the millions of people who have seen the trailer and think it’ll be a scarier movie version of another nostalgia juggernaut, Stranger Things.
Typically, I do everything in my power to stay away from haunted houses. Why? Because I enjoy sleeping at night. Deciding to walk through this two-story replica filled with dimly lit rooms with horrors around every corner would never normally be my idea of fun, but what’s the worst that could happen? Seriously. I truly can’t think anything more terrifying than the VICE News Tonight’s Charlottesville: Race and Terror episode I had just watched, and there would be no monster jumping out at me scarier than white-nationalist leader Christopher Cantwell, who made me want to cry, throw-up and scream bloody murder all at the same time. But I digress. I felt empowered to go inside 29 Neibolt Street.
Led into the haunted house by an young looking actress portraying “Georgie,” our host and creepy child impersonator impressively kept in character throughout the entire journey. “Georgie” had barely taken our group of six through the front doors and up the spiral staircase when a person wanted to quit. And no, it wasn’t me. A woman proudly wearing a Pennywise T-shirt gripped both the iron rails on the stairwell and announced aloud that she was afraid of heights. The tour came to a halt.
The woman’s friend seemed unsure of whether she should escort her out or push her to continue on, especially after waiting in line for so long to get in.
“You can do it!” I yelled.
And maybe it was the pressure from holding up the group, or because a total stranger was shouting at her, but the woman soldiered on. Together, we traveled through the various rooms, and at one point or another everyone shrieked like a baby or jumped in surprise. The clown room was particularly freaky, so for those who are easily rattled, this is the part of the tour you’ll wish you wore a diaper.
Exiting the haunted house, I felt my heart rate return to a normal pace, and the death grip I apparently had on my friend’s arm the entire time, loosen. That’s when it hit me. For the past eight minutes, I was completely immersed in It. During this seemingly silly haunted house tour, our group’s different races, shapes, sizes, religion, and sexual identities disappeared. Inside “The It Experience,” such labels were eradicated. We were just six people who shared this awesomely unique adventure.
I know this feeling of unrest and guilt in enjoying entertainment is nothing new and that awful unexplainable things will continue happening, but therefore, so will the intermittent grappling in caring about fictional characters and the make-believe stories they live in. When these feelings take a grip on me, don’t laugh, I think back to Tom Cruise’s Oscars speech from right after 9/11.
“Last September came an event that would change us,” Cruise said. “An actor friend came to me and said, ‘What are we doing? Is it even important what I do? And what about tonight? Should we celebrate the joy and magic that movies bring?’ Dare I say it…more than ever.”
If none of this rings a bell, rewatch a YouTube video of Cruise’s three minute speech. “A small scene, a gesture, even a glance between characters can cross lines, break through barriers, melt prejudice. Or just plain make us laugh. Brings us all together. That little bit of magic. But that’s just me.”
It’s not just you, Tom. It’s everyone. And sure, three years later, Cruise jumped on Oprah’s couch in unbridled glee, successfully obliterating his entire reputation for which he’s still trying to rebuild, but the veteran actor had made a fantastic point. And it bears repeating. Sure, the amount of reboots and remakes oversaturating our TV and movie screens is yawnstipating. And yes, it would be easier to write about how It is just another unnecessary blast from the past, especially when there’s so much original content out there struggling to be made, but this “movie magic” Cruise mentioned is important.
While staying current with real world news is forever vital, it’s imperative we don’t lose sight of the things that make life worth living. All of us must continue to laugh, cry, ugly cry and feel emotions. It’s how we as humans connect with one another. And if we can find that brief escape, no matter if it comes from a temporary haunted house on Hollywood Boulevard, it’s not just okay to keep caring about these things, it’s essential.