But behind the creepy evil clown who terrifies a group of friends from a small town named Derry is a darker, scarier story about being alone.
“I came into this movie from a very dark place,” said the film's Argentinian director, Andy Muschietti.
“It is a story about friendship. And I took it very personally. Like the characters, I found myself changing homes, traveling a lot and losing people who are affectionate," he said in an interview. "And it’s only after you lose friends that they become very valuable.”
The horror sequel brings back the now grown-up group of friends, 27 years after they defeated the evil clown Pennywise.
In the movie, most of the friends now live successfully outside of Derry. They have become a best-selling horror author, the co-owner of a women’s fashion line, a popular stand-up comic, a commercial architect, a senior risk assessor and an accountant. The only exception is Mike Hanlon (played by Isaiah Mustafa), who lives in the clock tower above the town library and calls the friends home to face the clown again.
Horror can unify people, says the director, making them feel closer to home. Muschietti said horror as a movie genre also reminds him of his family and their shared love of film.
“My parents introduced me to cinema very young. 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' was the first movie I saw,” Muschietti said. “And then they exposed me to horror movies when I was 6 or 7. It was a family activity for Saturday nights.”
Muschietti's first “It” movie became the highest-grossing horror movie of all time, earning $700.3 million worldwide. The director says that the second chapter will challenge viewers to take a deep look inside and explore both the potential good and evil in themselves and others.
The first movie was based on a novel by Stephen King, who describes Pennywise as being part of Derry — like the canal or the library. But this clown or creature is not only something that lives outside. The master horror writer says that Pennywise is now getting inside the imagination of the townspeople, and lives and thrives off their hatred and fear.
Muschietti told NBC News that he became interested in psychological horror stories early on by studying another master storyteller — the acclaimed Uruguayan writer Horacio Quiroga (1878-1937), whose short stories are considered Latin American classics.
“As a kid, I remember being affected by 'La Gallina Degollada,'" or “The Slaughtered Chicken," the filmmaker said. “It’s a story about family and love, nature and hatred. And it says a lot about society.”
By focusing on the psychological aspect of horror, both the Stephen King book and the movies transform Pennywise into something that is even more terrifying — an emotion or idea that can reveal uncomfortable truths about fiction and reality.
And in this sense, Muschietti says that “It Chapter Two” is both a horror story about a fictional town named Derry, and an emotional snapshot of real-life struggling towns that are in danger of collapsing when friends, families and neighbors stop helping one another.