WARNING: This article contains spoilers about It Chapter Two. Read at your own risk!
The cast of the just-released horror sequel It Chapter Two is larded with acclaimed actors from two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, to the Emmy-winning Bill Hader, to Stephen King, the author of the novel upon which both the movie and its 2017 predecessor is based.
Okay, so King is more acclaimed for his prowess as an author than as an actor. But for diehard fans of “Uncle Steve” — such as this writer — it was a cool, fun, and welcome surprise when he turned up midway through Andy Muschietti‘s film as the owner of a Derry antique store. After taking something of a break from making onscreen appearances for a few years, King could be glimpsed in the TV shows Under the Dome and Mr. Mercedes. But his role in It Chapter Two is nice and chunky and, while I may be biased, King acquits himself admirably as his character sells the childhood bicycle of James McAvoy’s novelist character Bill back to him for the exorbitant price of $300. Certainly, he looks the part, his once round features having aged into a sharper visage which, elsewhere, might have found him cast as the barkeep of a seedy hostelry in a Sam Peckinpah movie.
Speaking of the past, there was a time when it seemed almost impossible to see a horror movie without King popping up at some point. The author made his big-screen debut in the tiny role of “Hoagie Man” in director George Romero’s 1981 film Knightriders, a rare non-horror outing for the filmmaker, which starred Ed Harris as an Arthurian-loving entertainer who jousts on motorcycles. King reteamed with Romero for the following year’s Creepshow, a King-written anthology horror movie inspired by gloriously gruesome EC comics of the ’50s which also featured the author’s most substantial performance. Romero gifted King the lead role in the segment “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” about a somewhat dim gentleman who becomes covered with vegetation after unwisely fooling around with a recently-landed meteorite. King’s performance tends to divide even horror folks. It is certainly broad and goofy, but then Creepshow is deliberately an often broad and goofy movie, and, almost four decades on, the writer’s portrayal seems an integral part of the movie’s DNA.
While King would never again tackle such a meaty (veggie?) role, he did regularly turn up in movies over the ensuing decade, including 1986’s Maximum Overdrive — which he also directed — the original 1989 Pet Sematary, 1992’s werewolf tale Sleepwalkers, 1992’s Thinner, and the 1997 TV adaptation of King’s book The Shining, in which he played a bandleader. Directed by regular King collaborator Mick Garris, and written by King himself, the latter project was King’s riposte to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of his book, which the author famously dislikes. No wonder King agreed to appear onscreen to emphasize that this was his preferred take on the material.
King’s cameo in It Chapter Two is also pointed. In the scene, King’s character declines to have McAvoy’s Bill sign one of the latter’s books for him, because the ending is bad. It is a criticism which has been leveled at King’s own novels. Indeed, just this week, book critic Jack Kerridge of the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph published an article titled “Stephen King can’t write a good ending to save his life — and he knows it.” The piece prompted King to hit Twitter. “According to Jake Kerridge in The Telegraph, I can’t write a good ending to save my life,” he wrote. “If my life was at stake, I probably could. I’d just double space and write, ‘To his relief, he woke up and discovered it was all a dream.’ That would probably work.”
As responses go, King has done better. Personally, we would have let the talking be done by his own performance in It Chapter Two, a knowing, satisfying, and believable portrayal which adds up to the most satisfying movie cameo of the year.
It Chapter Two is now playing in theaters.