First impressions: ‘It’ (2017) and its library scene

I recently was able to watch the recent cinematic remake of It, which I thought would make a good entry in my “first impressions” series of posts. These posts document my initial impressions and memories from watching reel librarian films in the movie theater. These post are never as in-depth as my film analysis posts — and don’t have the benefit of careful notes — but the films are more timely. I’ve done “first impressions” posts in the past for movies like Monsters UniversityTinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Hidden Figures.

Since this film serves as “Chapter 1” of the story, featuring only the teenage versions of the “Losers’ Club,” I was not expecting to see any reel librarians. (The character of Mike Hanlon, the sole African-American in the group, grows up to be the town librarian.) But I was mistaken! Although I should have expected it, as when I went back to review the trailer, I realized that the public library earned a brief appearance at the 1-minute mark in the original trailer:

Library scene

Ben Hanscom is trying to hide out from the bullies in the public library, while also doing research on the early days of the town, Derry. In the background, I spied a woman shelving books in a bookcase. The woman looks older, in a print dress.

Note:  This “looming librarian” in the back is one of the entries in this article’s “Easter eggs” of the film. Creeeeeeepy!

And on this Reddit thread, the user “literaphile” described this as their favorite scene from the film:

Best part of the scene was when Ben was sitting at the table reading and one of the “librarians” was standing in the background, out of focus, staring at Ben with an evil grin.

Then we get a close-up to Ben, who is startled by another librarian (or is it the same one?), an older woman with glasses with a thick book in her hands.

She says something to the effect of, “Why are you in the library during summer? In summer, boys are supposed to be outside with their friends.” She pauses, and then asks in a condescending tone, “Don’t you have any friends?

Ben cuts her off with a look and a tart reply, something along the lines of, “Can I have the book now?

This was NOT a positive start to this reel librarian character. In fact, my own initial reaction — for real! — was this:  “Judge-y bitch.”

Ben then flips through the book, which also gets a second of screen time in the third released trailer for the film, at the 1:10 minute mark:

Library archives

Then Ben has his own scary sighting with Pennywise. He sees an egg on the floor in a back room, and he walks down stairs to enter what looks to be the archives basement, filled with bookcases and archival boxes. Of course, it’s a trap, and he tries to escape a headless ghost, a figure from the book he was just flipping through. This figure then turns into Pennywise, but his nightmare run stops short when he runs into the reel librarian again, who demands to know why he’s running in the library.

By the way, this reel librarian role seems to be uncredited in the film’s cast list — unless it’s the “Old Woman” character played by Martha Gibson.

The actor who planned Ben, Jeremy Ray Taylor, posted this pic on his Instagram, a photo featuring the storyboard of this library action scene:

The importance of research

We then see more of Ben’s research into Derry, which he shows to the Losers Club members when they visit his bedroom. He has tacked up photos and maps of Derry all over his walls, along with articles about major killings throughout the years. He’s the one who figures out that the murders occur every 27 years.

It is this research that propels the plot forward, and provides a common thread that connects all the experiences and Pennywise nightmares that the teens have been having. Ben grounds the Losers’ Club and gives shape and purpose to their group.

Role changes from the book to the film

While I appreciated that there was a library scene in the film, I was disappointed that the research angle was taken away from the character of Mike, the only African-American and person of color in the group. In the book, Mike was the historian of the group. His father kept an album of photos of Derry’s history, which included several photos of Pennywise. Mike then researches the history of Derry — and later becomes the town’s librarian. Since he is the only one who stays in the town, he is the one who summons the rest of the Losers’ Club back to Derry 27 years later.

As I stated back in my post last fall about the upcoming “It” remake and scary clown sightings:

Although other characters get more screen time, Mike essentially serves as the catalyst for the entire second half of the plot, as HE is the one who contacts his friends to return to Derry, Maine, and fight “It” once more. Since Mike is the only one of the seven lead characters to stay behind, he becomes the “institutional memory” for the havoc Pennywise wreaked on the town. Also, being a librarian and archivist, he has resources to help his friend research and confront the evil plaguing their town.

In my opinion, Mike is the most important character in the story, and in the end, the town’s true hero.

Therefore, it unsettled me that the remake changed the historian and research role from Mike in the book to Ben in the movie. I agree with Zak Cheney Rice, who wrote in this article on the Mic website:

Muschietti’s adaptation goes a step further than merely cutting corners in the name of economy. The film doesn’t just flatten Mike’s backstory. It reduces him to the kind of token black character that King’s novel was so adept at avoiding.

In the film, Mike barely has any lines. The role of group historian has been taken from him and given to a white character instead. He still gets targeted by Henry Bowers, but gone is the racial subtext that made the experience so entwined with Derry’s history of violence. His blackness seems largely incidental. And as a result, the film never has to address the messy topic of race or how it informs the lone black character’s life.

I highly recommend reading the rest of Rice’s article, as it provides more details and subtext into Mike’s importance as a character and his role as historian and librarian in the original book (and 1990 TV version).

Your thoughts of the remake?

Have you seen the newly released remake of It yet? What are your thoughts? Are you looking forward to Chapter 2? Do you lament the historian role change from Mike to Ben? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources:

It. Dir. Andy Muschietti. Perf. Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgård. New Line Cinema, 2017. Based on the novel by Stephen King.

Rice, Zak Cheney. “Mike Hanlon, the Black Kid from Stephen King’s ‘It,’ has an amazing backstory. The movie erased it.” Mic, 2017.

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Victims or villains? Librarians in horror films & thrillers

Last month, while I was analyzing horror films for Halloween, I remarked that librarians show up in quite a few horror films. My husband then posed an intriguing question:  do reel librarians usually turn out to be villains… or victims? Based on the horror films and thrillers I have seen so far that feature reel librarians, let’s investigate:

(POSSIBLE SPOILERS THROUGHOUT)

Villains or victims? Reel librarians in horror films

Villains vs. Victims


Reel Librarian Villains Reel Librarian Victims
Chainsaw Sally (2004):  April Monique Burril as Sally Diamon The Attic (1980):  Carrie Snodgress as Louise Elmore
Ghostbusters (1984):  Ruth Oliver as Library Ghost Ghostbusters (1984):  Alice Drummond as Alice
Necronomicon, Book of the Dead (1993):  Tony Azito as Monk Librarian Horror of Dracula (1958):  John Van Eyssen as Jonathan Harker
Personals (TV, 1990):  Jennifer O’Neill as Heather Moore The Last Supper (1995):  Pamela Gien as The Illiterate Librarian
Weird Woman (1944):  Evelyn Ankers as Ilona Carr Peeping Tom (1960):  Anna Massey as Helen Stephens
The Wicker Man (1973):  Ingrid Pitt as Librarian Tale of a Vampire (1990):  Suzanna Hamilton as Anne/Virginia
Twisted Nerve (1968):  Hayley Mills as Susan Harper

Of the films I’ve designated as featuring reel librarian villains, three are title or central characters:  Sally in Chainsaw Sally (2004), a public librarian by day, chainsaw-wielding serial killer by night ; Ilona in Weird Woman (1944), a college librarian who sets mischief in motion due to a spurned love (“hell hath no fury…  “) ; and Heather in Personals (aka Personal Ads, TV, 1990), featuring a public librarian who kills unsuspecting men who dare to answer her personal dating ads.

One film boasts both villain AND victim:  Ghostbusters (1984); in the film’s memorable opener, one poor librarian gets scared out of her wits by a spinsterish library ghost.


Heroes/heroines


When going through my Master List in search of horror and thriller films, I realized that the “victims or villains” question was too limiting. There are a few reel librarians who turn out to be heroes/heroines:

Interestingly, the above characters all seem like they will turn out to be victims, or at least weaklings who cannot stand up to the evil forces they come up against — but all find inner strength and come through stronger in the end. Not surprisingly, all three of these librarian heroes/heroines are major characters whose arcs fulfill the role of Liberated Librarians.


(Not-so-innocent?) Bystanders


There are also several reel librarians in horror films who are Information Providers, serving to further the plot along. This role is not unique to horror films; rather, it is the most common purpose, and role, for reel librarians across all film genres.

Some of these reel librarians are perhaps not-so-innocent bystanders, including Miss Gottschalk in The Seventh Victim (1943), who gives away confidential patron records in exchange for a few flirty glances and innuendos. Louise, a supporting character in The Killing Kind (1973) is NOT the killer the title is referring to, but she is far from innocent. She relates her own violent rape fantasies and reveals a decidedly vengeful streak toward her neighbors.


Next week, I have a special treat in store for y’all — an international reel librarian perspective! — so please stop by again soon. 😀

Little miss serial killer librarian

Would you like to meet “the girl of your screams” this Halloween? Look no further than the title character in Chainsaw Sally (2004)!

In this lower-than-low-budget indie horror film — made with a budget of $40,000, at least half of which must have gone toward purchasing gallons of fake blood — Sally Diamon (played with red-lipped relish by April Monique Burril) plays a buttoned-up librarian by day and serial killer by night. The ultimate Naughty Librarian.

By day By night
Reel Librarians |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot Reel Librarians |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot
Wears drab, oversized clothing Wears short, tight clothing, ripped stockings, corsets
Says phrases like “hunky dory” and “that’s swell” Curses and uses sexual innuendos
Wields a pointing finger to say “shhhhhh” to loud patrons Wields a chainsaw to slice up patrons who break library rules

I first wrote about this Class I film last Halloween in this round-up of killer librarians. I had also bought a DVD copy of the film, but didn’t get around to watching it until this Halloween. This low-rent film seems to have achieved a kind of cult status, even inspiring two seasons of web series, entitled “The Chainsaw Sally Show,” both starring April Monique Burril as the titular character (in more ways than one). It should come of no surprise that the director of all things Chainsaw Sally, Jimmyo Burril, is also the husband of the main star. In fact, April Monique Burril was pregnant during the filming of this first film!

Even though it seems to be a minor cult film, is it any good? The film seems to have inspired an either love-it-or-hate-it kind of reaction. Some find the purposefully over-the-top gore and camp refreshing, like in the DVD Verdict review here, whose reviewer proclaimed it as a “nifty little indie horror-comedy,” while others dislike the trashy, low-rent look and feel. It is decidedly trashy, but also very self-aware of being so. The overall acting talent, as well as the production values and sets, are really bad, be warned. Really bad. And the ending is ludicrous. Throughout the film, I was also distracted by the main star because she kept reminding me of someone. Toward the end, I figured it out:  April Monique Burril looks like a cross between Shelley Duvall and Kristen Stewart!

Actress lookalikes
Click collage for sources

Ok, so what’s the film all about? No spoilers that Little Miss Chainsaw Sally is a serial killer, sawing off victims left and right in a small Maryland town called Porterville. But how did she become a serial killer? The film has an easy answer for that:  Sally and her brother, Ruby (who grows up to be a stay-at-home transvestite), witnessed their parents’ murders years earlier when they were kids. Flashbacks reveal that they witnessed three escaped mental patients shoot their father before raping and killing their mother. But lo and behold, their father managed to kill the killers with a chainsaw before dying of the gunshot wound. And just to MAKE SURE we pieced together all the bits of symbolism, we see that Sally also wore her hair in braided pigtails during the traumatic event, as seen below; no wonder she does the same when she straps on the chainsaw as an adult.

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

The film also has a few scenes set in the home that Sally and Ruby share together. It is a rarity to see any kind of home life for a reel librarian. And this reel librarian’s home is definitely a house of horrors.

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

We’ve covered the why, now on to the who. Because her daddy’s dying words were that he killed the men because they were bad, Sally sticks to killing people she decides are bad. And because she’s a librarian … that’s right, she goes after people who disrespect librarians and the library! She and “Conan the Librarian” in UHF would probably have a lot to talk about. 😉

What counts as a killable offense in Sally’s book? Let’s take a look at some of her victims in this film (SPOILERS):

  • A man who talks loudly in the library, spouting off curse words and heckling his girlfriend for needing to finish a school report. He also sasses Miss Sally, calling her “Miss Frosted Flake and “frigid little freak.” He gets sliced in the library bathroom, with Sally’s words ringings in his ears, “I said, be quiet in the library.” Should have paid attention to the sign, dude.

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

  • A young woman named Tina never returns a book she checked out. Sally hunts her down in the woods, yelling, “Is it not true that in June of last year you checked out a book from the public library? … And is it not true that since then that book has not been able to be checked out by any other patron of the Porterville Public Library? Is it?!”
  • A young woman who works at the local ice cream truck misspells “malt” on an order form and also makes fun of Sally when she tries to correct her misspelling. Later, after seducing the Ice Cream Girl at a nightclub one night and taking her home, Sally gets revenge by carving out the correctly spelled word on the girl’s belly.

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

I get that the film’s tone is firmly tongue-in-bloodied-cheek. The ultimate message? Don’t mess with a librarian! (And return books on time. Seriously. You really are depriving others if you don’t bother to return items you’ve checked out. Golden rule, y’all.) But the film also wants it both ways. It wants to make fun of librarian stereotypes and all those library rules, but it also wants to give Sally an easy out with her family’s tragic backstory.

And even though Sally uses library rule-breaking as an excuse to kill, they are just that — excuses. Every person Sally kills has insulted her personally, or insulted other women in her presence. And each of those insults earns a look that could kill. Literally.

ChainsawSallyStare

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

There are also lots of fun nods to scary movies or memorabilia throughout the film:

  • The film opens with a closeup of a “Miss Sally” nameplate, as well as a closeup of the book Sally’s reading, The Big Book of Serial Killers

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

  • The calendar on the wall by Sally’s desk reads October

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

  • Sally and her brother reenact scenes from scary movies, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but her brother keeps confusing scary movie villains and plotlines

In the midst of all the killing, does Sally do any work during her day job? Yes … to a degree. She helps a local real estate owner, Steve Kellerman, locate articles about her parents’ murders (after first cutting out any mention of herself, of course, in old newspaper clippings, of course). And upon discovery of the (self-)mutilated clippings, she complains, “Why do some people have to destroy everything?”

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

We also see her interact briefly with a blind library assistant, George (Kit Bateman), an Information Provider there to reinforce the library setting. In a scene late in the film, she asks him if he minds “watching things out here” while she makes a private phone call. He responds, “No problem, hon.” Awkward.

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

Last, but not least, I’ll finish with some choice quotes about our resident serial killer librarian:


Guy at pool hall (talking about ex-girlfriend):  She’s a mental case.

Sally:  And how do you know I’m not a mental case?

Guy:  I can tell, babes. You got your shit together. There ain’t nothing wrong with a girl like you.


Bumbling cop:  Librarians. It’s always the quiet ones.  Hey, did I ever tell you about the time I dated a mime?


Steve Kellerman:  There is more strangeness here than you may be aware of. You just might be the most normal person in this town.

Sally:  That’s funny.


Funny, indeed. Of course, Steve is wrong about our Chainsaw Sally. Dead wrong. 😉

Happy Halloween!