For most people, watching “IT: Chapter Two” in theaters this weekend will be a chance to enjoy some thrilling action and supernatural scares, as the story of the Loser’s Club and their immortal foe, Pennywise, comes to a close on screens worldwide.
For those who called Bangor home in the 1980s, however, there’s a scene early on in the film that will likely strike close to home. It’s the scene involving a gay character named Adrian Mellon, his attack by a group of local teenagers, and his subsequent death at the hands of Pennywise, who has returned to the sewers of Derry after a 27-year absence.
Adrian Mellon is based directly on real-life Bangor resident Charlie Howard, a young gay man who was murdered by three local teenagers July 7, 1984, who attacked him and threw him off the State Street Bridge into the Kenduskeag Stream canal.
Stephen King, then in his mid-30s and 10 years into his storied career, was raising three kids in Bangor with his wife, Tabitha, when the murder happened. Like much of the rest of the community, he was appalled. His outrage at the homophobia and cruelty so close to home came out in the book he had just started writing: “It,” his first book to be set entirely in Derry, his fictionalized version of Bangor.
“At the time I started writing ‘IT,’ the Howard murder had just happened. It was fresh in my mind, and fitted my idea of Derry as a place where terrible things happened,” King said. “And, maybe needless to say, I was outraged. It was a hate crime.”
In the book, Adrian Mellon, like Howard, is in his 20s, and is a gentle, quiet young man. Like Howard, on the night of the murder, Mellon was walking home with a male friend. Mellon is attacked by three homophobic teens, in much the same way Howard was, and is thrown off the bridge into the canal.
Howard died from drowning in the Kenduskeag. Mellon does not die immediately, but is finished off quickly by a recently reawoken Pennywise, who was spotted by some of the bystanders. The nature of the murder makes Mike Hanlon, a Loser’s Club member and the only one of the group still living in Derry, begin to suspect that their old foe is back, setting off the events of the second half of the story.
In the 1990 TV miniseries starring Tim Curry, the Adrian Mellon scene is not included. In “IT: Chapter Two,” it is, with Adrian Mellon portrayed by actor Xavier Dolan. Screenwriter Gary Dauberman told The Hollywood Reporter in May that it was important to include it.
“It is an iconic scene in the book and one we wanted to include in the movie,” Dauberman said. “It is the first attack in present-day Derry and sets the stage for what Derry has become. It is the influence of Pennywise even while he is hibernating, and it’s pure evil what happens to Adrian. These bullies working through Pennywise was important for us to show.”
The supernatural entities and homicidal maniacs in King’s books are never just what they appear to be — the horror of the world of King almost always is rooted in real human emotion and psychological truth. “Misery” serves as a metaphor for drug addiction. “Pet Sematary” is a story about the unfathomable pain of grief and loss. And “It,” among its many themes, is at its core about how people recover — or don’t — from trauma.
Charlie Howard’s murder is a real-world trauma that Bangor has had to grapple with. Unlike in Derry, there are no killer clowns in Bangor’s sewers that drive people to commit horrendous acts. And the story of Howard’s death is something that everyone can learn from, whether fictionalized in a novel, dramatized in a Hollywood blockbuster or simply told from the perspective of those who lived through it.
“I don’t feel responsible, exactly, and I’d never lay that on the community,” King said in a 2014 BDN article on the 30th anniversary of the crime. “But it’s our town. We live here. Which means we have to live with Charlie, and continue trying to make it right.”
“IT: Chapter Two” is in theaters Sept. 6.