The Moment Barbarian’s Director Realized There’s An Unintentional Stephen King Joke In His Movie

As Barbarian’s trailer teases, the movie starts with Georgina Campbell’s Tess trying to get into her Airbnb before learning that the house has been double booked by a mysterious character played by Bill Skarsgård. For many horror fans, who know the actor well for portraying Pennywise in the recent IT movies, there’s an instant instinct not to trust any character Skarsgård plays, especially if you place him in another movie of the genre. Without spoiling the ride of Barbarian, there is an unintentional Stephen King joke about Pennywise in the upcoming horror movie

CinemaBlend spoke to Barbarian’s writer/director Zach Cregger about the casting of Bill Skarsgård at the top of the horror movie and whether it was intentional to poke a bit of fun at his iconic role of Pennywise, especially in one moment where his character tells Tess, he’s “not a monster.” In my theater, horror fans certainly laughed at the line delivery. In Cregger’s words:  

I actually didn't think of that as a joke until the first time we screened it for an audience and everyone laughed, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I guess that is pretty funny’. I mean, Bill was perfect casting for this because he has such a history with the audience, horror audiences know him, you know, and they expect something from him. So as soon as he opens that door, everyone's like, ‘Oh!!’ You know? And that's just what you want.

While it may feel like Bill Skarsgård denying he’s a monster in Barbarian is a fun nod to his IT character, according to the Barbarian’s filmmaker, he and his team didn’t think about it or joke about the line on set. The actor is just so associated with playing the Stephen King villain that fans of the genre will find themselves not only questioning his character’s intentions, but getting nervous, knowing what he’s capable of doing in terms of scaring an audience. 

Despite the joke being unintentional, once Cregger realized it may play as a comedic moment that breaks the tension of the film, he was pleasantly surprised about how “funny” it was and how Skårsgard’s history with the audience could also play to his advantage in the story itself. 

It’s best if you don’t know a ton about Barbarian before you view it. What the preview shows you is only the beginning of the terrors Tess must deal with following the double Airbnb booking. We can tell you that the movie also stars Justin Long, who spoke with CinemaBlend as well during San Diego Comic-Con following our outlet hosting a Barbarian screening for convention-goers

Thus far, Barbarian has received overall positive reviews from its audience, including from Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright, who called it a “gnarly blast of a movie” on Twitter. Barbarian hits theaters on September 9, with tickets now on sale. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.