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John’s Horror Corner: Stephen King’s It (2017), a worthy re-adaptation and R-rated remake of 1990’s TV-PG Pennywise.

September 8, 2017

MY CALL:  A worthy, scarier approach to Stephen King’s book delivered with a Pennywise worthy of Curry’s original performance.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Stephen King’s ItFor more movie adaptations based on Stephen King’s books and other work, try the original TV mini-series of Stephen King’s It (1990), Creepshow (1982), Cujo (1983), Needful Things (1993), The Night Flier (1997) or Pet Sematary (1989), to name a few. If it’s evil clowns you desire then there is only one absolute: Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988). If you simply enjoyed the band of young misfits facing evil, try the Netflix Original series Stranger Things. And, for those who like creepy hauntings of our inner demons, try the very dark Flatliners (1990; which also has a 2017 remake).

REMAKE SIDEBAR: Other quality horror remakes include Friday the 13th (2009), Carrie (2013), Evil Dead (2013), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), The Fly (1986), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Thing (1982; yes, this was a remake) and The Mummy (1999; adventure genre). Those to avoid include Poltergeist (2015), The Thing (2011; a prequel/remake), Cabin Fever (2016), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Night of the Demons (2009), Body Snatchers (1993; the second remake), The Invasion (2007; the third remake), War of the Worlds (2005) and The Mummy (2017; total adventure-style reboot-imagining). I’m on the fence about An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), Halloween (2007) and Fright Night (2011), bad remakes but decently entertaining movies.

Attempting to step out of Tim Curry’s impassive shadow, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård; Hemlock Grove) delivers a new level of terror.  His white-powdered menace palpably penetrates our sensibilities with every glare and smile.  The film may be littered with loud noise-based jump scares and quick-cuts, but the horror definitely doesn’t rely on such practice. Instead, these tactics only augment the twitchy malevolence of film’s best known demon clown.

For his second feature length film (and second atmospheric jumpy horror film), director Andy Muschietti brings some familiar stylings from his first film Mama (2013), while carefully sampling Alvarez’ Evil Dead (2013) remake (i.e., Bev’s bloody bathroom scene) along with some subtle echoes from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).  Numerous scenes steer us differently from the 1990 adaptation, whereas others follow along a very familiar trajectory—both in ways I enjoyed.  And while several iconic scenes were recreated (e.g., Georgie meeting Pennywise at the sewer), they all bite harder than their television predecessor.  You’ll know what I mean when you see it.

Contemporized from the book, we follow a group of late ‘80s kids as they experience shocking loss, ensuing “hauntings”, and learn the origin of this evil.  With seasoned skill beyond their years to capture fear, dire urgency, panic, insecurity and youthful drive, this young cast outstandingly depicted Bill (Jaeden Lieberher; Midnight Special), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor; Ant-Man)Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Richie (Finn Wolfhard; Stranger Things), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer; Tales of Halloween), Stan (Wyatt Oleff; Guardians of the Galaxy Vols. 1-2) and…oh, poor Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott).

Taking a break from the accolades, I felt (at times) the pacing was way off.  And while no individual scene was bad, sometimes they didn’t find the right synthesis when pasted together into this feature (the “well house” scene comes to mind).  I could dwell on this, but I’d rather celebrate the film.  There: that’s my negative section.

As a fan of the book (terrorizing my youth when I read It in the early 90s) and the now-unwowing TV mini-series (likewise scarier back when it was released, when I was 9), I estimate this to be a worthy adaptation of King’s work.  It’s scary, really scary—the visuals are jaunting!  I jumped a lot. It’s creepy, really creepy—they nailed the dire atmosphere!  I was often waiting, dreading the next visual.  It’s gory, gorier than you’d expect—we finally have the right budget and the right mind behind the camera to give justice to an entity that literally feeds on fear rather than flesh.

The special effects were on point for me.  The bathroom scene—wow.  Pennywise’s twisted toothy maw—poor Georgie, and double wow!  The slide projector scene—whoa!  The final confrontation with Pennywise was odd, but neat.  There’s a lot to enjoy here, and it’ll all make you jump and wince and reel.

Because this “Part I” took a different chronology than the book or mini-series, you may feel a bit disoriented by things that these kids are doing which (in 1990) their adult counterparts did…or, sort of did.  Some liberties are taken.  Just go with it.

Back in 1990, I was thrilled to see It on-screen.  Now I’m not only thrilled to see it receiving a greater reimagining, but also that this film satisfies in more ways than just Pennywise as Curry’s performance drove the first film.  We now have the cast, the budget, the medium, the filmmaking prowess and a great Pennywise to bring this experience together!

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