On September 8th, 2017, The Losers’ Club and Pennywise hit theaters for the first time. Although it’s only been less than a month since then, it feels far behind us enough – especially in these fast times we live – to look back at already. (Anything after two weeks is a lifetime in the age of information.) Naturally, comparisons were, are and will be made to the original TV mini-series that aired on ABC in 1990 because while not technically a movie, it’s the only other visual based on Stephen King’s novel. After all, Hollywood refuses to make anything original anymore so what fun would it be if we didn’t make connections while we’re forced to watch different versions of already existing intellectual property? There’s basically no other choice. Basically. HOWEVER! …It’s ok. It’s perfectly fine this time because IT was, for the most part, remade for the better and it was glorious.
As a horror lover who has never read the novel and completely missed out on the mini-series all the way until AFTER the 2017 movie trailer was released, I had no idea what IT was about, really. The combination of Pennywise’s pop culture relevance and the quality of Stephen King’s bibliography and their film adaptations suggested that I probably should have watched this already. Unfortunately, those things were also exactly what created expectations for me. As much as I hate to say that there was a presumed threshold of quality I felt this mini-series needed to meet for me to justify its impact, I certainly could not deny the underwhelming sour taste of lackluster I was left with once it was over.
The first half of this two-parter was perfectly fine. A shapeshifter that exploits the phobias of a group of children, mainly in the form of a creepy clown, is such a great concept because young kids are susceptible to being consumed by their fears. That’s exactly what we got in part one. I thought, “This is perfect pacing. First half’s to become familiar with the characters, second half’s for straight clown terror.” I was excited to start part two immediately and was let down just that fast. Then I was let down again, and again, and……..”OH MY GOD! THAT ENDING WAS EGREGIOUS!”, I thought to myself. Wasn’t this supposed to be a classic?
The only thing classic here was Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise. He is unrecognizable in that makeup and even through all his goofy actions, the character is genuinely scary. Curry made me understand why so many people fear clowns on a deeper level after a lifetime of just chalking it up to their seemingly predatory appearance. I could only imagine what watching this as a child can do to your psyche. Sorry y’all went through that, 80’s babies. Clowns are officially no longer allowed 50 yards from me.
Curry’s awesomeness alone isn’t enough to captivate the audience for more than 3 hours though. Neither can the fun mini-game we all play of pointing out familiar faces when we watch old stuff. “Oh, it’s Annette O’Toole, a.k.a. Lana Lang from Superman III.”…”LOL what are you doing here, dad from Sister, Sister?” … “Wait, is that…? Holy crap, that’s Seth Green! He’s so young there!” The unexpected use of the N-word made for some heavy drama but that wasn’t gonna cut it either.
Not-So-Fun Fact: Did you know that John Ritter, who played Ben and Jonathan Brandis, who played Young Bill, both died in 2003? Eerie. Brandis through suicide by hanging. So sad.
Do you see the problem here? I’d rather talk about the things surrounding IT than the mini-series itself. There’s also a lot to laugh at while you watch but most of it is unintentionally funny, almost to the point of making you want to create a drinking game for it. Out of the second part’s 90-minute runtime, only about 10 were enjoyable. The parts where the original airing took commercial breaks weren’t even edited in the home release. A lot of IT just flat-out sucks, unfortunately. It made all the sense in the world why so many were excited this year about the theatrical release of a remake.
Every trailer I saw for the new IT was convincing. The formulaic approach of overusing the cliché jump scare and other repeated tactics made familiar in high-budget horror movies was apparent in each one. Yet, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing in this case because while not completely sold on Bill Skarsgård’s version of Pennywise, I sensed this film would be solid at best compared to the previous one. How could it not be? I found myself at an early screening with a friend 3 days before the release date and no more that 5 minutes into it, the tone was set. The opening scene was gruesome! The scene after that was a “Try Not To Look Away Challenge” for animal lovers. In just the first 10 minutes, I was flabbergasted by how far the limits were pushed in a movie starring a bunch of child actors.
For how graphic the images were and continued to be throughout the entire film, the comic relief and performances connecting them were just as potent. The cast was nothing short of fantastic, the majority of them too young to apply for a learner permit in most states. Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things fame managed to play a different character in what many people worried to be just a mirror image of his role in the Netflix Original series. His portrayal of Ritchie acting as more of an inappropriate joke dispenser than Seth Green’s version of the character in the mini-series begged to differ from that notion. He brought a freshness to the role and his energy bounced right off the other characters perfectly. The chemistry was there and it felt like they were regular kids you can identify with, which helped me relax and let my guard down enough to be startled by a majority of the scary moments the movie had to offer.
This movie is dark! Not for kids at all. While the 90’s version included language and images not suitable for children, this version is strictly geared toward an adult audience even with its comparatively covert horror tropes. There’s no doubt about which one was more frightening and it all comes down to Pennywise. In not necessarily a better depiction, Bill Skarsgård’s version is without a doubt the more emotionally scarring of the two. While Tim Curry’s Pennywise evokes nervous laughter with typical goofy clown mannerisms and underlying creepiness, Skarsgård’s eliminates any uncertainty about the intentions of a stalking clown with a sinister smile that instantly assures “It” is not to be trusted. New Pennywise is spine-chilling.
One scene in particular was so disquieting, my eyebrows shot up, my mouth fell open and my face would not relax until the next scene. There’s something to be said about a horror villain that still finds its way in a 26-year-old horror fanatic’s mind, causing neck-snapping glimpses over the shoulder while walking the dog late at night long after the movie is over. Call me irrational for half-expecting to see a clown standing still, staring at me from across the street; the image of Pennywise’s face flashed before me continuously to the point of unreasonable slight paranoia.
With such a short period between my first viewing of the 1990 TV mini-series and the 2017 film’s theatrical release, I personally, almost involuntarily favor the latest adaption of Stephen King’s IT. Critically acclaimed remakes are uncommon, rare even, placing this ubiquitously positively reviewed flick in a special class. Chock-full of comic relief, effective scares, impressive performances across the board and an abundance of 80’s references and easter eggs, this awesome revision of the coming-of-age story is a delight, especially, but not exclusively to viewers already familiar. A much needed upgrade from the antiquated visuals once believed to be definitive insures horror fans, including Stephen King, the IT re-imagining we deserve.