I first read Stephen King’s “IT” when I was a sophomore in high school. It was the longest book I’d ever read at that point (later beaten by King’s full version of “The Stand” a few years later) and I remember being consumed by the story and characters. The iconic author is known for his uncanny ability of capturing the angst of youth as well as tapping into what scared us. In truth, it wasn’t until my late ‘20s when I read IT a second time that I truly appreciated that. We adults tend to romanticize childhood, reminiscing about our favorite cereals and TV shows, while dismissing the grimmer realities of neighborhood bullies, parental pressure, and how helpless we were. Many people site their first exposure to IT via the 1990 TV mini-series but I’ve always been much closer to the source material.
That’s not to say that I idealized the book and hated the series. I thought they did a decent job with the casting and it’s pretty much unanimous that Tim Curry was a phenomenal Pennywise. By the same token, there are two scenes in the book that I wish weren’t there: one involving a puppy and another a childhood gangbang (and fellow IT readers know what I’m talking about). Like most people, I found the second half of the series lacking before completely unraveling at the end. I think the problem was that they tried so hard to stay true to the book and that’s not always something that translates with a Stephen King book. Reading his books is an intimate experience and allows us glimpses of what his characters think and feel and dialogue that reads well on paper doesn’t always sound so natural out loud. In the end, lack of budget/technology led to a huge eight-legged let down and that’s all I’ll say regarding that. So let’s dive into the new one…
I just returned from the theater and look forward to when I can go back to see IT again! After having nothing but doubts since I first heard the project was even happening, I’m happy to report that director Andres Muschietti has hit a home run! The famous opening scene with Georgie and the sewer drain (as seen in the trailers) is the perfect set up for a film chock full of jumps and, dare I say, genuine scares. The viewer is fully engaged from start to finish; something even the book and mini-series couldn’t completely pull off. I was worried about the casting, particularly with regard to the children, but they all nailed it. In my opinion the young actors in the mini-series were weak individually but worked well as a team. These youngsters, in contrast, are endearing both together and separate. I also thought this version of Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) was much more how I imagined her while reading the book. The presence of Finn Wolfhard (Richie Tozier) is oddly appropriate as this film does has a Stranger Things feel to it. In this regard pop culture has gone full circle since “IT” has been cited as one of the popular Netflix series’ influences. It also has their time period as the ’80s instead of the ’50s to further the comparison.
Of course the million-dollar question is how IT’s iconic villain stacks up. Swedish actor, Bill Skarsgard, wisely made Pennywise his own and not a parody of Curry’s. Taking full advantage of the film’s “R” rating, this clown is scary as hell and I’m fairly certain will achieve its own cult status among horror fans. Another advantage of a 2017 motion picture Pennywise vs a 1990 TV movie one is that they’re able to utilize more of his supernatural elements (and seamlessly I might add). Pennywise is only one expression of IT; an evil that transcends physical form and that was more evident here. Fans of the 1990 one, however, will notice a nod to their favorite clown if they pay close attention.
Just as the mini series fell short in trying to be so much like the book, this one succeeds by taking the core elements and becoming its own thing. It’s less adaptation and more inspiration and that works to IT’s advantage. Though I wasn’t thrilled with a “damsel in distress” plot device they had going, I did understand its usage and approved of all the other changes they made. This movie also leaves out a lot of unnecessary details and nuances of the characters and their relationships with there parents that work much better in written form.
Like the mini-series, this tale will have two parts and I’m hopeful the same creative team is in charge and can wash away the short-comings of the former. I should mention that in 2018 HULU will be releasing an original series called “Castle Rock” which will intertwine characters from Stephen King’s most famous works. Skarsgard’s Pennywise will be included and is reason alone for me to hang on to my HULU subscription. Tomorrow (or today depending on when you’re reading this) I’m heading out to Horrorhound Weekend in Indianapolis where they’ll have a special killer clown costume contest and IT giveaways. That being said, IT is definitely worth celebrating!