Rating 4.5/5 – Stephan King’s It came really close to a 5/5, and the reason It did not reach a 5/5 is that Pennywise is a Clown. Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of those “read the book 20 times, love every page – even the uncomfortable “kids having sex” section.” What many people forget was Stephan King is a Pop Culture icon who had the entire world waiting for the next book. Between 1978 and 1990 it was not unusual to get on a subway and see every walk of life reading the latest Stephan King novel in either Hardcover or Paperback. It was one of those “blew me away” books everyone was talking about when it first dropped. When Sci-Fi Network (when it was called “Sci-Fi” and not SyFy) announced it was going to do the mini-series and fan favorite Tim Curry was going to be Pennywise there was a bit of anticipation even though Sci-Fi was just becoming known for its shlock movies that would eventually lead to such classics like Manquito and Birdemic. The mini-series left me “Meh” but Tim Curry’s Pennywise became a pop culture classic. Like most movies based on Stephan King novels or short stories it just went into VHS rental hell and was forgotten about until the big nostalgia Crazy that started in the late 2000’s. When they announced that they were making a movie version I was all for it. The Tim Curry TV series wasn’t exactly high art and, IMO, there’s a ton of old Science Fiction and horror that could do with a facelift. The trailer was promising so I went into the movie with no expectation and came out thoroughly entertained. Yes, it’s true, it’s not hype and it’s not nostalgia gone wild. They made a very effective movie with characters you actually care about – even if they’re all kids – some nifty twists and updates to the original story and a good ending to actually kick off another part to the story.
Stephan King’s It: The Inevitable Book Comparison
There are very few movies that are better than the book. This is especially true of a Stephan King book. By the time you get to chapter four you know all the characters in a Stephan King book because he writes dense descriptions and histories of them. From the head cheerleader to the crooked town boss you know their motivations, backstories, religious belief, dirty little secret and even how they were brought because King puts that much into his prose. I’ve heard YouTube critics talk about how he has the same kind of bully in every story, but that’s not actually true. The bullies are not just bullies, they are people with stories who decided to act like dicks for one reason or the other. To be honest I’m a simple guy. I’m meat and potatoes, and just entertainment. I can bitch like a geek, nitpick like a YouTube critic and want the movie/TV show/comic to be as good as it could be. I never noticed that Stephan King used the same archetypes. When he announced the comic of Needful Things and subtitled it “The Last Derry Story” I was like “Oh yeah, a lot of his stories did take place in Derry.” It was an unnerving book told in two parts with one scary ass monster and seemed a little difficult to translate outside of the novel. The TV mini-series didn’t do the worse job but to use an overused cliche, it wasn’t the book.
I don’t mean it didn’t get every single detail or left out scenes. I mean the book has a very specific feel, the characters took a very specific journey and the story had a very specific pacing. These things are not easy to always get right when you have 90 minutes to maybe 2 hours to tell a story as opposed to prose in a 1000 plus page book. The mini-series was a good effort but so much of what made the book the best seller it became was lost in translation. Mostly because of Tim Curry’s go-hard-or-go-home performance. Tim Curry’s performance hit the heart of the problem anyone trying to translate this book into a movie was going to face: Pennywise is a clown.
It is a Clown
Reading a book affects the brain by causing it to image the atmosphere and the prose is creating. The movie in the mind will always be better than a movie you watch. Just experience someone who is bi-polar, or truly schizophrenic or paranoid and you will see this in action. Hell, just dealing with the child who thinks there’s a monster under the bed or in the closest demonstrates this point. So when the clown pops up in a sewer or taunts the kids in their houses you’re mind is already working with the words you’re reading. However, in a movie, you only see a clown. Sure, there’s been attempts to make clowns evil in movies, none of them to any real effect. This is because the monster is dressed like something so absurd it’s hard to keep the mind from going to endless painted men coming out of a Volkswagon or prat-falls and balloon animals. Add Tim Curry to the mix and there’s no way not to think “goofy” when he comes on screen.
The 2017 movie worked better. This clown is something disturbing. The make-up, the way he talks and moves, even him in the sewer drain with the water running over his face and it not bothering him while he spoke a child playing in the rain was all disturbing. Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise and Andy Muschietti’s direction took the goofy from the clown. Pennywise was a monster, pure and simple and when he should up you felt the discomfort you should feel when the monster comes on screen. But he’s still a clown. He wasn’t a clown throughout the book but the default look you got about him was the clown. I’ve never had clown-fear nor do they make me laugh. As a child, I thought they were silly but not amusing. Skarsgård embraced Pennywise’s inner supernatural Joker while Curry embraced the Clown. I like Skarsgård’s take. It is supposed to be a horror story, not Batman.
It – The Kid’s Story
They creators of It announced that the movie would be in two parts like the book and the mini-series from the beginning. I don’t think they are going for a franchise, at least I hope they’re not. There have been a couple of Stephan King stories that went franchise and that did not end well for any of them. The closet they got to get it right was the Dead Zone series but when they made the choice to keep the main villain around instead of going for the obvious ending in the second season the series went pretty much zombie waked it’s way to the series finale from there. Too bad because that series had a lot of interesting ideas when it came to the use of Jonny’s power. The first part of it is the story of the kids dealing with the monster and the second part are those kids as adults dealing with the monster and the scars left over from the first time. The book and mini-series used the conventions of flashbacks to tell the kid’s story. It’s a good way to jump to the important scene. The 2017 Stephan King’s It decided to start with the kid’s story and it works. I’m not annoyed with kids in TV shows and movies like most people seem to be. I’m about the actors. The actors are either good at they’re craft or bad. These kids were great, believable and they portray characters you actually cared for.
It As A Horror Movie
I believe there is a vast difference between horror and gore fests. The gorefest has a simple rule, be as gross as possible. It must be fun to do the face and body makeup for being boiled or dipped in acid or trying to show limbs being chopped off in interesting ways. The gore-fest replaced real horror in the late 1970’s when people like Dario Argento and Tobe Hooper started pushing the boundaries of gross. People act like this was not a thing, and they are wrong. When you’d hear radio and TV commercials for one of these films they emphasize the gross. For instance the all the ads about 1972’s Last House on the Left insisted you get ready for the scene in the words which relate to a castration that happens in the movie. Then came the era of the impossible to kill slasher movies. In the 1990’s this convention got mixed up but by the early 2000’s it leads to torture porn and how nasty and gross you can possibly be. The final expression of the stupid trope came with Human Centipede, the “two girls and a cup” of horror movies. IMO gross and torture is not horror. I get that certain monsters affect certain kinds of scenes. For instance, you can’t have a bloodless werewolf attack, vampires are strong and vicious, serial killers are horrible and dirty, zombies are gross. So I’m not saying we have to go back to the days when people would get shot and fall over with no blood, but watching people get parts of their bodies cut for 90 minutes, or watching a big guy cut people’s heads off with garden shears over and over again is not horror, it’s how gross can you get.
Make no mistake, I am just as concerned for any group of people who celebrate gross as I would be anyone with anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to have a subscription to a NAMBLA weekly newsletter. Whatever excuse they give you can’t help but on some level to check their backyards for a graveyard of dead animals or worse.
A good horror movie is about the scares, the uncomfortable atmosphere, the monster lurking in the shadows. Stephan King’s It is all these things. The story flows, the monster is a monster, the jump scares are kept to a minimum and there are some very effective scary scenes sprinkled throughout. I admit that any movie that tries to be effectively scary and not overtly gory already wins a certain amount of respect from me. The one part that did not work for me was most of the adults who seem more cardboard than actual characters. Even Bev’s father was more of a forgettable character rather than an important factor to what makes Bev, Bev. However, that is just some nitpicking on my part. If you’re looking for a great little “watch on Halloween” soon to be the classic effective horror movie, the 2017 Stephan King’s It is the horror movie (or King adaptation) you’ve been waiting for.