IT is breaking records all over the place by cashing in on the zeitgeist of 80s nostalgia, clown fears, and jump scares. Can the director of the horribly overrated Mama bring real scares? Is there an actual reason that the black character, Mike, is sidelined and treated as an afterthought? Is it a good movie or just a cash cow? Here are Psycho Drive-In All-Stars Shawn, Dory, and Nate to give a few varied opinions on that! IT is a kid’s movie. Not that it’s for kids, but in that it’s about them. We’re immersed immediately in the childhood world of Derry, Maine. It’s a frightening place, since the parents do more than just not understand. For some reason, in a town where disappearances are above the national average (and even higher for children), the parents are too surly and mean-spirited to pay much attention to their kids. When we see them at all, they’re uniformly vile. Beverly’s abusive dad, Eddie’s over-protective (only it’s more like Munchausen by Proxy in her case) but self-indulgent mom, Ben’s unseen elders. Mike’s parents are dead, both Stan and Bill have judgmental and disappointed fathers. Even the town bully has a father who shoots bullets at his feet when angered. Ben, as the new kid, is the one who has the time (since no friends) to start figuring things out, looking up Derry’s storied history of tragedies in the town library. Most of the news is bad, though it doesn’t add up to anything coherent. The most he can glean is that kids are most in danger every 27 years, and the cycle is currently underway (taking at least three kids on camera as summer begins, quite violently). What’s taking them? Pennywise, the Dancing Clown of course (a bravura turn by Bill Skarsgard, apparently the creepiest member of that acting dynasty, even given his brother playing a serial rapist in HBO’s Big Little Lies this past spring), and the closer we get to him, the more we get hints of some larger story that’s never fully revealed. The logic of the movie leaves a lot in doubt in fact, though the spooky special effects (Pennywise has a penchant for arranging balloons and other detritus in creepy patterns) usually suffice to up the spook factor without becoming too humorous or relying on too much shock value. The director is wise to focus the majority of his attention on the faces of his very game cast, as this crew seems like future stars in training, everyone giving sophisticated performances that compensate for the complete lack of adult supervision. Finn Wolfhard is the sensitive leader in his other TV show, but here he’s a wise-cracking would-be horn dog. Mike’s personal danger due to racism is made clear, as is Beverly’s vulnerability to male gazes and town gossip. Eddie’s hypochondria is delivered with consistent comic effect, and there’s something poignant about Stan’s greatest fear amounting to a piece of modern art trying to kill him. Just don’t wonder too much about why there’s an old well under the central casting haunted house on the outskirts of town, or why an old illustration of enraged town fathers (after a mass 19th century suicide) includes a conspicuous clown leering from the gallery, or why no one has ever figured out what Ben unearths in a couple of weeks all by himself. “They all float down here” takes on a different, visually striking meaning in this film, only that meaning isn’t revealed by the end of Chapter One. Lucky for the filmmakers it’s a surprise box office smash. It was a wise call to maintain the youthful focus for this film, and to save their later struggles for Chapter Two. Here’s hoping they cast the adult counterparts as well in the sequel. — Shawn Hill The 2017 remake of the original IT (1990) is what I imagine Friday the 13th (1980) would be like if Pixar made it with Steven Spielberg. IT (2017) features a group of pre-teen outcasts as they fight an evil being that takes the form of Pennywise the clown. Pennywise, a character created by master of horror, Stephen King (Dark Tower) has an ethereal existence. Only kids can see him and his yellow, razor-sharp teeth. Originally played by horror legend, Tim Curry (Rocky Horror Picture Show), the current Pennywise is portrayed by an adorable little twenty-something heartthrob, Bill Skarsgard (Hemlock Grove). Much of the horror of Pennywise was that he was a creepy dude in his forties chasing after prepubescent boys and girls. Tim Curry gave Pennywise that extra Freddy Krueger fright, making the original IT eerie, even if clowns don’t scare you. Skarsgard, however, is a Netflix pretty boy in his late twenties, and his cartoonish portrayal is more Jim Carrey (Ace Ventura) than Tim Curry. While the 2017 remake is nostalgic, interesting, and funny, I wouldn’t call it horror. In horror, casting is an integral part of the genre. So many slashers have been ruined by an unbelievable killer. Urban Legend (1998), Scream 3 (2000) and 4 (2011), Cursed (2005), and the Vince Vaughn Psycho (1998) made this mistake and there are many more. When you’re not afraid of the killer, it just becomes horror comedy. And there’s nothing wrong with horror comedy—it’s great. But good horror comedy is usually intentional. Child’s Play (1988) is one of my favorite horror comedies because it’s intentionally campy, cheesy, and downright silly. But the problem with the 2017 IT is that is takes itself seriously. The writers seriously think that casting a scrawny millennial who’s only famous on Instagram is a good idea. I knew making IT without Tim Curry would be risky, but casting Bill Skarsgard just shows how little these writers know about horror. Granted, Stephen King’s film adaptations can never truly capture the horror, gore, and wit that go into his books, but they’re generally exciting. Carrie (1976) is one of the best horror movies ever fucking made. Carrie isn’t scary and she’s not supposed to be. There’s nothing frightening about a high school ginger with social anxiety. Sure, Carrie can start fires but we don’t fear her. Carrie serves to point out the ugliest parts of humanity, abuse in the name of religion, the harsh realities of bullying, and the complete ineptitude of school leaders to keep their students safe. Though you’re not going to stay up at night because a telekinetic feminist is after you, you still walk away from Carrie having seen gruesome kill scenes and the brutality of humanity. With the IT remake, there is no suspense, no real gore, no fear. I honestly think this entire film could’ve been made without Pennywise. If we’re going to have a “horror movie” that barely shows the kills, gore, or a scary killer, why have Pennywise at all? If IT were made without Pennywise, you’d still have that Sixteen Candles (1984) nostalgia and poignant themes like grief, loss, sexual abuse, addiction. The parents in IT are the true villains in this film anyway. A CGI-clown just interrupts what is actually frightening about the film. We have Molly Ringwald-badass, Beverly (Sophia Lillis) and her father who sexually abuses her, Eddie (Jack Dylan Glazer) whose gluttonous mother has Munchausen’s by Proxy Syndrome, (forcing him to believe he’s sick when he’s not), Henry’s (Nicholas Hamilton) father, who shoots at his feet nearly killing him, not to be outdone by Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and his grandfather who forces him to kill sheep, and of course Billy’s (Jaeden Lieberher) negligent parents who started this whole fucking thing. Who lets their child play in the rainwater in the street? If it weren’t for Pennywise, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) might have died just as easily in a hit and run. The sadistic and torturous behavior exhibited by the parents is scary enough. Pennywise just becomes this cartoon distraction, like Bugs Bunny popping up in A Nightmare on Elm St (1984) when you’re expecting a burned serial killer with knives for fingers. I’m not saying it’s a bad movie, but the entire motivation for this film is predicated on a fear of clowns. And if you’re not afraid of clowns (I’m not), there is nothing scary or suspenseful in this film. If they make a film about cops killing a bunch of kids just because they can, I might actually feel scared (seriously, I can’t watch the news and I laughed through A Nightmare on Elm St. (1984) when I was five). While this film is somehow rated R, we don’t see any real kill scenes, there’s no gore, and no killer to be feared. But it’s still a really good comedy. And it’s not that I don’t like remakes, I fucking love horror remakes. House of Wax (2005), Friday the 13th (2009), and A Nightmare on Elm St (2010) are my top three favorite horror remakes of all time. I even think the House of Wax remake was infinitely better than the original. The House of Wax featured two very real killers, sexist, racist, country boys who know how to gut an animal, groin to sternum. Those killers could exist, and do exist in America—they’re the ones marching in the streets with swastika tattoos and Trump hats. Killers like the ones in The Strangers (2008) who walk into your house in broad daylight and kill you for no reason, they exist. The woman-hacking, rapist pig of a cop in I Spit on Your Grave (both 1978 and 2010) is a hauntingly realistic portrayal. The reality is that cops kill people every day. Women are raped every day. Backwoods, Deliverance-type shit happens all the time. It’s real and it’s scary. Those are the killers I fear—the ones who could be your next-door neighbor, your local cop, or the people you find when your car breaks down. Killer clowns? Adorable. While I realize killer clowns have actually become a thing in between the first 1990 IT and the current one, you’re more likely to get hit by lightning them come across a killer clown. The real fear of clowns, or coulrophobia, is not a real disorder. It’s just an irrational fear. It’s not like depression or PTSD, it’s just a fear of unknown emotions. People who fear clowns tend to be under the age of ten and at that age, it’s scary not knowing what someone is thinking or feeling. Most people who fear clowns are kids because when you’re young, reading people’s emotions is comforting. The original IT also came off the tails of a real killer clown, John Wayne Gacy, who raped and killed over 30 people in Illinois in the late 1970’s. Stephen King’s novel, IT, came out in 1986, riding the real fear many people had of killer clown, Gacy. Fast forward to 2017 and killer clowns don’t seem all that bad. We don’t even hear tales of serial killers anymore as those stories are drowned out by killer cops, mass shooters, and suicide bombers. Today, people are killed in movie theaters, schools, shopping malls. There is no real fear of the unknown because you’re most likely to be killed by someone you know. And pop culture’s fascination with origin stories of killers like Manson as a handsome boy toy just make killers seem more like parody or myth. We live in an age where it’s legal for the police to kill people, but our horror movies can’t show any real gore. What we’re left with in the new IT is a heartfelt afterschool special about kids with social anxiety whose parents are total dicks. So, if you watch the movie keeping that in mind, that it’s just a comedy that borrows heavily from Wes Craven’s (Scream) child-molesting killer, Freddy Krueger, it’s a good film. If you go into the film knowing it’s a light comedy that deals mostly with losing a loved one, you’ll have fun. There are some great lines in the film that had me laughing my ass off. When one of the loser kids gets back at Henry, the hypermasculine douchebag, he shouts, “Go blow your dad, you mullet-wearing asshole.” And when the Munchausen’s kid finds out his pills are placebos, he shouts, “They’re gazebos!” There are even a few choice New Kids on the Block lyrics and adorable moments between Beverly and Billy. In the end, if you’re afraid of clowns, you probably won’t see this movie. And if you’re not afraid of clowns, this is just a heartwarming comedy. I know IT is supposed to be scary, but they sabotaged the film by casting an innocuous millennial as the killer. Skarsgard looks like he’d just fuck up your pumpkin spice latte because it’s his first job out of college. Combine shitty casting with their hard-fast refusal to show any realistic violence, and this is no longer a horror film. So, save yourself the trouble and just go watch the real Freddy Krueger this film pathetically tried to imitate. Or better yet, read John Wayne Gacy’s Wikipedia page and know that there are thousands of men just like him, wandering the streets with a loaded gun. — Dory Hoffman Stephen King movies have had a spotty track record at best. For every Shawshank Redemption or The Shining, there’s an overwhelming multitude of disappointments and dreck, including this summer’s long gestating and prophetically disappointing Dark Tower adaptation. The two-part IT mini-series came out in 1990 and is best known for Tim Curry’s unnerving performance. Otherwise, it wasn’t that great itself but, grading upon a steep King curve, it comes out as perfectly tolerable. Hollywood has been trying to get a new IT movie in development for years, and I mostly just shrugged at the idea. Did we really need another version? After seeing the 135-minute finished film, I can say that the answer to that is a definitive and enthusiastic yes. IT is a fiendishly fun horror movie with rapturously composed visuals, an affecting emotional core, and impressive craftsmanship. It’s easily already in the top echelon of King adaptations. Back in 1989, children have been mysteriously disappearing from the small town of Derry, Maine. Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) is still recovering from his younger brother who went missing one fateful rainy day. Bill holds onto the hope that somehow his brother is still alive, washed away through Derry’s series of sewers. He and his group of friends, affectionately nick-named The Losers, are being hunted and haunted by a strange clown who calls himself Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). This evil clown feasts on the children’s fears and has been frightening Derry every 27 years, snatching children to consume, including Bill’s lost little brother. The Losers band together to stop this clown menace. Director Andy Muschietti (Mama) brilliantly brings to life a dynamic funhouse of scares, suspense, and big screen delights that will leave you howling for more. Much like James Wan’s Conjuring films, Muschietti doesn’t present anything radically new into the world of horror, but he takes older, sustained horror techniques and executes them to near perfection. The greatness of horror is when you simmer in that delicious sense of tension nervously awaiting what’s to come next. For this effect to have any punch, a filmmaker needs to lay a deliberate foundation to then twist and manipulate. Muschietti is amazing at heightening the atmosphere of dread and drawing it out. There are scares in IT that are textbook in their masterful orchestration. Take for instance a scene with Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) in the basement of a library. He looks over his shoulder to see an ashen child’s body standing on the stairs. Given the lowered camera angle, the top of the ceiling cuts off the ashen kid’s head. Then as he stumbles down the stairs it’s revealed… he has no head. It’s a startling reveal and it carries on from there. Pennywise coming through a haunted slideshow of Derry was another creepy highlight. The red balloon of Pennywise transforms into an alarming totem for the audience, a signal to begin your nervous anticipation. The movie keeps finding new ways to creep you out until the very end. It’s movies like It that can remind you what tremendous fun horror movies can achieve. Let’s get straight to the clown, the star of so many nightmares. Curry is the reason why anyone remembers the 1990 TV mini-series. Fortunately, Skarsgard (Atomic Blonde) goes in his own direction for his own personal interpretation of the character. There are similar tics, in particular the lisp, but Skarsgard makes it his own and he is wonderful. His command over his body is incredible and it magnifies the creepiness of every appearance. He holds his cheeks together in a rictus grin that looks downright painful, and he’ll lock into expressions and just let dribbles of saliva drip off his chin. Even while playing this big, broad, malicious character with a penchant for theatricality, Skarsgard can find little touches to create an even more unsettling impression. I’ve never been impressed by Skarsgard’s performances before, mostly amounting to my unchecked hatred of his awful Netflix TV series, Hemlock Grove. He impressed the hell out of me in IT. This is a Pennywise that has such loose, alarming contortion over his body. When he pulls his face back revealing row after row of sharp teeth, it’s almost a relief from the more horrifying human version of Skarsgard’s outsized antics. Tim Curry owned his character’s sense of campiness. In contrast, Skarsgard feels deliberately more unhinged and also a creature in complete revelry of being so deranged. If you have a fear of clowns, I would advise that you simply never watch this movie in your entire life. While I was expecting the big top entertainment from Pennywise, I was surprised at how involving and relatable the teenage drama can be. The screenwriters have done an admirable job at taking time to establish the characters and their relationships to one another. The town of Derry is a world of criminally neglectful adults. Everyone in this town seems to be an asshole; even the librarian chides Ben for the indecency of looking at books in a library during the summer (do your job, lady!). It’s a world where grownups disappoint and where adulthood is just a miserly existence of abuses. Beverly’s father lecherously takes ownership over his daughter’s body. Eddie’s (Jack Dylan Grazer) hypochondriac mother tries to lock her son away from the larger world, not out of protection but out of her own selfish comfort. These are the kind of people that look the other way while the local town bullies are literally carving initials into a child’s flesh. With all of this awfulness, the coming together of the Losers and their unified friendship provides a lifeline of support. They’re relatable, realistic, and heart-warming in their affection for one another. They talk and act like authentic kids, which also means they make dumb decisions out of curiosity. The movie stops to share little coming-of-age moments that ring true, like Beverly’s (Sophia Lillis) awkwardness at shopping for her first tampons or the boys trying to act cool in front of a girl. As he did with Mama, Muschietti is super-humanly adept at directing child actors. Seriously, he might have to direct all child performances from here on. The young actors do fine work at building out their characters, though some are expectedly underwritten. Special notice should go to Lieberher (Midnight Special) as the stuttering Bill still trying to grasp his brother’s death. Given the childish nature of the fears and the theatricality of its villain, the movie is inevitably going to skid into goofy territory, but instead of rejecting this IT swerves into the skid and becomes even better. When you deal with a killer shape-shifting clown who hides in the sewers and lives upon the fear of children, things can get silly and pretending otherwise is a waste of time and energy. Muschietti and company acknowledge the otherworldly with proud panache, making the goofiness part of the fun and ultimately part of the terror. Skarsgard is tremendous at turning on a dime, having his lisping, big grinned clown go from broad and ridiculous to terrifying, and he can do it with just a look. It happens even in his earliest big screen appearance. This is a Pennywise who feels like an alien’s idea of a party clown; the original elements are there but connect wrong or are amped up. There are a couple instances where Pennywise dances, and I absolutely adored each. His malevolent gesticulations felt like an exaggerated cartoon given unholy life, which seemed more than fitting. You may laugh at points and then gasp the next, and I’m fully convinced that’s the intended response. The childhood fears are much improved from the classic Universal monsters from the original novel (I’m sorry, nobody is afraid of mothballed versions of Dracula or Frankenstein in this day and age). Seeing them manifested as misaligned phantoms is far worse, even if the effect might not be as jarring without the accompanying music and sound design. The only structural problem I would cite is that IT has a little too much fun with its scary set pieces and starts to feel redundant in the middle. It becomes a figurative funhouse (before the literal haunted house) of set pieces with each one of the Losers being tormented by our clownish friend multiple times. There are seven of them after all. We could have probably done with one or two fewer of these encounters. You’re having so much fun waiting with anticipation for each encounter that I can’t complain too hard. It’s difficult to push yourself away from the funhouse and get back on track to a narrative conclusion meant to cleave a 1000-page book into a workable satisfying endpoint. I thought the bully character featured considerably throughout the story was going to become an increasingly significant antagonist into Act Three. That didn’t quite happen. The ending scene bonding the children together also seems to exist in such an earnest tone, and yet the amount of blood onscreen for their bloody hand-holding ritual is comically excessive, which caused me to giggle. I choose to believe it was Muschietti undercutting the feel-good triumphant moments with some darkly macabre touches, to remind the viewer that while our characters have survived they are still forever distorted. The newest incarnation of IT is a glorious chiller with top-notch acting, directing, cinematography, production design, sound design, and just about all the elements that suffered from the lackluster 1990 TV mini-series. The 2017 movie is top-notch nightmarish mayhem treated as a marquee thrill ride. You strap yourself in and wait for the carefully calibrated scares and suspense and payoffs. However, the human element is not lost amidst the ride, and the children and their bond forms an emotional anchor. Muschietti demonstrates a consistent mastery of classic horror techniques. He allows scenes to build, to surprise, to startle in uncomfortable ways. Having such a talent at the helm, I was pinned to my seat and lapping up every moment of wonderful unease. The IT mini-series was split into two stores, one focusing on the characters as children and another as middle-aged adults (the childhood stuff was, without question, superior material). The movie ends with the title “Chapter One” and the promise that, if the box office gods deliver, there will be a second chapter transporting us to the present. I was indifferent before but not longer. Muschietti has made me a believer. Give me more of IT. Nate’s Grade: A- A version of this review originally ran on Nate’s own review site Nathanzoebl. Check it out for hundreds of excellent reviews! — Nate Zoebl Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related One Response Stephen King's IT (2017) Blu-ray - Psycho Drive-In January 7, 2018 […] we reviewed IT back in September, we had a mixed bag of reviews. At the time I didn’t really have much more to add to what Dory, […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.