****1/2 (out of 5)
September 8, 2017
Jaeden Lieberher as BILL DENBROUGH
Jeremy Ray Taylor as BEN HANSCOM
Sophia Lillis as BEVERLY MARSH
Finn Wolfhard as RICHIE TOZIER
Chosen Jacobs as MIKE HANLON
Jack Dylan Grazer as EDDIE KASPBRAK
Wyatt Oleff as STANLEY URIS
Bill Skarsgård as PENNYWISE
Nicholas Hamilton as HENRY BOWERS
Studio: New Line Features
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
BY KEVIN CARR
Even though Stephen King has been writing books for decades, the most influential works of his to me are the ones he wrote in the 1970s and 1980s. This is because I discovered him in middle school in the mid-1980s, and I devoured everything he wrote. My fandom waned a bit in the 1990s (after he got sober, and his writing seemed to change), but I will always have a feeling of nostalgia for his earlier works.
While some people consider “The Dark Tower” to be his masterpiece, and others will say that “The Stand” represents the pinnacle of writing long-form genre fiction, I contend that “It” was the apex of his horror writing in that era. As much as I love “The Shining” and “’Salem’s Lot,” his career built to “It,” and in there he used tropes we’d seen before (and many times since) to the greatest effect.
I read “It” in the fall of 1990, right before the TV movie version (directed by “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” auteur Tommy Lee Wallace) was broadcast. It was an imperfect adaptation, nailing the casting of the children but failing with the adult cast, which comprised a slate of TV actors not quite right for their roles. However, like most people, I recognized that Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown was the most indelible thing in that film.
In fact, were it not for Tim Curry, the TV movie version of “It” would be lost in our collective memory and not have become such a horror icon today. So, like many people, I was concerned about this remake and doubted whether they could top Curry’s portrayal of the title villain.
If you’re going into “It” with the hopes of a version of Curry’s Pennywise, you’re setting yourself up for failure. This Pennywise (portrayed by Swedish actor Bill Skarsgård) is quite different. Skarsgård makes the character his own, and the make-up effects give him a different look that is at least as creepy as Curry was. The nearly three decades of visual effects advancement and a much larger budget than the TV production also allows the film to capture the terror of Pennywise in a new and visually fascinating way.
That’s not to say that visual effects are overused. Instead, they are used to augment the performance, not to take it over. And considering the type of creature that Pennywise is (which is never fully explained in the movie, but those who have read the book will understand), it’s entirely appropriate.
So with this new Pennywise, we can look at the rest of the film. The story follows a groups of young misfit teens in Derry, Maine, a town that has a dark past. Derry is haunted by a mysterious clown creature that surfaces every 27 years to feed off the fears of children. Ironically, it’s been 27 years since the TV movie adaptation, so in a way, Pennywise is haunting us all.
Like the TV movie, the child cast is fantastic. They’re Stephen King tropes that you’ll recognize from classic works like “The Body” (which was adapted into the film “Stand By Me”) and later drug-fueled novels like “Dreamcatcher.” The film is also filled with elements that provide a through-line in King’s work – including a dead sibling, abusive parents and a psychotic bully. Additionally, we have realistic teenage boys, using foul language and insults towards each other. By not pulling the punches from the original King book, “It” feels completely authentic to the story.
Though keep in mind… this is not the TV movie adaptation. It is not constrained by network standards and practices. It is not cut to a trim 90-minute run time for a two hour programming block. It does not pause for commercials. It breathes on its own, and it is rife with bloody violence and disturbing imagery… as a good adaptation of this kind of film should be.
In this sense, “It” isn’t just one of the best Stephen King adaptations of recent years, but one of the best adaptations in his career. Because, as much as I love “The Shining,” the movie is nothing like the original book. Movies like “Stand By Me,” “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Misery” continue to be some of the best authentic adaptation, and “It” now joins the fray.