From the chilling mastermind behind generations of coulrophobia, Stephen King’s influence ceases to halt; his timeless story brought back to theaters in a new interpretation by the creative genius of Andy Muschietti. Muschietti keeps the terrifying image of sharped tooth clowns present in the minds of viewers, even 31 years after the first release of King’s petrifying novel, IT.
Debate has been circling even before the premiere of “IT” (2017), the main point of argument at the time of it’s announcement being, “Do we really need another version?” After the book’s release in 1986 it took only four years for King’s work to be made into a two part, three hour mini-series which hit ABC’s network in 1990 and rounded up around 30 million views. Since then the mini-series has become known to many as a cult classic. Tim Curry, the first to portray Pennywise the Dancing Clown, delivered a bone chilling and spine tingling performance, leaving viewers haunted for years. Questions arose if anyone could ever compare to his life altering performance. Critics raised the question early on, asking, “Will the new IT be worth our time?” The simple answer is this: yes. Yes, it is.
The tale, originating from King’s 1986 horror thriller, begins in the small town of Derry, Maine; a town known for obscene quantities of death and tragedy. Every 27 years an evil, fear mongering, shape shifting entity which most commonly takes the form of a clown (referenced frequently as Pennywise the Dancing Clown or more simply It) resurfaces to cause mayhem and death in Derry. When Pennywise returns during the year of 1958, so does the trail of children’s bodies behind him, leaving hazy eyed parents seemingly unbothered and kids fearing they’ll be next. The protagonists of this story is a group known to us as The Losers Club, a rag tag bunch of misfits who become friends in the summer of ‘58. Leading this group is our main character, the stuttering, wimpish, yet exceedingly brave Bill Denbrough, whose loss of his brother, Georgie, during the fall of that year fuels his mission to discover Georgie’s murderer. Alongside Bill is Ben Hanscom; an overweight, lonely, yet kind kid; Richie Tozier; the funniest out of The Losers whose loud mouth is known to get him into frequent trouble with school bullies; Eddie Kaspbrak; a worry wart, neat freak whose overbearing mother deems him to be a fragile boy; Beverly Marsh; the only girl of the group, but known to hold her own until it comes to her abusive father; Mike Hanlon; an African American kid who’s constantly bullied because of his skin color, but is accepted by The Losers, and the detective of the group being the first one to lead The Losers to Pennywise’s trail; and Stan Uris; a Jewish boy scout who feared It the most. King’s tale continues on, the investigative work of the children fighting against the clock to discover the lair of Pennywise the Clown and finish him off before more kids can go missing, and before he subsides back into hiding at the year’s end. Intertwined with this back story is also the tale of what happens 27 years after the events of 1958, where the now successful Losers must come back to Derry, face the terrors of the haunted town they had been repressing and finish off the monster they had forgotten, once and for all.
The book itself is a literary work of art and no matter what copy you pick up it will always be over 1,000 pages. Quite a hard task to squeeze into a three hour mini-series, right? Well for Tommy Lee Wallace, the director of IT(1990) it seemed a breeze. The two tales of young and old were neatly intertwined throughout the three hour run time, and although it never left much of a scare, it was scarring. The biggest aspect of this film, though, was not much The Losers, but more so Pennywise (played by Tim Curry, 1990). Wallace’s version of Pennywise was less a malignant force out to murder The Losers, but more so a taunting voice in their heads. His purpose was to scare, manipulate, and slowly turn The Losers mad before he could strike, and Curry passed this off with flying colors. His uneasy smile, off putting voice, and terrible cackle kept in the viewer's mind even after their screen went black. As for The Losers, although their acting is seen to us now as more cheesy than convincing, there’s a sort of nostalgic journey you find yourself going on, seeing how these characters progressed with their lives and rooting for them to make it out with a heartbeat. As for the movie’s comparison with the book it stayed truly loyal to King’s work, but some might say too loyal. In a novel, critics say, King can convince the readers of the character’s journey and make it sound reasonable. When translating this into a film it loses some of the authenticity it once had because despite it being a movie about a shapeshifting clown we truly want to believe it could be realistic. But with such popularity stemming from the book, and the movie magic presented in IT (1990), it was difficult at the time to consider it anything but legendary. So, when talk of a new version of IT arose it was only time before the protests began, and not without good reason, but it was only time that Pennywise the Clown graced a new generation's screen.
With around $123 million flooding the box office in the opening weekend alone, IT(2017), released 27 years after the first film adaptation (good timing guys), is being cut into two two hour films both being directed by Andy Muschietti, the next to be released in 2019. The 2017 film only displays the Losers in their childhood years and takes place in 1988. This meaning their return to Derry will be near present day in 2015. From the beginning there is clear signs of how IT(2017) is drastically different from its 1990 counterpart, but that’s not to say it’s a bad thing. Since IT(1990) aired direct to TV the movie had a lot of restrictions on what it could show and say. Since IT(2017) was released in theaters with its well deserved R rating it had more leeway to enter into the gory, raunchy world that is Stephen King. There are notable differences like how now Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is the detective of the group instead of Mike (Chosen Jacobs), or how the gory details of Georgie’s (Jackson Robert Scott) death is fully displayed on screen, and how The Losers find their way to Pennywise’s lair, but Muschietti makes the journey fun for the viewers and fresh for old fans while still staying true to novel. One of the bigger factors that sets these two films apart, though, is Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard, 2017) who this time around is portrayed as a truly malicious villain who’s out to gather more than fear: he’s out for blood. With jump scares paired with a horrifying victorian clown costume IT(2017) sets the viewers on edge, never knowing the next time It will rear its ugly face and in what form they will take, ready to snatch the life of another kid in Derry. The biggest aspect, though, that sets the two adaptations apart is The Losers. Each kid stands out on their own with amazing performances from the actors, but the scene stealers go to Richie (Finn Wolfhard) and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer). Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier is known to us as the class clown who can never shut up, and Wolfhard passes this off with flying colors. The juvenile yet hilariously vulgar comments Richie spews leaves the audience laughing their heads off, and the comedic timing paired with the fact that Wolfhard also improvised on a great deal of his lines sets everything into perspective, leaving the viewers anticipating what out-of-line comment Richie will make next. As for Eddie Kaspbrak, a character known to be weak and measly, his role in IT(2017) seems a quite 180 for the character. Whereas Eddie use to have a voice like a mouse, he is now a show stopper. With snippy remarks, quick comebacks that challenge Richie’s rude commentary, and hilarious jokes that balance both the aspects of his innocence from an overprotective mother and the attitude of any middle schooler boy; Jack Dylan Grazer proves to be one of the many reasons one should go out and see IT(2017).
Well, if this is such a good movie then what’s all the animosity about? You can take this from different standpoints. Think of the adults whose distaste for this film derives from seeing IT(1990) when it was first released and thought it was above anything that competitors could muster up. Now think of the thrill seeking teenagers who gave it bad reviews for not being “scary” enough and being displeased for its category in the horror genre. They can spew their words of hatred, dripping with disdain, but think twice before believing them because if they say it isn’t a good movie then they’re lying. Andy Muschietti conveys all the right emotions in his adaptation, and the kids pull through with the performances of a lifetime. And as Stephen King said, who’s probably the biggest fan of IT(2017) out there (a very hard task considering he dislikes many of his movie adaptations; for instance The Shinning), “If you like the characters… if you care… the scares generally work.” The characters of IT(2017) are genuinely characters that you will come to enjoy. Their development throughout the movie is clear as they become stronger together, and although many will say there should have been more jump scares than character development than they mustn't know a thing or two about a good story, where the characters aren’t just detached entities, but living breathing beings. Both versions, IT(1990) and IT(2017) are dull in the department of the thrill seeker, but don’t be fooled. There is fear to be had, and a timeless story to be told, one that dates back far as the eye can see in the small town of Derry, Maine where a clown waits patiently in a lonely sewer awaiting his next victim. “We all float down here,” It echoes.