What can one say about It – the latest adaptation of a posse of misfit kids taking on an evil, sewer-dwelling clown? It’s impossible to review this movie without reference to the 1990 ABC four-hour Stephen King special, which was viewed by millions, and praised largely for Tim Curry’s mesmerizing performance as the demon-clown Pennywise. Curry made revolting chic at the time, and fittingly so.
Sadly, his classic performance is missing from the movie, replaced instead by sense-assaulting special effects. The movie is, for the most part, a roller coaster ride of special effects and gore – more than I usually look for in horror movies, but which, taken together, do have a certain propelling, hypnotic rhythm of their own. Alas, nothing can really compensate for the loss of the brilliant Tim Curry, but on balance, the movie has quite a few delights of its own.
“Nothing can really compensate for the loss of the brilliant Tim Curry as Pennywise, but on balance, the movie has quite a few delights of its own.”
For those interested only in the raw experience of horror, the movie is about a hundred times scarier than the miniseries. The shape-shifting, omnipresent creepiness of Pennywise can hardly be accurately described, and the few chances Bill Skarsgard has to give the creature personality are nicely done. Various scary scenes and images in the series are re-created and enhanced in the movie: the opening scene of Georgie’s murder through the sewer grate, the blood-spewing bathroom-sink scene, the gothic sewer gatehouse. Georgie’s death is more graphic and pitiable in the movie than in the miniseries; Beverly’s abusive dad, to very creepy effect, is oblivious to all the bathroom blood; and that unforgettable gatehouse becomes instead a classic haunted house, equally inviting and terrifying, visually stunning.
The innate evil essence of the town of Derry itself, including its resident adults, is a mere afterthought in the series, whereas in the movie, the kids’ psychologically disturbed parents compete with the clown in their dark and twisted natures. This adds a realistic dimension infinitely more chilling than the demonic pyrotechnics of Pennywise, as the kids’ own flesh and blood seem to be in league with the devil.
But the poignant beauty of these adolescents at play, clinging to rare moments of lighthearted joy, are the real high points of this movie. There should have been more such scenes – I watched for them throughout, and caught myself thinking that if the scary scenes were only balanced by an equal number of the scenes that made my eyelids sting, this It could have come close to a perfect scary-movie experience. At any rate, this movie is chapter 1 in a duology, and I am too interested in these characters not to catch chapter 2 when it hits the theaters.
Just a note for parents: not to mention the blood and gore, lots of (charming) profanity comes out of these kids’ potty-mouths. A couple of points I found very interesting on this matter: the miniseries, which I streamed online before seeing the movie, actually contained three instances of the school bully calling the posse’s African-American kid an n-word. Honestly, I was shocked, as I don’t remember the nineties being so politically incorrect that such a thing was permissible in general, let alone on a prime-time television broadcast.
“If the scary scenes were only balanced by an equal number of the scenes that made my eyelids sting, this It could have come close to a perfect scary-movie experience.”
To make up for this cheeky loss, I guess, the filmmaker eschews the n-word, but substitutes the t-word (i.e., tits) in reference to the posse’s fat kid. I suspect that word has never been heard on any ABC special, in the nineties or otherwise. (Incidentally, Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben the chubby kid is too adorable for words.)
Finally, a wonderful instance in the miniseries occurs when, at a death-defying moment, the now-grown ostensibly gay member of the posse confesses to being a virgin because he can’t have sex with someone he doesn’t love. “And the only people I’ve ever loved is you guys,” he tells the four guys and a girl. They think about the revelation for a second, then turn back to the business at hand. It’s a thoroughly wacky and unexpected exchange, and one of my personal highlights of the miniseries. Although in the movie the kids aren’t grown yet, the filmmaker still finds an opportunity for one of them to say “virgin” – and it is preciously funny. Watch for it if you catch this movie – there are many good reasons to do so.