Here we are in February 2019 and I have now seen the recent movie remake of the Stephen King story. I finally saw it now after it has been named most financially successful horror at the box office of all time. What does that mean? Does it suggest that it is the perfect horror movie? The perfect adaptation of the King novel?
If you are a horror movie fan, you probably have seen this movie. Let’s remember that this 2017 adaptation is only the first in a two part adaptation. Will the next part be as good or even better?
Personally, I am most familiar with the 90’s tv mini series adaptation. I did not have sky tv so may have missed the first time it was available, but it when due to be shown on the BBC it seemed like a real big even. I recorded both parts on one VHS tape. I am fairly sure I must have seen the chilling clown face of Tim Curry’s Pennywise way before seeing the mini series. I as had most only seen many horror movies, a longer mini series format was quite different and had a larger story and more detailed characters to offer. Also it had that very infamous ending to the story which I believe many King fans disliked.
Cut to 2017 and we get this new take on one of the most well-known King tales. I’ve seen many photos and images of the Pennywise in magazines, online and on televisions since the movie was released and became a huge hit. I was fairly sure of what I was going to see creeping up and jumping out at me from the screen. I did hope there would be a lot more to surprise me when actually watching the movie, and thankfully that was the case.
What do we get from this version of the story? How is it different to the book and the previous mini series?
I have not read the book yet. Are you surprised? I think I have seen more King adapted movies than read his books but have been inspired as a horror writer by both. From what I know, the mini series from the early 90’s remained very close to the book. Originally the story sees the main group of young boys set in the late 1950’s experience trauma at the supernatural terrifying encounters with Pennywise the clown. The story jumps from then to the present day and back. This new version has the boys growing up in the 80’s and we saw many references to familiar pop culture-movies like A Nightmare On Elmstreet, mention of Michael Jackson, and the style brings to mind much loved movies from that decade such as Goonies, E.T., Stand by Me. It stars one of the lead young actors from top nostalgic Netflix phenomenon show Stranger Things which itself is inspired by these kinds of classic movies. We also get a new Beverley who looks very much like 80’s teen icon Molly Ringwald, so much that one of the boys in this new version makes a self-aware joke of the fact. So at first I may have groaned, as it seem that there is just far too much 80’s nostalgia going on right now, but it works out alright in this movie.
In style, this new version looks very slick, really well directed with great cinematography. It seems obvious they really wanted this movie to scare the pants off audiences in cinemas, and really feel like a ghost train or rollercoaster ride. It often does. I has a great opening sequence where we see little Georgie taken by Pennywise and the story moves along quickly introducing the young boys and Beverley with their individual personal troubles and growing pains. It may have felt a little strange to be watching a horror film with young kids as the main characters, but then this came hot on the heels of the popularity of Stranger Things it was not too bizarre. I was quite impressed by most of the young actors, each working well with their own parts and how they acted in the scenes confronting the supernatural terror or Pennywise.
The filmmakers did seem to want to give Pennywise some element of a backstory, placing him in some kind of reality which may or may be a good choice in the end.
It did feel similar to a number of these regular big budget event horror movies like The Nun or others of recent times, where they aren’t really serious horror films but just throw up a number of standard jump-scares one after another. These movies get very tiring and predictable in no time, but with this version of IT there was at least enough going on with the individual characters and their lives to keep the main story interesting between jump scares. Yes, the filmmakers obviously decided to make that one big difference to the 90’s mini series-this time it would keep you jumping and screaming almost every ten minutes or less. Most times, it works very well-this new Pennywise mutates and transforms into a whole collection of horrifically surreal nightmare monsters. Back in 1990 most of these visuals would not have been possibly until we have the CGI we take for granted now or if done in practical effects it may have taken another decade to make just this part of the new adaptation.
There are things shown in this version which may not have been in the original book or mini series or were previously only hinted at before. It could be that there is too much on screen this time. Where in the 90’s mini series we mostly only had a few brief moments of Pennywise and other shocks this time there are many thrilling and wildly animated scenes of twisted terror which may have taken things too far. Was it better when we only less of Pennywise previously? As far as real reliable ghoulish and engaging retro horrors go, this was a great movie. I guess we will see even more Pennywise in the next part due later this year and I look forward to seeing how famous adult actors chosen to portray the grown up kids deal with the return of the clown.
James Parsons is author of horror novel Northern Souls available now in paperback/ebook from all good bookshops and online. Also author of two SF novels Orbital Kin and Minerva century also available in various formats from shops and online now.