“IT” Rocks! (Review)


Twenty-seven years after Tim Curry shambled across America’s TV screens as the evil clown Pennywise, Stephen King’s classic tale of evil lurking in small town Maine finally gets a big budget Hollywood makeover.  The new IT checks every box on the horror bucket-list:

Haunted House? Check

Kids in Mortal Peril? Check

Disbelieving Adults? Check

A Villain to Knock Your Socks Off? Check.  

Photo Credit: Brooke Palmer/Warner Bros.

Where Tim Curry’s deranged clown occasionally lightened the mood with a noise maker or wisecrack, the new Pennywise is playing for keeps from the first time we see him, hiding in a dark sewer, enticing a curious kid to get just a little closer…  

At Warner Bros’ lavish press day in Los Angeles, star Bill Skarsgard opened up about preparing for the iconic role of King’s killer clown: “Of course, going into the project I saw the mini-series and read the novel,” Skarsgard said, “but after seeing the mini-series I tried to stay away from it as I knew we weren’t doing that again.”  Instead, Skarsgard used King’s timeless (and hefty) novel as his compass.  “It’s a 1,200 page book and there’s so much in there… so many little breadcrumbs,” the actor says.   And what about the inevitable comparisons to Tim Curry?  “Nobody will do Tim Curry as good as Tim Curry, and nobody can do Bill Skarsgard except me!” he said with a laugh. “I used my own tools and did what I could do to make it original and make it my own.” At 6’4”, Skarsgard’s Pennywise is a towering presence that should rightly freak out kids and adults alike.  The actor fully credits director Andy Muschietti with helping design the clown’s distinctive look. “IT was a dream project for me,” the Argentinian filmmaker admits.  He and Skarsgard deliberately kept the final makeup hidden from the young cast until it came time to shoot their first scene with the evil clown.  “I wanted to capture that moment, that first shock,” the director recalled.  “It was hard to tell because those kids are such good actors, but I think what we got was real.”   Or maybe not: As Skarsgard recalls, “The first take of the scene where Jack (Jack Dylan Grazer) sees me… and I’m growling and drooling all over him and then they yell ‘Cut!’ and I said, ‘Are you ok?’ And Jack said, ‘Man, I love what you’re doing!’”

WB Press Event Photo; Credit: Mark Cerulli

Set in the late 1980s, IT is pure nostalgia, not unlike that of Stand By Me or Goonies. The film perfectly captures the sense of a largely vanished America: where kids rode their bikes all day free of adult supervision, with nary a cellphone or Gameboy in sight.  IT also captures the perils of high school: being an “outsider”, dealing with teenage angst, crushes and, of course, local bullies.  Although Skarsgard’s clown is the film’s boogeyman, it’s the young cast, headed by the gifted Jaeden Lieberher and Sophia Lillis who carry the film, providing numerous touching moments as they deal with loss, danger and the stirrings of adolescent love.  That said, in its bones, IT is a horror movie and director Muschietti delivers, turning everyday basements and bathrooms into scenes of unimaginable horror as Pennywise discovers each kid’s darkest fear and serves it up on a bloody platter.  When the action moves into the sewers beneath the streets of Derry, Maine, Muschietti punches the cinematic accelerator because the outcast kids are now on the evil clown’s home turf.  Although the newest kid in school, a bully magnet named Ben (the excellent Jeremy Ray Taylor) discovers a lot of Derry’s sad history, we never learn why Pennywise does what he does – just that he does it every 27 years. But perhaps that’s being saved for the sequel (assuming IT does the crazy box office expected of IT.)

“We’re massive King fans and massive IT fans,” admits producers Seth Grahame-Smith and David Katzenberg but even with the Stephen King pedigree, it took almost 7 years to bring IT to the big screen.  Early on they decided that the only way to tell the full story was to focus on the kids’ childhood experiences.  (The novel follows two separate time periods in the kids’ lives.) They left the kids’ return as adults to take on the evil clown as material for a sequel.  “Otherwise it would be a four and a half hour movie that no one would enjoy,” the producers said.  “We caught so many lucky breaks on this movie,” Grahame-Smith continues, “the way the scheduling worked out, it’s 27 years since the mini-series came out, so it looks like we’re geniuses… we cast the kid from Stranger Things (Finn Wolfhard who plays Richie) before Stranger Things…”

Along with a great cast (if these kids are this talented now, just wait a few years), the film benefits from eye-popping visual effects that weren’t even possible in 1990, especially some of a, um… dental nature.  There have been, and no doubt WILL be many more Stephen King adaptations, but this IT is one for the ages.

About the author
Mark Cerulli
Mark was an award-winning writer/producer for HBO for many years, creating on-air content and interviewing over 100 filmmakers and actors. He has also produced content for Monsters HD, Sundance and Epix. He produced DVD docus on two James Bond films and produced/directed DVD docs on the Halloween series for Anchor Bay. He has had four screenplays optioned, including one by HBO. His website is: www.iluminar.tv
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