Review By Danno
Is there anything that brings as much childhood delight and terror to our lives than a clown? Any 80’s or 90’s kid can easily recall their excitement at seeing Ronald McDonald and the gang cavorting around at the newest burger joint opening in town and the cheerful buffoons dancing down the street every year at the Christmas parade. We also remember the terror of Tim Curry bringing Pennywise the Dancing Clown to life in the first film adaptation of Stephen King’s IT. While sanitized for network television and nowhere near the sort of gut wrenching story penned in the classic, gargantuan novel of the same name, the mini series version served to terrify audiences of all ages for the better part of the last 27 years. Then, just like that malevolent clown monster, the story returned from the depths of cinematic obscurity with major studio money and a new vision for an old nightmare.
Big studios have been letting us down over the last 20 years or so as the trend has gone away from original, R rated horror towards more marketable, PG-13 fare that usually results in lack lusters remakes of old classics into schlocky regurgitations. There have been a few gems to rise up out of the much but, by and large, the 21st century has been disappointing for horror fans when it comes to big budget productions. News that Stephen King’s IT was not only being remade, but remade in chronological order, Hobbit-esque multi film narrative set in the 1980’s left many fans, myself included, very skeptical.
Then I was introduced to Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise and so many of my fears were alleviated. In more than two hours of film, I sat in the theater mesmerized by the clown prince of evil as he psychologically and physically tortured the small band of Derry children known as the Losers’ Club. Where the original, made for TV version introduced us to the idea of this ancient, malevolent creature hiding in the form of something pure and child like, it didn’t give us a lot of backstory. I mean, even across the four hours of miniseries, we spent more time with the Losers reconciling their past than we did truly getting to know the nearly omnipotent, fear feasting entity responsible for the disappearance and death of so many children.
By telling the story in chronological order as opposed to the Tarantino-esque style of the novel and miniseries, we have time to paint a more fitting portrait of Derry, the Losers, and Pennywise. We explore the sort creeping horror that swallows a tiny town already in the midst of its own drama and struggle as one child after another disappears and is replaced in memory by the next one to turn up missing. The sordid lives of families and children who are the victims of all too common forms of abuse that would otherwise go unnoticed by the casual observer. From the physical abuse of bullies to the psychological abuse of an overbearing parent and further still into the sexual abuse of a young girl entering womanhood, there is a lot that’s absolutely terrifying and unnerving about the town of Derry, Maine and none of it has to do with clowns.
King has always been a graphic storyteller and for the first time in a very long time, justice is done to one of his most celebrated novels. Skarsgard’s Pennywise holds true to the novel and pays tribute to Tim Curry’s classic portrayal while bringing new life into the demonic monster. The kids are all a bit more accurate to the novel in both description and emotional trauma and the special effects, while nothing new, are beautiful when coupled with the story and performances.
So, the good news is that with films like IT and Annabelle: Creation we’re seeing that big studios are still able to produce good, R rated horror when they really want to. The bad news: you’ll have to wait until September 6, 2019 to see if lightning strikes twice with this epic horror tale. Announced earlier this week, the nearly two year delay in release speaks to the uncertainty of a studio that wasn’t sure their gamble on horror would pay off. But, knocking out Deadpool for biggest opening and box office take, it seems pretty certain that Hollywood is getting ready to take a chance of fear once again. Only time will tell.