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Wednesday, 20 September 2017


Last night, I had the pleasure of watching IT (or rather "ESO") in the company of screaming Colombian women and a 6'5" chap from Florida who kept offering a litany of f-words whenever something spooky happened. To be clear, I'm not being sarcastic - these things really did add to the experience (the Floridian is a mate of mine, and the ladies were sat behind us).

My tall friend (henceforth referred to as 'Legs') was extremely nervous about watching IT as he admitted he gets scared by horror movies, and was genuinely surprised when I said I don't. "How can you enjoy them if they don't fulfill their primary purpose?" was his question. "I still find them fun," I replied. Which is true - I tend to find horror films creepy rather than outright scary, although even then I still tend to find them darkly humourous more than creepy. The last horror film that gave me the willies was probably INSIDIOUS, and the last one that actually unnerved me was THE INVITATION (although that's thanks to the psychological aspect; definitely my favourite type of horror).

So what about IT? Or rather, this version? I'm not going to do a straight-up compare and contrast between this and the 1990 miniseries, but I can't not mention that in relation to this, as the miniseries did profoundly affect teenage me:

I first saw the miniseries when I was 13/14 (in 1993) and I couldn't take it. I remember thinking "I like spooky stuff, and I'm a teenager, so I should be able to handle this." I was determined, resolute in my stance that these things provided me with some kind of defence or armour against stuff that freaked me out up until then. My family were staying with some friends in Leeds, and they had a really nice house with a big fancy TV (they and my parents were in the 'best room' - my brother and I were left to our own devices in the 'family room'). I don't remember if my brother tried watching it with me, but I probably warned him to go play in another room (he would have been 10/11 years old). As we both got older, he started showing more of an interest/determination to watch the films I did (whether it was EVIL DEAD 2 or some subtitled Japanese action film) but I knew our parents would kill me if I let him watch an 'evil clown horror film' with me. So off he went, and I settled in to be the first of my friends to watch IT in its entirety (it was been screened as a special 'complete' version ie. back to back episodes, for whatever reason).

I honestly don't think I managed all of it, because the bleeding Georgie photo, that hideous woman-thing Bev meets, and Pennywise rushing towards the kids as they looked at the old photo, all mentally undid me I can tell you. Tim Curry's Pennywise was 100% terrifying, but even if he hadn't been, the general mood of the show was enough to scare the shit out of me. I did re-watch the miniseries back in December 2016 for the first time since my late teens (when I did properly watch it, as by that time I was devouring any and all horror I could find, both film and book-wise) and now, as an adult, it's obviously not scary BUT that lingering fear/revulsion was still there.

As a product, it's dated and some bits don't work/aren't as cool as I thought as a teen (chiefly the end, when IT reveals its true form) yet...the weird old lady still creeped me out. Pennywise coming out of the shower floor and tilting his head back to reveal his monstrous mouth...there's a lot of good stuff. The mood and set design (of the flashbacks, in the 50s) are brilliant. But, there's clearly a bunch of ways a new version could improve upon IT 1990.

First and foremost, the best thing about IT 2017 is very clearly the budget. For reasons I don't actually know, I've never read the book (even though I must have read pretty much everything else King wrote around that time period) but from what I understand, the Hollywood budget allowed the filmmakers to more accurately recreate certain scenes. There is a lot of repetition between what this version and the old version show, but - and here's the crucial difference - IT 2017 is more straight-up horrific.

By this point, both in this post and in your life in general, you must know the plot, but on the off-chance you don't: a group of childhood friends discover an ancient evil lives under their town (Derry) and wakes up every 27 years to feed on kids. They battle it and think it's defeated, only for the creature to return once they're adults.

I'm not going to spoil any of the nastiness, but certain pivotal scenes (such as Georgie's encounter with Pennywise) involve a lot more violence than I expected. Bill Skarsgard's interpretation of "Pennywise the Dancing Clown" is very similar to Tim Curry's, in a 'flipside of the same coin' way. Generally, whereas old IT was malevolently playful, new IT is more full-on scare-the-shit-out-of-you.

That motto is certainly something the writers must have had emblazoned on the wall of their writing room, at least if you ask Legs he'll probably think so. The poor chap was all folded up like a cheap deckchair. Even though it didn't affect me on the same level (I found it pretty goofy, but not in a stupid way, more like 'Ghostbusters'), I don't blame him - there are scenes that are like being bludgeoned with terror, including a pretty brilliant update on 'Pennywise moves through an old photo'. IT also gave me the all-too-rare (yet entirely welcome) experience of hearing people shriek in fright, followed by bursts of nervous/relieved laughter. You can manufacture a 'typical' scary film (ask James Wan, not that this is a dig) but you certainly can't manufacture that sort of response.

Technically, I can't say I found anything about it at fault; I've seen people complain about the CGI but it is what it is. Sometimes it's excellent, sometimes it looks unreal (but I reckon that adds to the horror, since the kids are being assaulted by manifestations). The childhood stuff has been updated to the 1980s and I never felt like I was being constantly reminded about it ie. it's all background references for the most part, in the form of movie posters and the marquee of the local cinema.

[I will say, even if you're already seen it, next time keep and eye and ear out for some pretty nifty background creepiness - especially the TV the first time we see Bev go home, and a very Tim Curry-like clown in a room of clowns.]

Narrative-wise, certain characters have had qualities swapped around, so that a couple feel shortchanged - specifically Mike, a homeschooled kid who is originally the one to figure out the '27 years' angle and (as an adult) stays in Derry to keep an eye on things. Here, he doesn't really get to do much. All the kid actors are good though, and there's genuinely a naturalistic/slightly-awkward feel to their performances that sells their chemistry as the so-called "Losers Club".

I think it's telling that, right at the end when 'CHAPTER ONE' flashes up, there was a communal "Aaahhhhh!". Now, I don't doubt that younger people (like Legs, who is 27) and Colombians are generally unaware of the story structure of IT, so it'll be easy for them to view the next IT as a sequel, rather than technically part of the same story. I don't think cramming everything (the childhood and adult stuff) into one film would have worked without feeling rushed, but I also question the decision to clearly delineate the flashbacks and present day as two distinct films. Removing the juxtaposition of how the kids turn out after their encounter versus the experience itself arguably robs the story of a lot of its emotional/psychological impact - even just a short epilogue showing the kids as adults, ending with a phone call "It's back" (as happens originally) would have been a pretty nifty tease and given a hint as to how they all dealt with such a horrific experience as they grew up. Maybe the second part will work on its own? Who knows. I'm definitely looking forward to finding out, in any case.