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Clowning around Derry


27 years later, terrifying clown revisits seemingly sweet, small Maine town in disappointing ‘IT’ remake

Kaitlin Schneider
Antelope staff

When asked to do a comparison of “It,” the ABC mini-series and the cinematic remake that just hit theaters, I just kind of sighed.

But, the idea kept eating at me. I kept telling myself that I needed to expand my cinematic horizons, to boldly go where I’d never gone before, but every time I delved into the horror genre, I was sorely disappointed. However, I decided to take on the challenge, watching both in two consecutive evenings.

Going into this, I had no idea what to expect. I had heard a little of the narrative before, but very little. I knew there was a clown involved, and he (it) lived in the sewers of a small Maine town. I figured the original was going to be tedious, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was far from perfect, but it had a more gripping aura about it than the 2017 version.

Before we get started, let me offer a synopsis for those of you that may not have watched, or read, the source material. (Note: I have not read the 1986 Stephen King novel. I went into this blind, and it is only analysis of TV and film. Additional note: Spoilers. Obviously!)

Enter the Lucky Seven, or the Losers Club, a ragtag group of misfits from Derry, Maine (no coincidence there, considering Stephen King calls this place home). Although they are brought together due to their unfortunate circumstances in small-town life, such as abusive parents, bullying and mysteriously murdered siblings, they are bonded through more than just friendship.

They are also victims of the terrifying clown, Pennywise, wonderfully, horrifically portrayed by the one and only Tim Curry (“Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Red October”). This clown can take on the form of each of the child’s phobias: a werewolf, an abusive parent or something more sinister and less tangible. But It only preys on children as It gains a more satisfying meal from terrified children who believe every fear can come to life.

There’s a caveat here though, as the clown is an interdimensional being with the “true” form of a spider, a fact our ensemble cast learns 30 years later when the killings and disappearances start again because It has come back to feed once again.

Note that its fearmongering forms take the shape of two of the most common phobias around – clowns and spiders, and its “Deadlights” add yet another layer to Its horrifying aura.

“It” all adds up to a terrifying animatronic monster and a final boss fight that is a bit of a letdown. Although the lack of special effects reminds me of “The Clash of the Titans” from 1981, the film still manages to keep attention and better pacing once the individual storylines are established.  Through the power of friendship, and a couple silver nuggets, the kids manage to save the town from the horrors that lurk beneath.

“It” – 1990 mini-series

What ABC (1990) managed to create is bizarre, more of a psychological thriller than horror film, but there is a bit of gore splashed in here and there too, especially as the film concludes. The final monster makes the spiders in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” look like cuddly puppies in comparison.

The pacing starts out slow, but each character’s in-depth storyline is necessary to see what gets into their heads, especially when It brings their individual phobias alive throughout the mini-series.

“It” creates some unnerving, yet still entertaining, four hours of television that actually gets into the minds of viewers, split into two two-hour segments.

I have to again commend Tim Curry on his chilling performance as Pennywise. That laugh will never fail to make me shudder. Far from perfect, but still enjoyable.

“It” – 2017 Film Remake

Starting out, I already had a theory that this movie would take the route of most modern movies and thus not keep my attention.

Unfortunately, I was right. Although the loose narrative does remain somewhat loyal to the source material, there was a lot left to be desired. I felt my interest slipping away around the first hour, when things had started picking up in the original.

Bill Skarsgård does an adequate job, but his unnerving qualities are nowhere near Tim Curry’s, and Pennywise’s laugh wasn’t even enough to send shivers down my spine. His antics did cause an eye-roll or two.

Instead of focusing on unnerving phobias that make audiences’ skins crawl, the 2017 version relies on jump scares and shock value, not to mention copious amounts of gore – indicated by Beverly Marsh’s phobia and the blood-flooded bathroom– that detract from grounding factors that cause for a more immersive film. Of course, this is the way of more contemporary, and thereby predictable, horror films.

There were a few redeeming qualities that didn’t make these two hours a waste. The fun tidbit about It coming back every 27 years is a nice touch, considering the original mini-series aired exactly 27 years ago. The creators did their homework, and Skarsgård had some massive shoes to fill (clown pun entirely intended).

Regarding this film as a standalone work, “It” stands up to some harsh scrutiny, just falling into line with similarly classified films. However, in relation to the 1990 version, the film sinks into the sewers of Derry. 

Perhaps Chapter Two will float right past One and surprise audience members when It returns. Let us hope that it will not fall in the same way those “Star Wars” prequels did, with even more constant reliance on CGI to make up for poor characterization. I guess we’ll see in 27 years, when our ensemble cast returns as adults. It will also feature flashbacks of the childhood cast, and will hopefully not stray too far away from the original.

Float or Sink?

For adapting a 1,138-page novel into four hours, ABC did better than expected. There was little CGI, like the shower scene with Eddie, but of course it was 1990. On the other side of that coin, the 2017 film managed more laughs than frights, and did focus on more superficial components, but let’s not abandon all hope just yet, at least not until Pennywise returns to the silver screen in the next few years.

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