Kevin: At a certain point in the new big screen adaptation of “It” – which just pulled in an astounding $123 million at the box office last weekend – we get a glimpse of a 1989-era movie marquee advertising “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child.” This got me thinking of what the original “Nightmare on Elm Street” would have been like if, rather than killing the teenagers whose dreams he invaded, Freddy Kruger just kept sort of letting them escape repeatedly until they all simply ganged up on him at the end and beat the shit out of him with pipes and baseball bats like he was a Yankees fan outside Fenway Park. If that doesn’t sound very scary, then be prepared because that’s pretty much “It” in a nutshell:
You are probably somewhat familiar with the main storyline of “It” even if you have not read Stephen King’s massive best-seller or watched the popular 1990 ABC miniseries, which chronicle the efforts of seven outcasts in a small Maine town to defeat the demonic clown Pennywise both as children and then later as adults. Unlike the miniseries – which skipped back and forth between both time periods – this version focuses strictly on the kids, while a planned second chapter will catch up with them as adults. And therein lies the biggest reason why “It” isn’t scary: it’s essentially structured around characters who we know won’t be dying being menaced by a villain who apparently can’t kill them, perhaps because he also reads Variety and knows they need to stick around for the sequel.
Here is a typical scare from “It,” repeated many, many, many times: One of the kids walks into a room. He looks around and eventually sees something terrifying, like the ghost of a dead family member. Then Pennywise – who apparently can show up anywhere and as anything – appears screaming and starts running at him, causing the kid to flee up some stairs or slam a door. Then … I don’t know, I guess Pennywise gets easily winded and decides to call it a day, because the scene just kind of ends, only to repeated in a slightly different scenario with another kid just a few minutes later.
(Word of warning to you unoriginal douchebags planning on going as Pennywise this Halloween: If you want to truly stay in character, you should start doing a lot of cardio now to prepare for all the running after people, but not actually catching them, you’ll be doing that night.)
Honestly as the film went on I had no idea what Pennywise’s goal was. We are told early on that he apparently shows up in the town of Derry for one year every 27 years to feast on children, and he starts out with an extremely brutal killing of a young boy in by far the movie’s most shocking sequence. After that though he seems to be really nonchalant about racking up the body count even though it is summer and his deadline is approaching, but considering how good the summer movies in 1989 were, maybe Pennywise is spending a lot of his time at the local matinee enjoying “Lethal Weapon 2,” “Dead Poets Society,” “When Harry Met Sally,” and “Parenthood” among others.
It’s also unclear whether he is intentionally toying with the children because he feeds on their fear, but all that means is that by the 38th time he’s surprised one of the kids and then somehow allowed them to escape his clutches after making another empty threat, he’s destroyed whatever sense of fear he could possibly evoke in both the characters and those of us in the audience. It’s equivalent to how the evil robots in the “Terminator” series could crush a human skull easily, yet in the later movies whenever they would get their hands on an actual human like Christian Bale or Jai Courtney they would just throw him 10 feet across the floor so he could run away.
Actually even though he doesn’t possess the power to fill a room with blood or grow 10 times his size like Pennywise, you could say the local bully character is a much bigger threat since he is always pulling switchblades and trying to straight up stab people for absolutely no reason whatsoever, like he was one of the more unruly patrons Swayze had to deal with in “Road House.”
This would be less of an issue if the kids comprising the so-called “Losers Club” were more memorable, but they are pretty much right out of the “Stand by Me”/”Stranger Things” template, with about one character trait a piece. One has a stutter, one is fat (although he also twice sustains severe gashes to his stomach, neither of which is ever commented upon again), one is black, one has a vagina, and the other three are kind of the same character since they seem to trade off on who is going to be the “hilariously” profane and/or scared kid in a particular scene. They also have a lot of lighthearted banter in between constantly almost being murdered by a demonic entity, most of which is not as funny as you are obviously supposed to think it is.
(This is also the kind of movie that really doesn’t trust the audience to pick up anything on its own. At one point the character Billy addresses the Losers before going to face his fears and for the first time doesn’t stutter, which would have been a nice subtle moment had another character not had to underline it with, “Huh, that’s the first time he’s never stuttered.” Later that same character sees the corpses of previously murdered kids floating in the air and says, “It’s the dead kids, and they’re floating.” Thanks for the update junior, we hadn’t noticed!)
Also, while I don’t need some type of “man I love living in the ‘80s, watch me moonwalk in my Members Only jacket while drinking a New Coke, and oh year remember Tammy Faye Baker?” era-establishing overkill, other than a couple of references to New Kids on the Block and Young MC, you’d be hard-pressed to tell whether this takes place in the ‘80s, ‘70s, or ‘60s. And while the town of Derry is obviously supposed to feel like a cursed place, apart from the kiddie slaughter every 27 years it seems like a pretty okay spot to raise a family. Either that or most people don’t leave because the property taxes in the rest of Maine really suck.
Now none of this is to say that “It” is a bad movie; it looks good, is well-paced, and the young cast is likable. But while director Andy Muschietti has delivered a polished and entertaining horror film, it’s hard not to imagine how much more creepy or interesting the film could have been in the hands of someone with a more distinctive style and vision, like Guillermo Del Toro or James Wan. As it is, while I won’t begrudge anyone who says they really loved it, I have a feeling that after the hype has settled down, this notion that “It” is up there with classic King adaptations like “The Shining” is going to seem as silly and overblown as the grown men exiting my screening claiming they were terrified. As for me, I was mainly left with a desire to check out “Nightmare on Elm Street 5” again. See ya soon Freddy!
Post Script: I will say that I am interested in seeing the upcoming “It: Chapter II” because since it will be wrapping up the story there may actually be some suspense this time about who makes it to the end. With the opening chapter currently breaking all kinds of records at the box office I’m sure every agent in Hollywood is trying to secure their clients a part, so I’ll do some speculating on who we could see facing off against Pennywise as adults in their final battle:
I got kind of a Tobey Maguire vibe from de facto head-of-the-Losers Billy, but since he is sort of the lead character and with Hollywood being Hollywood, I assume Ryan Gosling is automatically at the top of the list.
Since they previously worked together on the horror film “Mama” (whose title creature bears a rather striking resemblance to the woman in the painting who attacks Stanley) and because she has red hair, there has already been speculation that Jessica Chastain is all but assured of being cast as lone female Loser Beverly, which would mean that she apparently grows up into a humorless stone-face since that’s all Chastain can play. I’d probably go with Amy Adams as a better red-headed alternative, or if I could really be bold, a CGI recreation of Christina Hendricks from the first season of “Mad Men.”
Since Ben is the “fat kid” and Hollywood assumes people never change from when they are children, I assume that Jack Black and Jonah Hill are already getting their screen tests ready. But I’d actually go meta by casting Jerry O’Connell since he actually did play the “fat kid” in King’s “Stand by Me” and still grew up into this handsome ladies man:
Richie is obviously supposed to be the foul-mouthed yet endearingly funny comic relief of the group, so I would honestly be shocked if we saw anyone other than Paul Rudd in this role.
Chadwick Boseman has played such towering real-life personalities as Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall, so playing a fictional character with no real personality to speak of like Mike should be a walk in the park for him.
Actually I forgot that the movie makes a big deal out of Stanley being Jewish, so obviously the only person for this role is Jackie Mason.
Other than his germaphobia there is really nothing that memorable about Eddie and you could pretty much cast anyone in his role, so fuck it, let’s just hire Jai Courtney and get this thing into pre-production as soon as possible.
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