Thursday September 7th 2017, the Drunk in a Graveyard crew saw the remake of It.
Going in, I was entirely prepared for the worst and prepared to have my eyes rolling out of my skull at what I expected to be another sad and tone deaf aspect of the Hollywood horror hype machine.
And I was wrong. And I’m oddly happy to say that.
While I won’t go as far as the Hindustan Times and say that “It is one of the best horror films of the year that will haunt you for days”, it’s definitely a must watch for anyone who is a fan of the horror genre.
Now, before I get too far into things involving Pennywise, I’d like to draw your attention to a few things you kinda need to know about horror. While you might think on the surface that the community is a united one, like with anything else, the community is generally fairly staunchly divided in terms of liking the Hollywood horror and absolutely despising it. Come Oscar time, there’s always much rustling to be had on online forums and twitter of horror fans wanting the Oscars to recognize horror as a genre with an award (it isn’t going to happen, and that’s okay, so stop it). Horror has always been the redheaded step child of the film genre – never really fitting in but always difficult to ignore. Hollywood loves a good horror because they’re cheap to make and they always make good on returns – just ask Blumhouse about that. As much as I often take issue with Blumhouse, he knows how to make bank, and like they say on the streets, you can’t blame a bitch for trying to make a buck.
That said, the issues with the Hollywood horror machine are present and many – remakes, remakes, and more remakes. Someone always “reimagining” something, especially if that something is from a foreign country and can then be whitewashed to suit the palate of the North American film goer. Now, when the Hollywood horror machine isn’t remaking some foreign cult classic, they’re remaking/re-envisioning/re-imagining previous classics, or adding prequels, sequels, mequels and more. And this is largely in part due to nostalgia culture. We live in a society where things are so shitty that we long for periods in time where things were “good” or “better” and generally this goes back to when we were young, when we didn’t have many cares beyond copying our homework and getting janked up on sugar and ghost stories at sleepovers. While we may appear to be young professional millenials, we long for Saturday morning cartoons, monster cereal, and for me anyways, times when movies scared the absolute living shit out of me. And this time did exist, for those wondering. I too once had the pants scared off of me by creepy stuff on the TV. Now I’m old and I’ve seen more horror than I can shake a stick at, both onscreen and off, and the scares are always in short supply. Like a junkie, I’m always chasing that dragon feeling of the scare. And like anyone else, I’m always chasing nostalgia, too. I sit here typing right now drinking coffee like a grown up, with coconut milk thankyouverymuch, checking my heart rate on my Apple Watch all while wearing a Goosebumps shirt (Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes…. gnome saying?). What I’ve noticed is that the horror community, the fans, the freaks, the writers, the wannabes, everyone, is so divided. Everyone wants that new Texas Chainsaw movie, or remake of It in one moment, because we are chasing that high and that longing, and then at the same time, people lambaste Hollywood for giving it to them, because the reality behind the rose colored glasses of nostalgia usually isn’t pretty. Are You Afraid of the Dark scared me so badly when I was a kid, and now watching it, it’s like watching a bad middle school play. Goosebumps books are terribly written garbage. Monster Cereal tastes like earwigs and high fructose corn syrup. The original It movie kinda wasn’t that great and not just it’s not great now watching it in 2017, it really wasn’t great then in 1990. Put me on the cross, but it wasn’t. It was a made for TV movie for fuck’s sake. Tim Curry is absolutely iconic in the role of Pennywise, but still, that movie for all it’s laurel and hand wringing amongst the horror set is kind of crap.
And this brings back to 2017’s IT. Before seeing the film, the internet had been aflutter with worries and hype. Worries over if Bill Skarsgard could fill the gigantic clown shoes left behind by Tim Curry combined with the hype for the reinvention of a decidedly more creepy version of Pennywise.
These two themes seem to coexist as two opposing ends to the spectrum of Hollywood Horror, and in a way, one can’t really exist without the other. But like everyone says, there’s always gonna be haters, no matter what you do. Ridley Scott’s current dilemma with the Alien franchise is proof positive of this. No Aliens in Prometheus? Bad. Aliens in Covenant? Bad. What the fuck, everyone, make up your mind and if you find yourself unable – then just shut up. I’ll go into my thoughts on Covenant in another article and save that particular rant for another time.
Anyways, because I have been burned before, I often find I have little hope with the Hollywood machine. I see it as both necessary and terrible, a means to an end. I had major reservations with It, but simultaneously I was aloof. I’ve never championed Stephen King’s writing and beyond my love for the Pet Sematary film, I don’t find myself enamored with movies made from his work. But I do hold a special place in my heart for Tim Curry and the characters he has played. He’s iconic and in many ways, I was worried that Pennywise the Tim Curry version would be replaced in my mind, and that the piece of my childhood nostalgia would be darkened by the IT remake if it flopped. And I assumed it would.
Maybe this is why the horror critics get so defensive. Maybe they too, don’t want anything taken from that special safe space of memory and time. Or maybe I’m just looking way too into things. But I do that. All of what I feel to be my best pieces, movie reviews become personal essays of exploration. I suppose in some way, like with most other things I do, I’m trying to relate to you, trying to show you how I see things. Because I hope someone else sees them in the same way.
The crowd for the sold out preview showing of IT was not varied. Almost all millenials, with some Gen X thrown in for good measure, all from the ages when IT was fucking terrifying and the childhood fear of clowns was made real on the television in living color. The anxiety as we stood outside, hoping to get some of the last available tickets was palpable. Some people wore horror shirts, the ever present faces of Freddy and Jason, even a Leatherface. There was much muttering, and amongst it all, excitement. Like anytime I go to see a horror film, I try to go in as a blank slate and leave my expectations at the door and see the film for what it is, but how can you when the source material is older than you are? I kept my expectations at zero. I expected to be disappointed, and weirdly enough, I wasn’t.
Since I actually want you to go see IT while it is in theatres (and because the story has been around for forever now, and I’m sure you’re quite familiar with it), I’m not really going to get into too many details about the film. In the most basic of plotlines, a group of misfit kids who call themselves the Losers Club live in a town where children going missing and tragedies seem to pile up without notice. They’re bullied and outcast and find themselves tormented by a demon that takes the shape of their deepest fears, known only to the children as IT.
From the moment you first see IT, played by Bill Skarsgard, I was into it (hehe). For those familiar with Netflix’s Hemlock Grove series (click through to read my review of Hemlock Grove season 1 – it’s OG DIAG), you’ll know that this particular avatar of the Skarsgard family is a dashingly handsome Swedish manboy who struggles desperately around his Swedish accent. His dialogue in Hemlock Grove is so odd sounding that it gives Charlie Hunnam a run for his money.
Even though you can still hear Skarsgard struggling around prosthetic teeth and his accent in IT, it somehow works, because the voice of Pennywise doesn’t sound human, and it really shouldn’t. What made for vocal failure in Hemlock Grove was a success for Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Skarsgard is genuinely creepy as fuck. He was really able to sell coulrophobia to a new audience and I think that is what was important here.
Now, I don’t think IT was a perfect film. But I think it’s success should not be measured in terms of perfection. Most remakes suck my ass, and we all know this. So, for this remake to be passable puts it into remarkable territory. Andres Muschietti (who also directed 2013’s Mama) did a really great job with what he had going and was able to pull together a film that has done amazingly well – $65 million on Thursday/Friday opening. That’s fucking CRAZY for a horror film (weekend opening of $179 million with a paltry budget of 35 million). I’ve seen absolute shitbag horror films that cost $50 million to make. So for IT, this too is a message that much more can be done with less.
This can be chalked up to timing, if you want to be a cynic. Stranger Things has done so well, largely in part due to nostalgia culture. The whole 2017 does 1986 vibe is strong. Synth is a thing in music, 1980s fashion is making the rounds again, and everyone seems really into the whole 1980s/1990s cartoons vibe. IT capitalizes on the same market. But I think though, that simply chalking the success of IT up to timing isn’t really fair to the film making skill present within it, or the directing chops of Andres Muschietti. I loved Mama (click through for another OG DIAG review). I loved Mama when I saw
I think if anything, IT should serve as a reminder to directors that you CAN reinvent something, and make it your own, and have it not only sell well, but be fairly well received by the horror community. Most reviews I’ve seen coming out of my fellow horror hounds are similar to my thoughts. I don’t think it was a scary movie, it didn’t blow my pants off, but it could have been so much worse. I felt that Bill Skarsgard was legitimately creepy as Pennywise and that he has taken up some pretty strong acting chops by playing the role. I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing what he will take on in the future.
So, with all this in mind, I guess this really wasn’t a review so much as some commentary, but I really do think that if you’re a true horror hound that you should go see IT. I hesitate to say this about many things, but it’s a must watch, whether you will love it or hate it.
You can find Robin on twitter cyberbullying Bill Skarsgard and being afraid to sleep because clowns will eat her.