I touched upon the idea of horror remakes previously in my The Invisible Man (2020) review, where I gave the not-so controversial opinion that these remakes are typical dog doodoo rather than best in show. You take a beloved horror property and attempt to adapt it for modern audiences, but you find yourself in the crosshairs of the fans of the original who hate to see their childhoods trampled on. It’s a delicate risk, but it’s amplified twofold when the property is also based off a beloved book. Stephen King’s It is a landmark in horror literature, scaring plenty before it was eventually adapted into a TV miniseries in 1990. Legendary character actor Tim Curry portrayed the titular “It”, only adding further fuel to the fire that was the general populaces’ fear of clowns. So, nearly 30 years later, Hollywood began the demonic ritual of remaking a beloved horror property, split into two parts. How did it turn out?
Pretty damn good, actually.
It: Chapter 1 & 2 are by no mean masterpieces, but they nonetheless have the necessary talent behind them to not only make a remake that can stand on its own, but make a damn good set of horror movies as well. Feeling fresh and nostalgic at the same time, these films are perhaps one of the biggest examples of mainstream horror really nailing it.
It: Chapter 1 takes place in the town of Derry, Maine, where a ragtag group of children must do battle with a strange, interdimensional creature that is the embodiment of their towns evils and hatreds. The creature takes on many forms, but is most commonly seen as a spooky clown referred to as Pennywise.
When your film follows a group of kids, their performances can make or break the film. I’m happy to say that the child actors at work here do a tremendous job with carrying the story, feeling like actual kids in the way they talk and process the horrors they encounter. There isn’t a single bad performance in the bunch, but if I had to pick a favorite, Jack Dylan Grazer as the sickly Eddie stood out the most to me with his tendencies to overthink and overreact. I think he had some of the best lines in the film and was always entertaining to cut to. The lovingly named Losers Club have such a natural dynamic to them. They bicker, they fight and they demean one another at times, but you never get the sense that they don’t care for one another. Its one of the best child ensemble casts in recent memory, and their hard work has seemed to pay off as many of them have gone on to earn roles in other blockbusters such as Knives Out and Shazam.
The children needed to be good to really carry the story, but protagonists are nothing without a worth adversary for them to face off against. Tim Curry‘s performance as the demonic clown is so iconic that it would take a hefty amount of talent to not only fill those big red clown shoes, but also make them their own. Enter Bill Skarsgard. His portrayal of the cosmic clown, in my opinion, is leagues scarier over Curry’s. While Curry‘s portrayal had a lot more silliness and whimsicality to it, Skarsgard goes full-on nightmare mode akin to those clowns you would see in videos everywhere in 2016. This Pennywise is almost serpent-like, slithering and hissing through the shadows of Derry, always present but not always seen. Skarsgard’s performance still has some goofiness, but unlike Curry‘s where it triggered some genuine laughs, his performance only made me nervously laugh so I would remember to keep breathing. This Pennywise is similar enough to fit into the extended mythos of the It multiverse but still feel unique and original in its execution. I’m almost convinced Skarsgard got the role on his lazy eye alone.
The film’s scares are a blend of typical horror movie jump scares and some clever uses of background elements to hint at an everlasting horror that’s always present in the town. Most of the jump scares are pretty well crafted and never feel cheap, with one scene utilizing a projector to terrifying success. Then there’s the more subtle elements, like Pennywise hiding in a piece of graffiti or an old woman with a sinister grin off in the background. These extra additions make you feel as if you’re never really safe, as a new monster could jump out at any moment.
Pennywise isn’t the only creature encountered, as theres an assortment of other nightmares related to the children’s fears that pop up throughout the runtime. These appearances can be hit or miss for me, as while Pennywise looks great because he is usually always seen with practical effects supporting him, these other monsters are completely CGI. If you’re familiar with director Andy Muschietti previous horror outing, Mama, you may see that his creatures here are very similar in execution to the titular monster from his first film. The creatures appear rubbery, glossy and incredibly fake looking whenever I see them. I do my best to suspend my disbelief, but Pennywise looks so good without much CGI morphing him about. I could forgive this a bit in Mama because of its relatively low budget, but this is a big multi-million dollar production from one of the biggest studios in the world. It may be a stylistic thing to get used to with this director, and while I appreciated the concept and design of the creatures, their computer generated bodies just didn’t align well with the film’s other effects.
The first chapter of the new It movies were a pleasantly fun and scary time at the movies. It felt like watching the classic all over again, but with heightened performances and execution. It’s certainly leagues better than the television film, even with Curry’s iconic performance. When It: Chapter 2 was announced with an all-star cast to play the grown up children, I was stoked to have the story finish itself with the same polish and entertainment that the first film had.
Well, I didn’t get exactly that.
The plot of Chapter 2 follows the Loser’s Club, now adults and living lives separate from each other and their horrifying past, returning to Derry when Pennywise once again rises and wreaks havoc on the town. While many of the same elements from the previous film return, there seems to be a considerable downgrade in the quality and execution of the sequel.
While the adult performances are pretty good in their own right, I didn’t find them nearly as engaging or entertaining as their child versions (who thankfully still pop up every now and then). I had a hard time believing some of them were the grownup versions of their respective characters, although once again the character of Eddy remained my favorite, with James Ransone looking and acting nearly identical to Grazer to the point I swore they were related. There weren’t really any bad performances to talk about, with Bill Skarsgard once again pulling off a tremendous Pennywise, but I didn’t really feel the same amount of emotional strength I felt in the first film.
The plot itself actually ends up being less interesting and dynamic than the characters. Most of the middle of this movie is a borderline fetch quest, each main character going off on their own to find a specific item. You catch onto the rhythm of these scenes pretty early on. Character shows up to a new location, they come face to face with Pennywise or an invocation of their greatest fears, and then they find the thing they were looking for. Repeat this maybe 4 more times, and you’ve got the middle section of the film. There’s a few moments of entertainment in these scenes, but overall it just makes the plot tedious and repetitive.
It picks up a bit nearing the end, even if there’s a bit more rubbery CGI like the last film. However, the ending just felt like it went into a bizarre direction for me. If you’ve read the book or seen the television movie, then you know how it’s ended in the past. It seems the writers wanted to go down a different avenue and have a completely different ending to the final fight between the Losers Club and Pennywise. Now, while this doesn’t exactly ruin the film, it just felt like an odd way to tie in previous themes that ended up feeling more ridiculous than satisfying.
It: Chapter 2 ended up being a disappointed step down from the previous film, but overall the revival of the beloved Stephen King property went better than I had hoped. Loaded with genuinely good scares, well-placed humor, and terrific performances, these films (or at least the first one) should go down as classic mainstays for many Halloweens to come.
Now that we’ve gotten It out of the way, can we please remake Maximum Overdrive now? I’m ready for a whole new generation to hear an ATM call Steven King an asshole.
Pennywise’s Cotton Candytini
Pulled straight from the sewer with the peanuts and popcorn and straight into your glass, Pennywise’s Cotton Candy is a sugar circus in martini form. Sweet thanks to a blend of vanilla and raspberry, the drink is made all the more sugary once poured over a fat lump of cotton candy nestled in your glass. Delicious and visually spooky with its dark red appearance, drink too many of these and you’ll find yourself floating down here too.
- 1 shot vanilla vodka
- 1 shot raspberry liqueur
- 1/2 shot grape juice
- Cotton candy
- Cocktail cherry
- Place about a palm full of cotton candy in a martini glass.
- Add your vodka, raspberry liqueur and grape juice to a shaker with ice.
- Shake well, then strain cocktail over the cotton candy in the glass.
- Garnish the rim with a piece of cotton candy and a skewered cherry.