When I showed up at our local Cineplex at 5:10 p.m. last Saturday to see “It,” I didn’t expect to find that particular showing sold out—but it was. So was the 6:20 p.m. showing, after I bought the last ticket.
“It”—based on a novel by Stephen King written over 30 years ago—is breaking records for a horror movie opening and easily became the largest September oepning of all time. It more than doubled the earnings of the previous record holders, which were “Paranormal Activity 3” with $52.6 million in 2011 and September’s “Hotel Transylvania 2” with $48.5 million back in 2015.
One might ask why now? Why “It”?
As one critic (Chris Nashawaty in “Entertainment Weekly”) said: “It” doesn’t shy away from nastiness and definitely earns its R rating. There’s implied incest, bullying in the extreme, and children are violently attacked. But that raises the question: Who exactly is it for? Its heroes, like its audience, are kids. What responsible parent will buy their tickets?”
Chris just doesn’t get “It.” The people I saw in the theater on Saturday were not predominantly teen-agers, although there were plenty of them, too. The man sitting next to me was probably a forty-something father who had read the book (which he told me). I definitely read the book, all those years ago, and, to refresh my memory, I strolled down memory lane with the television version of the book that ran in 1990, four years after the book came out.
The original film-for-television version had John Boy of the Waltons attired in a ponytail, to show that he was a creative sort, as Bill. I never did quite get used to that ponytail and Richard Masur as one of the boys turns up a suicide when the team gets the call to return to Derry. In the interests of not ruining the new film, I won’t tell you which of the team Masur was, but killing him off in what will be Chapter Two for this particular treatment may or may not happen.
What I did was primarily take a close look at the differences between the 1990 film and the current 2017 version, and I’ll add some theories about why “It” burst out of the doldrums of September with blockbuster numbers at the box office.
1) The original film covers both the young people and the 40-somethings who are called to return to Derry when the evil clown, Pennywise (originally played by Tim Curry of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”) returns in 27 years. This film stops when the protagonists are young and have just rescued their only female member, Beverly Marsh (well played by Sophia Lillis). We also have, as the lead (Bill), Jaeden Lieberher of “Midnight Special” and the young lead actor of “Stranger Things, Finn Wolfhard. Also present in the remake are Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and a cast of reprehensible parent figures.
2) David Morrell has suggested that our current national situation: being led by a clown who seems bent on making bad things happen may be partially to blame for the film’s September popularity, but if you look at the anemic offerings out there, it is easy to see why “It” would carry the day. It is true that the adults in the film seem either indifferent, incompetent, or just plain evil, from Beverly’s father right on down to Eddie’s mother and the local pharmacist.
3) Pennywise was played by Tim Curry in the original film and is played by Bill Skarsgard in this one. I am not as quick to laud Curry and put Skarsgard down. I thought they were both fine in their roles.
4) The original film used a lot of blood scenes where it bubbles up from the green sink in Beverly’s bathroom. In this newer version, it isn’t just blood that bubbles p. There are also menacing black cobweb like tentacles that threaten to drag Beverly down to the sewer(s).
5) I noticed that the language was very “R”-rated in this movie. That seems natural, since the original in 1990 played on network TV. Every other line has either the “F” word in it or that four-letter word that means excrement.
6) When Beverly’s sink goes haywire with the bubbling blood, only she is able to see it and she enlists the help of the Losers gang, who are also able to see it, but her father is not.
7) When chubby Ben is menaced, he is actually cut with a knife by the bully Bowers, who, himself, has been mistreated by his policeman father. In the original, he was bullied but not quite so extremely.
8) The rock-throwing scene (Losers against local bullies) remains in the film.
9) The weapon of choice for use against Pennywise in the sewers has changed from a slingshot that only Beverly seemed able to aim well to the sort of gun that is used to kill animals at a slaughter house.
10) There is a long sequence in a haunted house that reminded me of Miss Faversham’s digs in “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens.
11) Every trope in the horror movie book is thrown at the audience over and over again: the quick jump forward, the “don’t go in there” places, the “cover-your-face-terrifying” moments. The two teen-aged girls sitting to my left actually applauded after the film ended, so it obviously works and works quite well if you have not seen it done one million times before in many other films.
12) The lighting was appropriately spooky. Not as spooky as “It Comes At Night” earlier this summer, but very dark and moody. Sewers are also plenty scary and this time, instead of just a look at the scary house, the leads are taken inside it more than once.
13) Director Andy Muschieti (“Mama”) has delivered the script by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukomaga and Gary Dauberman, based on King’s novel, in a straightforward murder mystery manner, coupled with horror movie tropes that cause one to scream and jump out of their seat(s). (Think “Psycho”).
14) Critic Rick Bentley (Tribune News Service), who gave the film only 2 and 1/2 stars (putting him at odds with most of the theater-going public) made the very accurate statement that “Pennywise is terrifying, but he’s not the biggest monster