It (2017)

Director: Andy Muschietti

Cast: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard

Screenplay: Chase Palmer, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman

135 mins. Rated R for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language.

 

It seemed like It was never going to get the new adaptation fans have been clamoring for. The project had Cary Joji Fukunaga and Will Poulter originally in place after several unsuccessful attempts, and then Fukunaga left the project and Poulter was replaced. Then, director Andy Muscietti (Mama) surfaced to lead the project, something I was so sure about. I liked Mama, but it was a smaller, more intimate tale, and It is a big booming horror epic. As pics started to drop from the production, I’ll admit that I was unimpressed, and it was only after seeing the film that I realized how wrong I was.

It’s the summer of 1989, and the small town of Derry has been ravaged by a string of disappearances involving children, but Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher, St. Vincent, The Book of Henry) isn’t willing to accept that his younger brother Georgie is gone, and he routinely brings his friends, Richie (Finn Wolfhard, Dog Days, TV’s Stranger Things), Eddie, and Stan, down to the Barrens, a marshy area where the sewers empty out, to look for his body. As the summer goes on, the group adds Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor, 42, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween), Beverly (Sophia Lillis, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, TV’s Sharp Objects), and Mike, and each of them is plagued by a strange manifestation they call It, a creature that regularly takes the shape of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård, Deadpool 2, Assassination Nation).

The studio envisioned It as a two-part adaptation of the weighty tome that Stephen King wrote in the 1980s, and this film is an adaption of roughly half of the novel, which jumps back and forth in time seeing the Losers Club as children and adults returning to Derry to finish what they started. For the film, this time as children is the entire focus of the film, a move I actually believe helped the organization of the story much better than jamming the whole book in and trying to do it justice. This is a case of a two-part film that actually needs it.

Each of the kids does a tremendous job in the film at developing a character amidst all the goings on with It, with particular emphasis given to Sophia Lillis as Beverly and Finn Wolfhard as Richie. Lillis gives a nuanced and layered performance as the only female member of the Losers Club, and her collaboration with Muscietti creates a well-dimensioned girl who is dealing with a lot. Beverly was always the best character in the book, too, so it’s great to see her given justice here.

In that same way, I was surprised by how good Finn Wolfhard is as Richie. Wolfhard is of course known for Stranger Things, a series that takes a lot of influence from Stephen King and, at times, It, so I was worried that Wolfhard’s character would be too close to what we see in Stranger Things, but he plays Richie so well as such a different character. Richie is the goofball with the nasty speech and a whole lot of fear, and Finn does him justice.

All that aside, the other tough role to fill here is Pennywise. Coming off the miniseries, Tim Curry’s take on Pennywise the Dancing Clown is the best piece of the puzzle, so finding someone who can give a new take on the creepy clown is a tough sell. I was actually all for Will Poulter, and I was pretty irked when he ended up not getting the part, but Skarsgård just knocks it out of the park. He plays Pennywise with the understanding that this is just one form of It, a very old and very powerful entity, and Pennywise comes across as a favorite form but also as a skin worn by a creature. When he shows his endless rows of teeth, Pennywise’s eyes kind of slough away like they were a snakeskin coming undone. It’s a horrible-looking fantastically-performed boogeyman.

For a lengthy film like this, it’s rather forgotten how smoothly the movie runs. Every time I watch it, I don’t realize the two-hour-plus runtime moving along at a juggernaut pace. There’s so much to cover that it never gets boring. In fact, the screenplay does a solid job at adapting the spirit of the source material instead of just being a carbon-copy of the book set to film. There are major differences about the individual fears that each of the Losers Club have, and the changes are made for a variety of different wholly-understandable reasons. Some of them would’ve been very tough to put to film in a workable way, and others were of the specific time period of the novel (the Losers are in the 50s in the book), and some were cut or rearranged for timing. Now, as much as I loved the werewolf sequences of the book, I understand that the film is not the book, and it’s respectable in that way.

There is a significant flaw for me, though, and it’s this: It wasn’t scary. It pains me to say it, but I wasn’t scared at all. I really thought this would be the one to get me, but it didn’t. There’s some spooky individual moments (watch the librarian in the early scene with Ben), but overall it didn’t give me that shiver-myself-to-sleep vibe I was really hoping for. It’s still more than entertaining for its tale of childhood friendships and monsters and grief, but I just wanted it to be scary.

It is a fantastic adaptation of half of Stephen King’s source material. For a film that had some laughable early production stills, Andy Muschietti really pulled it off and I’m all the more excited for It: Chapter Two. This was a well-constructed story of friendship akin to other classics of the genre like Stand by Me, and apart from lacking in the scares for this writer, it is a wonderfully entertaining thrill-ride.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 1 – It (1990)

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace

Cast: Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, Annette O’Toole, Tim Reid, John Ritter, Richard Thomas, Tim Curry

Screenplay: Tommy Lee Wallace, Lawrence D. Cohen

192 mins. Rated TV-14.

 

Ah, another October is here. And so we begin the 31 Days of Horror…come along with me.

The 2017 film It is based on the novel by Stephen King, but twenty-seven years ago, there was a miniseries movie event also based on the novel. A very popular and memorable miniseries, one wonders if it holds up.

It’s 1990, and there’s been another child murder in Derry, Maine. Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid, By the Grace of Bob, TV’s Sister, Sister) arrives on the scene, and he’s now fully aware that It is back. He reaches out to his friends from childhood, some he hasn’t spoken to in 30 years, to see if he can get them to come back to Derry. Richie Tozier (Harry Anderson, A Matter of Faith, TV’s Night Court) has become a successful comedian, but when he speaks to Mike, he knows he must go home. Eddie Kaspbrak (Dennis Christopher, Django Unchained, Queen of the Lot) hasn’t changed much in 30 years, still living with his mother, but he feels compelled to go back to Derry. Beverly Marsh (Annette O’Toole, We Go On, TV’s Smallville) has become a big player in fashion, but her childhood pain has taken a new form in partner and lover Tom. Ben Hanscom (John Ritter, Sling Blade, TV’s Three Company) has lost the weight as well as his self-respect, but his love for Beverly drives him back. Bill Denbrough (Richard Thomas, Anesthesia, TV’s The Waltons) may be a successful novelist, but his regret for the death of his brother Georgie has followed him all his life. Stan Uris (Richard Masur, The Thing, Don’t Think Twice) isn’t sure he’s ready to face It again. The Loser’s Club must all go back to Derry, together, in order to finally put a stop to It, a creature that has inhabited Derry for hundreds of years, often taking the form of a dancing clown named Pennywise (Tim Curry, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Axel: The Biggest Little Hero).

The novel this miniseries is based on is a massive tome, and to fit all of it into a three-hour-runtime is a huge feat, but director Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Vampires: Los Muertos) manages to hit the most important notes on his way to the finish line, but the troubles of a television miniseries movie in the 90s didn’t allow the meat of the novel to be shown. The performances are as good as the script, which again, hits all the plot beats but doesn’t give enough time to any of the characters to really flesh them out. It’s a nice experience if you’ve read the novel, but it just doesn’t give enough to viewers.

Tim Curry’s work as Pennywise is exemplary, however, and is the biggest reason this film has stayed so popular over so many years. His playfulness as Pennywise turns on a dime to become menacing and frightful, and it just works so well. It’s a shame, though, that he just doesn’t have a lot to do in the film.

There’s a lot of talk about both incarnations of It and how the adults are/will be portrayed, and what I don’t get is how much time in the miniseries is given to the adults. For a large amount of the book, the adults are relegated to second-tier status and framing devices to allow for the youth stories to be told. That’s why I don’t understand why the adults get roughly 60% of the screen time in this film. Sure, they are important, but the kids are much more so to the character and plot of the film.

There isn’t anything inherently wrong in It, but the movie is kind of plain. It just isn’t scary. Tim Curry’s terrific performance just can’t save the film, and it just wasn’t going to work as a television presentation. Having seen the 2017 film, I can tell you that it does work as a film (I cannot speak to the 1997 Indian adaptation Woh, but that’s for another time), but on TV, It loses all of its teeth.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, click here.

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 22 – Clue (1985)

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Director: Jonathan Lynn

Cast: Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren

Screenplay: Jonathan Lynn

94 mins. Rated PG for violence.

 

Everyone out there is discussing the possible upcoming video game boom. I’m just over here thinking about the board game boom.

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Clue is the story of six people, a butler, a maid, a cook and a man named Boddy. Mr. Boddy has gathered Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan, The Sting, Murder by Death), Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles), Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future, A Million Ways to Die in the West), Mr. Green (Michael McKean, TV’s Better Call Saul, This is Spinal Tap), Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull, TV’s Dads, Mrs. Doubtfire), and Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren, Secretary, Jobs) together to discuss something. Before he gets the chance to do so, he is murdered by one of the attendees in the room. Now, these conveniently placed people, each with a motive for murdering Mr. Boddy, each with a weapon of choice, have to discover who is the killer? Was it Professor Plum in the billiard room with the revolver? Was is Miss Scarlet with the rope in the kitchen? And what about Wadsworth (Tim Curry, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Burke and Hare), the butler? Is he involved?

My favorite aspect of this film is that writer/director Jonathan Lynn (Nuns on the Run) found interesting  yet convoluted ways to make the board game adaptation actually work. Things like the corny names and the motives, the general campiness of the game/plot, all of it really works well. He even found a way to work in multiple endings (depending on your home video release, you may have a version with all three endings sewn together or one that randomly picks an ending; both are great options).

Now, the decision to cast comic actors who can handle drama seals the deal here. What a terrific cast! Mel Brooks could have directed this film, that’s how impressive our players are. Add to that an impressive direction from Lynn and you have the reason why Clue is such a masterfully beloved cult classic.

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Clue is a classic, even if you present me with a less-than-stellar Rotten Tomatoes score. It’s a classic and I don’t care what you say. See this film and then, hell, play the game. It makes for a fun evening.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

[Happy 20th Birthday!] Congo (1995)

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Director: Frank Marshall

Cast: Dylan Walsh, Laura Linney, Ernie Hudson, Grant Heslov, Joe Don Baker, Tim Curry

Screenplay: John Patrick Shanley

109 mins. Rated PG-13 for jungle adventure terror and action and brief strong language.

 

The late Michael Crichton was known for his ability to write science fiction as science fact. When Jurassic Park was released in 1993, everyone wanted on the Crichton train, even causing Steven Spielberg’s colleague and friend Frank Marshall (Eight Below, Arachnophobia) to take on a weaker work called Congo and make it essentially like Jurassic Park with apes. There’s only one hitch: the two stories are nothing alike, and Congo burned for it.

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Dr. Peter Elliot (Dylan Walsh, TV’s Nip/Tuck, Secretariat) wants to gets his ill ape Amy back to the wild, but without funding, he and his partner Richard (Grant Heslov, Good Night, and Good Luck, The Monuments Men) are out of luck. But when their plight comes under the attention of Herkermer Homalka (Tim Curry, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Burke and Hare), who may have motives of his own, Peter, Amy, and Richard are on the way to the Congo. Along the way, they meet up with Dr. Karen Ross (Laura Linney, The Truman Show, Mr. Holmes), who is heading in the same direction in search of answers to the disappearance of someone close to her.

Let me just start out by saying that there are some great elements in this film that aren’t handled correctly. Ernie Hudson (TV’s Oz, You’re Not You), for example, gives a fantastic performance as Captain Munro Kelly, a man assigned to get Peter and Amy to their destination safely. Unfortunately, we also get Dylan Walsh, an uncommanding lead, Laura Linney as an unlikable and poorly written character, and Joe Don Baker (GoldenEye, Mud) in one of the most laughably horrendous roles in screen history. I can live with Tim Curry’s hilariously cheesy work as Homalka, but even he doesn’t fit here.

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The screenplay is poorly put together and it leads to an uneven film that presents too much substance bloating a film with silly and convoluted plot threads. Jurassic Park, this is not. Not in the slightest.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

31 Days of Horror: Day 30 – The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

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Director: Jim Sharman

Cast: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick

Screenplay: Jim Sharman, Richard O’Brien

100 mins. Rated R.

 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is, like one of its characters, something that keeps coming back. Every year, it is a ritual to which many dance the Time Warp all the way to Transexual Transylvania. The film currently holds the record for longest running theatrical release, as it has been playing at theaters since 1975. Quite a feat to behold. Explaining the plot isn’t easy, so I’ll try to be as literal as possible.

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show is an homage to older RKO and Universal style horror movies mixed with the B-style eroticism of the Hammer Horror films of yesteryear. Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick, TV’s Spin City, Hannah Montana: The Movie) and his new fiancé Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon, Thelma & Louise, Tammy) have just set out to visit an old friend when their car stalls. They follow a road leading to an old castle where they hope to get a phone to call a tow. The castle is the resident of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry, TV’s The Wild Thornberrys, Burke and Hare), a twisted doctor of sinful pleasures who is making a man for himself. The castle is home to many strange faces like the handyman Riff Raff, his sister Magenta, and a groupie named Columbia. As the storm settles them in, Brad & Janet discover that this is no picnic.

I love this movie. I love that it isn’t laid out in stone as far as interpretations go. I love that it embraces its badness and has a lot of fun. This is the kind of movie to watch with a bunch of friends and a couple of brews, and the rest of the world has realized that too. Around the country and other parts of the world, midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show play, encouraging audience participation (yelling at the screen, throwing items like rice at the opening wedding scene) and shadowcasts (performers acting in front of the film as it plays in the background). It is a naturally occurring phenomenon in the film world.

I really enjoy the performances, from actors that are having fun making a movie and it shows through. For many years, Tim Curry was able to convince people that someone else played Frank-N-Furter, that is how abstract the performance is. Sarandon and Bostwick are lovable 50’s and have such an arc in their character development, albeit a tragic story.

Let’s not forget the incredible musical numbers. Everyone knows about the Time Warp and Science Fiction, Double Feature, but I enjoy songs like Over at the Frankenstein Place and Dammit Janet, Eddie’s Teddy and Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me are terrific songs as well.

Sure the film is far from being a perfect film, but it continues to age very well. This is a great movie, so perfectly constructed that it is difficult to ascertain which parts were accidental and which were purposely accidental…I guess.

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Let’s Do the Time Warp Again!

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

ps. Only watch the U.K. Version, the extra song in it actually sums up the characters’ journeys perfectly.

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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