The Stranger Things-ification of pop culture ensures that soon all pop culture will be Stranger Things, much like how all restaurants are Taco Bell in the beloved 1993 Sylvester Stallone blockbuster Demolition Man. Okay, that isn’t true at all. But the King meets Spielberg pleasures of Netflix’s series have doubled back on themselves nicely in the 2017 film version of King’s 1986 killer clown opus It, giving the plight of the “Loser’s Club” in this take an endearing, Goonies or ET quality that makes their horrifying opposition even more difficult for the audience to bear than in any previous version of the story. Which is to basically say that Mama director Andy Muschetti actually makes you like these kids, so when alien space juggalo from hell Pennywise starts putting the big red boots to them almost straight away, it’s actually difficult to watch rather than being your typical “up the annoying kid death count” type of slasher flick experience.
Not that the filmmakers have made the new Pennywise hard to root for. He’s actually kind of… cute? In an ugly, super detailed close up of Spongebob or Ren & Stimpy sort of way, all buck teeth, crazy eyes and bad complexion. Of course until his giant Venom-like teeth start ripping people’s arms off and shit. Nothing cute about that. His oddly looped and pitched voice and uncomfortable mannerisms offend on a completely different level than Tim Curry’s gravel voiced wanna be Freddy Krueger did in the 1990 TV movie. It’s hard to tell how much of this is credit to young Bill Skarsgard (brother of True Blood’s Alexander and son of the Thor films’ Stellan) under the makeup, production design genius or post production trickery, but either way it just works, putting to shame the litany or past character based horror reboots (the Jackie Earle Haley starring Nightmare on Elm Street immediately comes to mind) that weren’t scary, funny, interesting or memorable in any way, shape or form.
The Stranger Things connection deepens with Finn Wolfhard (Mike from ST) in the Seth Green role of foul mouthed smart ass Richie Tozier, his off color tirades here are turned up to a Deadpool level of tasteless raunch, and Wolfhard has the chops to make the delivery charming instead of disgusting. The characterization and performances of each of the children are light years ahead of the original, explaining briskly and entertainingly (sometimes heartbreakingly) their back stories and why Pennywise found them easy prey without having to slog through the minutiae of the TV version’s bloated run time, though the truncated theatrical presentation here makes characters like Mike and Henry little more than set dressing. The effects are obviously going to be a huge step up from a 1990 made for TV budget and here the new film excels as well, with even practical stuff like Beverly’s blood gushing sink coming across much more believably in the new iteration.
So yeah, we’re a little late jumping on the 2017 It bandwagon. But who could’ve believed the new film would’ve turned out this good? Especially on the heels what has arguably been considered the worst Stephen King film. Look no further than the fact that “Chapter 2” of this story (you know, the stuff when they’re adults) has yet to be cast and the utter lack of merchandise available for the new film to prove that the studio didn’t have much confidence in it either. But here it is! An unexpected Halloween confection with no razor blades, used band aids or condoms to be found inside, not only the best King adaptation but also one of the best horror remakes of all time. Can the upcoming Jigsaw possibly be anywhere near as good? Fuck no. Go see It again.