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IT (2017)

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Every 27 years people in the town of Derry, ME go missing, especially children. Sometimes pieces of them will be found here and there. Bill’s younger brother, Georgie, is among the missing. As Bill and the rest of the “losers’ club” try to find Georgie they begin to see strange and horrifying things. Each of them have seen the same clown. Pennywise is back, and he is hungry.

Almost every horror fan has seen the IT mini series that premiered on TV back in 1990. While the film overall might not be considered a masterpiece, few can deny that Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown is one of the most iconic horror villains of all time. When most people think back to the 1990 adaptation of IT, Curry is usually what people remember. The announcement of a new adaptation created a rumbling of mixed reviews from fans. Many had negative things to say about the prospect of someone other than Curry playing the infamous clown. Others were open to the idea of a new IT film or even excited to see what a new team could do with the story. While the film had some controversial moments during its making, I believe fans will ultimately be pleased with the finished product.

While it is difficult to not constantly compare the two versions of IT, I will do my best to focus on the new material. The filmmakers are very wise to have IT take place in the nineteen-eighties. This allows them to draw inspiration from kid adventure films of the eighties such as The Monster Squad, The Goonies, and Stand By Me  – and benefit from the recent success of Stranger Things. This time period is also a wise decision because it means the next installment of IT, which will focus on the protagonists as adults, will take place in our present day. It makes the story more accessible to current generations of horror fans while still allowing the film to have the same plot points and interesting characters fans know and love.

There are two particular aspects of this film that exceed my expectations. First, it is downright hilarious. We know that IT involves a healthy amount of humor, especially from the character of Ritchie. This film was much more humorous than I expected, and the humor came from multiple different characters. This is largely because the jokes are more inappropriate and adult, much like the kinds of jokes you would expect boys that age to make. The stand out comedic moments came from the characters Ritchie, Ben, and Eddie. The second successful aspect is the violence. As odd as this may sound, the simple fact that the filmmakers show extreme violence towards children makes me enjoy the film more. Not many films, horror or otherwise, have the guts to show children being attacked and mutilated. Yet, in real life, kids get hurt just as much as adults do. The filmmakers do not hold back on the violence, no matter who it is directed towards. It raises the stakes and makes it clear to the audience just how much peril these kids are in. It can be jarring to see, but it adds a bit more realism to this otherwise fantastical horror film.

The entire cast of the losers’ club, as well as Pennywise himself, are perfect in IT. Jaeden Lieberher (The Book of Henry) leads the losers’ club as Bill. Lieberher does a great job with Bill’s stutter in a way that is subtle and natural sounding. He clearly has the most heart of the group, and Lieberher conveys that very well. Jeremy Ray Taylor (42) plays the new kid, Ben. What I love about Taylor’s performance is how he portrays Ben as somewhat naive and a hopeless romantic. Sophia Lillis (37) shines as Beverly, the lone female of the group. Lillis manages to make Beverly both the strongest and most fragile character of the film. Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) is absolutely hilarious as Ritchie. He lands virtually every joke effortlessly and keeps the audience laughing throughout the entire film. Chosen Jacobs (Hawaii Five-0) plays the homeschooled outsider, Mike. While I wish the character of Mike had been in the film a bit more, Jacobs still makes him an interesting character to watch. Jack Dylan Grazer (Tales of Halloween) surprised me the most as germaphobic Eddie. I never thought of Eddie has a very comedic character, but Grazer has the audience laughing almost as much as Wolfhard. Wyatt Oleff (Guardians of the Galaxy) plays the most reserved character in the losers’ club, Stanley. Stanley clearly is the most frightened of the group, and Oleff excellently portrays that fear. Finally, we have Pennywise himself, played by Bill Skarsgård (Atomic Blonde). This is not only the most disturbing and frightening portrayal of Pennywise, but of any horror film clown I have ever seen. Skarsgård oozes malice with a simple look, and his movements and speech only emphasize the evil in this stunning performance.

The look for Pennywise in this adaptation of IT is fantastic. The makeup is unnerving and only adds to the evil clown we know and love. Skarsgård exaggerates the creepy makeup by having unnatural, quick, jerking movements throughout the film. When it comes to the scares, I am impressed by how few jump scares there are in the film. Typically Pennywise is shown before any kind of attack happens, so you know the scare is coming. Instead, it is the anticipation of what will happen that keeps audiences on the edge of their seat. It makes for some truly horrifying moments, yet the simple moments of Pennywise speaking to the kids and moving in odd jerks are some of the most sinister scenes I have seen in a horror film. Unfortunately, the filmmakers choose to break many of those moments with shaky camera work and Pennywise wreaking havoc. It makes for intense moments, but sometimes less is more when it comes to scares. These scenes also tend to involve a hefty amount of CGI as well, even on Pennywise himself. Logistically it is clear why CGI is used, but I wish the filmmakers had scaled back a bit and relied more on the practical makeup.

IT (2017) is one of the most successful adaptations of any Stephen King novel to date. There are still some flaws to it, like the heavy CGI use and the lack of trust the filmmakers have in Pennywise being terrifying without any gimmicks. Yet it is impossible to ignore the stellar performances, the more frightening and dangerous situations with the kids, and the chemistry between each and every member of the losers’ club. On top of that, I believe audiences get a truly sinister villain that is more terrifying than the original (Sorry, Tim Curry, I still love you though). This film is a must see for any horror fan.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

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The Night Watchmen

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A group of night watchmen and their new recruit keep watch over the offices of a newspaper. One night, when everyone is staying late to do inventory, a coffin is accidentally delivered to the building. Little do the night watchmen know that the late great Blimpo the clown is in that coffin and he met an untimely death in Romania. Blimpo is now a vampire and soon the night watchmen find themselves fighting for their lives as people in the office are turned into bloodthirsty monsters.

Of all the films at the Phoenix Film Festival and International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival, I can say without a doubt that The Night Watchmen is the most fun horror film they programmed. This film really has everything one could want from a gory horror-comedy; lots of laughs, awesome practical effects, hilarious actors, and a fun story. The filmmakers managed to combine different things that scare people in order to create a spooky, hilarious hybrid. Clowns and vampires can be terrifying on their own. When you join them into one “clownpire,” then you get absolute insanity. The filmmakers also make the vampires in the film almost more zombie-like until they become a bit older and have more blood. This is smart because it allows them to create more carnage and excitement because the young vampires are essentially feral, wild animals.

Obviously the entire concept of this film is hilarious, but there are smaller details that elevate it to a higher level of humor. The three night watchmen and their new hire make up quite the team. The leader of their team is the typical buff ex-military guard. He is more experienced than the others so he naturally takes the lead. This character is hilarious because he fits into a certain stereotype, until the craziness begins and then you see that he isn’t quite the macho man he appears to be. The leader’s best friend and fellow night watchman is described in the film as “the worst black guy ever.” He commonly says common phrases incorrectly and enjoys things a stereotypical black man would not enjoy. This is a trait that can be seen in most of the main characters. The filmmakers do a great job of introducing caricatures and stereotypes of different people, but then show that they actually do not fit into that mold at all. It adds a more subtle layer of humor amidst all the fart and sex jokes.

The interesting and complex characters would be nothing without the actors who play them. The Night Watchmen is filled with laugh out loud performances from the lead characters all the way down to the smallest roles. All of the watchmen deliver performances wrought with humor and even a certain level of complexity not typically seen in this kind of horror-comedy. Ken Arnold (Men in Black 3, Lovely Molly) plays tough-guy leader, Ken. Arnold adds many layers to his character’s personality making him much more engaging and lovable. Kevin Jiggetts (Concussion, Won’t Back Down) plays the equally lovable Jiggetts, Ken’s best friend and the aforementioned “worst black guy ever.” Jiggetts does an amazing job of acknowledging the stereotypes people expect his character to fall into and then he completely shatters that stereotype. Max Gray Wilbur (Thrill Kill) is yet another example of breaking expectations in his portrayal of the rookie who is fondly known as “Rajeeve.”  One would expect him to be the hero of the story since he is the young fresh face, but the audience quickly learns that is not the case. Then there is Kara Luiz (Jerks with Cameras, American Poltergeist 3) as the strong female lead of Karen. I love the character of Karen and Luiz’s portrayal of her because she is not a damsel in distress. In the workplace she ranks higher than the male leads and she takes charge and refuses to be the helpless victim. Other great performances come from Dan DeLuca (Crazy Eights), Tiffany Shepis (Tales of Halloween), James Remar (Unnatural), and of course Gary Peebles as the great Blimpo.

This is a very gory, bloody film. It would have failed miserably without those who create the amazing practical effects. Every wound and bit of gore is very well done. It is definitely over the top at times when looking at the amount of blood and guts, but it works in this kind of film. The creature design for the vampires is one of the best aspects of the practical effects. I appreciate that, instead of the usual two elongated fangs and alluring demeanor, the filmmakers broke the vampire mold (much like with the main characters) by having a mouth full of sharp teeth and rabid behavior. The vampires are feral, wild beasts instead of the usual calm and composed sex symbols. It makes them more frightening and dangerous, especially as they slowly begin to gain more intelligence with each drop of blood they drink. I also love that they make Blimpo stand out as the leader by making him the strongest, most intelligent, and making him appear larger than everyone else. Blimpo is not a clown you would want to meet in a dark alley.

The Night Watchmen is an insanely fun and bloody ride that is sure to tickle the funny bone of horror fans everywhere. In this film you get lots of gore, excitement, and laughs. While the fart jokes may go on a little too long, the filmmakers make up for it by giving the audience surprisingly complex characters. Those complex characters are portrayed by an all-around fantastic cast that has electric chemistry between them. I not only want to see more of these characters, but I also can’t wait to see what the filmmakers come up with next.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10