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‘It’ returns to theaters 27 years later, scary as ever

Ian McKeown, Contributing Writer

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Stephen King’s “It” was one of the single most successful and notorious horror movie releases of the 1990s. At the time, King was in his heyday as he published horror after horror, each one more unique and twisted than the last but none ever reaching quite the popularity of his infamous book, “It.” All of this and more informed the excitement and advertising campaign for the 2017 re-release directed by Andy Muschietti. The film’s success on opening weekend has brought in an estimated $123.7 million already and it is very easy to understand why. If you have yet to see the 2017 movie or simply do not want to know any of the details of new age murderous clowns and the modern plot, stop reading now.

The image of the cannibal clown has always been associated with the horrifying tale of “Pennywise the Dancing Clown” that terrorized the small town of Derry. The trailers are misleading as they feature the young brother of one of the main characters sailing a boat down the road and chasing it. Eventually, the boy runs into Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgård in the modern adaptation, who is holding the runaway boat, who pretends to be eager to meet the little boy, lovingly named Georgie and convinces him to reach into the storm drain and grab the boat. Pennywise then bites the arm clean off little Georgie and grabs him from the street as he lays there bleeding. The instant death sets the tone of the newly revived Pennywise as the embodiment of pure evil and trickery, as well as the manifestation of fear itself.

The movie does a fantastic job of taking the terrifying Pennywise from the 1990s original and modernizing him with today’s technology and haunting makeup techniques. In the original, the clowns teeth turn razor sharp as he attacks his victims and his eyes go blood red. In the modern version, these razor sharp teeth are replicated but taken to a new extreme as his face is able to become an abomination of all teeth and some sort of hypnotic light. His eyes are offset with a seemingly lazy eye, as both shine green around the black pupils but ultimately give way to a blood red iris during the finale. The image of Pennywise himself directly informs how scared the viewer is and therefore how well the plot gets driven. Director Muschietti clearly took this very seriously, as the new clown’s eerie smile and piercing manic eyes stay with you long after leaving the theater.

The heroes of the story are incredibly dynamic and the witty one-liners make the viewers connect with them instantly. The self proclaimed “Loser Club” struggles with the issues of maturity, bullying and obviously survival in this blockbuster, while still keeping a nuanced love connection alive between the older girl, Beverly, played by Sophia Lillis, who is the only female member of the “Loser Club” and Ben, played by Jeremy Ray Taylor, the overweight and often under-appreciated member of the club, as well as Bill, played by Jaeden Lieberher, the leader of the group and the protagonist. This love connection comes to a climax as Ben kisses Beverly to save her from the spell Pennywise puts her under with the hypnotic light behind his mouth, right before their final battle with the devil clown. Beverly tells Bill she is moving away after everything and he kisses her and tells her how he feels, tangling the love triangle further.

Throughout the movie, the “Losers Club” does their best to escape from Pennywise; however, Beverly gets kidnapped after a struggle with her father one afternoon. This leads the crew to decide to work together and go down into the sewers to get her back, bringing back a strong sense of community in the face of evil. When the club saves Beverly and confronts Pennywise in the sewers he lives in, the ultimate battle is reminiscent of an 80s “Sandlot” remake that meets a modern adrenaline pumping action thriller. When Pennywise tries to cut his losses and only take Bill, the unspoken club leader and former older brother of the now deceased Georgie, he offers the rest an escape and peace for the rest of their lives as he returns to hibernate. The group’s response is inspirationally classic as they pick up nearby objects and sarcastically complain to Bill that he dragged them into this and now he’s gonna make them kill Pennywise. They attack together, each one taking turns stabbing and beating the murderous symbol of fear before them. As Pennywise makes his last attempt to assert control and put fear into them, with no success, the group informs him they no longer fear him and in fact he must fear them now, for they can make him starve. Upon hearing this, he disintegrates slowly as he falls back down the deep well the kids found him in and they all collapse with relief.

Despite their victory, Muschietti includes a scene where Beverly has a dream about the “Losers Club” coming back to Derry in order to fight Pennywise 27 years later. The group’s determination to come back and end this in the future is the message that we are left with as the film fades to credits, setting itself up for a sequel. In this way and many others, the 2017 movie distinguishes itself from its 1990s predecessor and creates a whole new sense of terror surrounding the image of clowns and their representation of our own fears, as well as creates a dynamic group of kids that everyone can sympathize with in one way or another. It stuck true to the original plot, almost to the letter, but modernized the fear and technology used to create suspense and horror in the audience and the story. Overall, the re-release of King’s beautifully terrifying story is a runaway success and will likely inform how other directors attempt to pay homage to these classics that built the genre.

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‘It’ returns to theaters 27 years later, scary as ever