A new R-rated remake of Stephen King’s “It” recently bested “The Exorcist” as the highest grossing horror film of all time, a record previously held for nearly half a century.
“It” introduces Pennywise, a shapeshifting clown that lurks in the sewers beneath the town of Derry, Maine. Pennywise has the ability to take the form of anyone’s worst fear and uses that talent to his advantage when he surfaces every 27 years to feed on children. Pennywise eventually preys on the wrong kids, an unruly group of middle school outcasts that call themselves The Losers Club, and they force Pennywise to slink back into the sewers. Following the final confrontation, The Losers Club vows to finish Pennywise once and for all if he ever returns.
Audiences know that King harnesses a unique ability for telling effective horror stories, but adapting those tales into film can weaken their impact. Such was the case with the 1990 made-for-TV adaptation of King’s novel “It,” which debuted in 1990. The mini-series originally aired during primetime and introduced America to the face of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, played by Tim Curry.
Curry lacked a genuine presence because his performance was obviously dulled by network restrictions that forced the actor to abandon a fully engaging performance in favor of appropriate ratings. Curry’s mini-series version of Pennywise provided viewers across America the chance to meet the sewer-dwelling fearmonger face-to-face for the first time, but audience members were left wanting a scarier rendition of the nominal character.
Enter Bill Skarsgård, a symbolic 27 years later, whose transformation into Pennywise echoed more closely the mood of Stephen King’s novel. Skarsgård’s highly anticipated portrayal of the clown ran the gamut from sinister to silly, and his performance managed to hit several notes in between. Curry’s Pennywise provided viewers across America the chance to meet the shapeshifting fearmonger face to face for the first time, but it was certainly Skarsgard’s well-rounded embodiment of Pennywise that we will remember from now on.
Similarly, The Losers Club was portrayed as a boringly average collection of adolescent stereotypes with little or no distinguishing features one would expect from King’s fully developed characters in the novel. It was a relief that this summer’s remake of “It” also treated movie-going audiences to a decidedly more in-depth look at the story of the adolescents of Derry, who are not exactly enjoying their summer vacation.
Director Andres Muschietti delivered a complex emotional range through a well-blended cast of relatively unknown actors, which is seen reflected in several rites of passage for The Losers Club. Beverly’s role as the tomboy on her first period now exists in stark contrast to her father’s sexualization of her as his pretty little piece of property, the new Eddie riots against a severe case of Munchausen by proxy and Stan and Mike are no longer seen as just token characters of their religion or race, respectively, but maintain their own independent story lines.
Overall, much-needed character development defined this summer’s recreation of Stephen King’s “It” as one of the only remakes that manages to be better than the original.