Cult horror It is now a movie
Prepare for nightmares as one of Stephen King’s most terrifying characters returns to a screen near you
FROM inside a storm drain only its gleaming eyes are visible, then a white painted face looms into view, grinning like a deranged Ronald McDonald as it lures unsuspecting children to a terrible fate. Even the trailer is enough to make you want to hide under the bed and call your mommy – yet this terrifying apparition is luring millions of viewers into cinemas for a dose of horror so intense you’re guaranteed nightmares for weeks.
It’s It, the scariest viewing experience since It the TV show petrified people out of their wits nearly 30 years ago.
The man behind it needs no introduction: Stephen King is horror-story royalty. His classic 1986 horror novel and the hit 1990 miniseries took all the comedy out of clowns for a generation of readers and viewers. And now a new adaptation of the novel has hit the big screen and it’s scaring up a fortune at the box office as moviegoers pay up to be petrified. What’s It about? The story is about seven kids growing up in the small town of Derry – the location for many of King’s stories. The seven are frequently bullied and form a group of outcasts they call the Losers’ Club. They’re the only ones who can stop an ancient shape-shifting predator which crawls from the sewers every 27 years to feed on the town’s children.
The demonic creature, which takes on the appearance of a grinning clown, calls itself Pennywise the Dancing Clown and it manifests itself as an individual’s worst nightmare. Scaring up the cash It had the biggest opening weekend of any horror movie ever in the US, toppling the $52,6 million (then R420,8 million) record held by Paranormal Activity 3 in 2011. It was the third-biggest opening weekend at the US box office this year, raking in $123,1 million (R1,6 billion) and another $62 million (R837 million) from international screenings – putting it ahead of Spider-Man: Homecoming, and just behind another ’90s remake, Beauty and the Beast, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
What makes it extra-impressive is that the film was made for a relatively modest $35 million (R472,5 million). Spider-Man: Homecoming cost an estimated $175 million (R2,36 billion) to make.
In a year filled with big-screen flops (including another Stephen King adaptation, The Dark Tower) It has been a hit with critics and moviegoers alike. The movie is a well-written, faithful adaptation of the novel marketed on the strength of King’s name, and has instantly recognisable imagery: Pennywise and his ominous red balloons.
The two-and-a-half minute trailer for the film, released in March, racked up a record-breaking 197 million views in 24 hours, showing moviegoers’ appetite for Stephen King and blood-chilling terror. The TV show The 1990 miniseries was made for broadcast television in a pre-streaming era, so the grisly violence and sexuality of the 1 200- odd page book was excised,
along with many subplots to be condensed into a two-episode, three-hour miniseries. Like the novel, it shifted between the ’50s and the present day, while the new movie, which runs for two hours and 15 minutes, tells only the first part of the story, now set in the late ’80s.
A sequel, which is inevitable given the film’s success (although not yet official)
will take place in the present day. The new It The movie is directed by Argentine Andy Muschietti, who previously made the 2013 horror film Mama. It stars Swedish actor Bill Skarsgård – son of actor Stellan Skarsgård (Thor) and brother of Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood) – as Pennywise.
The Losers’ Club is portrayed by youngsters Chosen Jacobs, who had a small role in Hawaii Five-0; Finn Wolfhard, who starred in Stranger Things; Sophia Lillis, who makes her acting debut; Jaeden Lieberher, who had a role in Midnight Special; Jack Dylan Grazer, who also makes his debut and will next be seen in the new sitcom Me, Myself & I; Wyatt Oleff, who played young Peter Quill in the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy; and Jeremy Ray Taylor, who’s had small parts in Ant-Man and Alvin and the Chipmunks. The new Pennywise The filmmakers were adamant they weren’t trying to remake the 1990 version, but Andy acknowledges Tim Curry’s Pennywise “scared the s**t out of a generation”.
“It was a cult moment in horror,” he says.
For the new adaptation Andy decided he wanted a baby-faced clown rather than one similar to the loud, jowly, Noo Yawk-accented psychopath so memorably created by Tim.
Andy says Bill (27) – born in the year the miniseries first aired – brought “mystery and an intriguing quality to the character” of Pennywise.
“He had a madness in his look and his body language was completely unnerving. Some of the physical demands of this role were exhausting, but I have to give it to Bill – his energy was on full all the time,” Andy says.
Given Pennywise’s appetite for children, Andy imagined a baby-faced image for the character, including large eyes, a pixie nose, fine hair and apple cheeks.
“I felt that giving him those childlike features would make him more unsettling because of the contrast of someone who looks innocent and sweet and yet is capable of doing horrifying things.”
Special effects make-up artists Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff designed and constructed an enlarged skull, resembling, Gillis says, “a gigantic cracked melon. We usually design from the ground up, but Andy sent me a design that was pretty much there, with the dictum to make the character look almost like a child. That really hooked me.”
The filmmakers kept their Pennywise away from the actors forming the Losers’ Club, at least initially, not wanting to diminish their first reactions – an approach borrowed from the miniseries, when Tim Curry hung about on set, in make-up, chain-smoking cigarettes.
“Whenever the kid actors got too close, he’d grin at us with his horribly pointed teeth,” recalls actress Emily Perkins, who played young Beverly in the miniseries. “He really tried to intimidate us because he wanted the fear to be real in our performances. He didn’t make any effort to be nice, at least not to me!” SOURCES: TM FILMS, VANITY FAIR, EMPIRE, NEW YORK TIMES, THE NEW YORKER, VARIETY.COM, COMPLEX.COM, THEWRAP. COM, AVCLUB.COM, SCREENRANT.COM, IO9.COM, MASHABLE. COM, FORBES.COM, FORTUNE.COM, IMDB.COM, BOXOFFICEMOJO.COM, ROLLINGSTONE.COM, DENOFGEEK.COM, YAHOO.COM
ABOVE: Bill Skarsgård plays Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the new film adaptation of Stephen King’s book It. LEFT: Tim Curry played the nasty clown in the 1990 miniseries.
The cast of the 2017 movie (from left): Jaeden Lieberher as Bill, Finn Wolfhard as Richie and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie.
The cast of the miniseries. Back from left are John Ritter, Richard Masur, Harry Anderson, Tim Curry and Dennis Christopher. Front from left: Tim Reid, Annette O’Toole and Richard Thomas.