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.

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