The Exorcist III — a review

Is there somebody behind me? Somebody who's breathing heavily?

Is there somebody behind me? Somebody who’s breathing heavily?

Shortly after the astounding success of The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty, who wrote the original novel the film was based on (as well as the screenplay for the film), had an idea for a sequel. At first William Friedkin, the director of the original Exorcist, liked the idea, but when he reportedly changed his mind about directing it, Blatty turned the sequel idea into a novel called Legion, which was published in 1983, ten years after the release of the seminal movie. In 1990, Blatty would go on to write and direct the film version of Legion, which was called The Exorcist III, at the insistence of the studio (Blatty had wanted to call it Legion, after his novel, but the studio felt Exorcist III was a more viable title).

George C. Scott (Patton) stars as Lt. Kinderman (a role played in the original Exorcist by Lee J. Cobb), who finds himself confounded by a series of brutal murders, including that of a boy and a priest. The strangest thing about the murders is that even though both victims were killed in the same manner, the fingerprints left at the scene show they were murdered by two separate people using the exact same MO. When his close friend Father Dyer (well-played by Ed Flanders) is also savagely murdered, inexplicably in his hospital bed, Kinderman discovers that the killings are the work of the legendary Gemini Killer–the only problem is that the Gemini Killer has been dead for fifteen years.

I want you to put out an APB on someone who carries a pitchfork, has horns on his head and who answers to the name of Lucifer.

I want you to put out an APB on someone who carries a pitchfork, has horns on his head and who answers to the name of Lucifer.

Blatty draws you into this grim story not with horror or gore, but with humor. The early exchanges between Kinderman and Dyer are among the funniest and wittiest ever filmed. Scott delivers his lines with a deadpan panache, while Flanders looks like he’s just having a ball with his fun and cheery priest character, who’s a big fan of reading magazines and watching It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s an ingenious ploy on Blatty’s part, because he makes the viewer care about the characters, and when you truly care about what happens to a character, the oncoming horror and suspense becomes that much more real.

And Blatty doesn’t hold back on the horrific moments, either–starting with a ghastly scene where a priest takes the confession of an elderly woman. It starts out with the camera tight on the priest’s face–we never see the old woman; we only hear her dry, soft voice as she begins to talk sweetly and in great detail about having killed another woman. An uncredited Colleen Dewhurst, who was married to George C. Scott at the time, provided the unnerving voice-over of the old woman. What makes this scene so electrifying is that the camera stays on the priest’s horrified expression the entire time. You never see the old woman as she speaks so casually about such ghastly things.

Just another quiet night at the hospital...yeah, right.

Just another quiet night at the hospital…yeah, right.

And then, of course, there’s the sequence in the hospital, leading up to the murder of one of the nurses. With the exception of a quick cutaway, it’s largely an uncut static shot of a hospital hallway, with the nurse nonchalantly walking around, keeping busy. This scene has become a classic in terror, more for what it doesn’t do. There’s no music, nor any signs of an obvious cinematic buildup of tension; but the scene is still unnerving to watch, because you just know something really bad will happen. And it doesn’t disappoint.

Interestingly enough, Blatty’s original script didn’t have an exorcism scene (his novel didn’t have one, either). But the studio insisted on including an exorcism, because the movie was called The Exorcist III, after all (which was a title that the studio insisted upon in the first place). The exorcism feels very lurid and garish, in sharp contrast to the quiet chilling horror of the rest of the film, but it still doesn’t diminish the overall story.

Shout! Factory’s new Blu-Ray release of Exorcist III has a director’s cut included with the theatrical film. The director’s cut, which is reportedly approved by Blatty, restores the film to his original vision using previously cut footage sourced from old VHS tapes. While the picture quality of the director’s cut may not be the greatest, it was the best that they could work with, and it offers a tantalizing view at a more quiet and contemplative horror film.

But even with its flaws, The Exorcist III is still a far better movie than the second Exorcist, as well as the prequels, and it remains a superb and thoughtful companion piece to the original film. –SF

Lights Out — a review

Yoo-Hoo! How about you stay right there while I go get the Marines, m'kay? Be right back!

Yoo-Hoo! How about you stay right there while I go get the Marines, m’kay? Be right back!

In Lights Out, a little boy named Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is having trouble staying awake in school, having fallen asleep in class for the third time. When Martin’s big sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) goes to pick him up at school, she learns that the reason he can’t sleep at home is because Martin is being terrorized by a vengeful apparition that lurks in the shadows. And when he tried to get help from his mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), Martin saw her speaking in a conspiratorial manner to the monstrous wraith in her bedroom. Rebecca, who lives on her own, decides to keep Martin with her at her apartment.

When she was younger and still living at home, Rebecca suffered very badly at the hands of her mother before running off to start her own life. Now she wants to spare Martin the same torment, yet the social worker that’s been assigned to Martin’s case informs Rebecca that trying to take Martin away from his mother is easier said than done. Rebecca eventually discovers that this shadowy assailant is not a figment of Martin’s imagination, and that it even has a name, Diana. And somehow this ghastly apparition, which thrives in the shadows, had attached itself to her mother. And now Rebecca is in Diana’s sights.

Look, I know it's not a light saber, but it will have to do, OK?

Look, I know it’s not a light saber, but it will have to do, OK?

Based on the short film, which was also directed by David F. Sandberg, Lights Out is a fun little shocker that should play very well at a Halloween gathering, or any other time you feel like scaring the bejeezus out of yourself. What makes it work so well is that it uses the primal fear we all have of the dark, which is Diana’s domain. There are some very effective shock moments when people turn the lights off, only to see Diana’s scary-looking silhouette standing in the shadows, but when they turn the light back on, she’s gone. This is played to great effect during a sequence where a room is illuminated only by a blinking neon sign that’s outside the windows.

There’s also a great visual moment where someone is shooting at the advancing Diana, and she momentarily disappears in the flash of the gunfire, only to reappear, even closer, in the darkness. Maria Bello is very good as Sophie, managing to make her character sympathetic, and clearly avoiding the evil mommy dearest trope. Teresa Palmer is sturdy, if a little one note–it becomes obvious that she’s simply the perky young horror movie heroine that’s been established in such classics as the original Halloween and Nightmare On Elm Street. While Lights Out may not have very strong characterization, it still hits the ground running, and never lets up the tension and suspense once during its 80 minutes. It may not be in the same league as It Follows, but it’s still an entertaining ride. –SF

The Dead Room — a review

All ghosts beware this bunch! They'll bore you right out of here!

All ghosts beware this bunch! They’ll bore you right out of here!

A family is chased out of their home in rural New Zealand. The cause is very cranky ghosts, and before you can even think to say, “who ya gonna call?” a team of paranormal investigators are sent to find out what exactly happened. Family man Liam Andrews (Jed Brophy) is the technical expert who sets up the motion-detectors and cameras, while moody young Holly Matthews (Laura Peterson) is the resident psychic. They are commanded by team leader Scott Cameron (Jeffery Thomas), who tries to approach the spooky investigation with some degree of skepticism. On her initial walk through of the house, Holly does not pick up anything with her psychic powers, which leads Scott to think this whole shebang may be a bust.

But soon the unseen ghost goes pounding through the house, with footsteps so loud that they sound more like elephants marching down the hall. And yet despite the pounding and wailing, this crack team of investigators sleeps right through it. (???) It’s not until the second (or is it the third?) night that they finally take notice of the noise, being awakened from their unnaturally deep slumber by something slamming into the house so hard that the entire structure shakes as if in a earthquake. But Scott routinely shoots down any notion of the supernatural, insisting that it was just the wind. Looks like the ghost is really going to have to bring its A-game just to impress Scotty boy.

Since nothing is happening here, I might as well check my Instagram....

Since nothing is happening here, I might as well check my Instagram….

The Dead Room is probably one of the dullest horror films I’ve seen in a while. While it’s one thing to have a slow-burn opening for your horror movie, the opening twenty minutes of The Dead Room just lays there. Nothing actually happens in this film until the ghost decides to play shake, rattle and roll with the house, and even then Scott refuses to believe anything happened (his insistence that it was all just the wind is just too much to accept, and makes the character look stupid). It also doesn’t help the film that the sets are badly designed–the house looks like a small cottage on the outside, but the interiors make it look like a sprawling ranch house.

The script and acting are not the best, either, with the performances being very listless at times–I found myself wondering if I was watching the rehearsal sessions, when I should have been caught up in the story. But there’s no real suspense, no creepy build up like what you saw in Insidious or The Conjuring. Instead the story, if you could call it that, lazily meanders around until the great big shock at the end–at which point I no longer cared, I was so bored and tired of the film I was just grateful it was over (and it was only 80 minutes long). If you’re suffering from insomnia, this film should be better than a sleeping pill. Everybody else should just avoid it. –SF

The Darkness — a review

Hello, Mr. Ghost? We're coming upstairs, so please don't scare us, m'kay?

Hello, Mr. Ghost? We’re coming upstairs, so please don’t scare us, m’kay?

Kevin Bacon stars in The Darkness, a horror movie about a family being haunted by evil spirits that accompany their young son home from a trip to the Grand Canyon. Young Michael Taylor (well played by David Mazouz, from TV’s Gotham) is autistic. Coming across a group of stones that he finds in a cave (after accidentally falling in there through the ceiling) Michael brings the stones back home with him, keeping their presence a secret from his family, which consists of dad Peter (Bacon), mom Bronny (Radha Mitchell) and big sister Stephanie (Lucy Fry). Things turn weird when Bronny notices a bad smell, along with the water facets being left on all the time.

But the weirdness get creepier when Bronny feels a strange presence in the house in the form of a shadowy figure that flits out of view the moment she sees it. This leads her to wonder if the harmless imaginary friend that Michael has brought back with him from the Grand Canyon might not be so harmless after all. Directed by Greg McLean, who gave us the phenomenal serial killer movie Wolf Creek, the not so great Wolf Creek 2, and the superb killer alligator movie Rogue (which also starred Mitchell; she’s appearing in her second film directed by McLean) The Darkness lacks the sheer horrific intensity of his previous films just by the fact that it’s rated PG-13.

Eww...really? Seriously? We've got to have a ghost who doesn't wash his hands....

Eww…really? Seriously? We’ve got to have a ghost who doesn’t wash his hands….

So there’s no gory violence here; no unflinching shots of heads being blown off, or people being tortured to death, and that’s fine. I’m actually a big fan of the recent trend of “mild” horror movies like Insidious, and the Conjuring films. These movies focus more on being scary instead of grossing people out, which forces the filmmakers to be more innovative and creative. But the problem with The Darkness is that it might be a little too mild. It’s not the lack of gore that bothers me, but the ’by-the-numbers’ feeling of the story, which feels a lot like a warmed-over Poltergeist plot. If you’re a big horror movie fan, then this movie will feel very familiar to you because it uses every trope used in films like Poltergeist and its sequels (as well as the remake).

However, the combination of McLean, along with a solid cast, has lead to the creation of a very interesting and sympathetic group of characters. These aren’t your basic horror movie cardboard cut outs; no, instead McLean chose to populate his movie with a dysfunctional family, with each member struggling with an affliction of their own, in addition to fighting the supernatural force. This made the movie worth watching for me, because I was made to genuinely care for the characters. And even if horror movie fans might be bored with seeing the same basic plot being replayed here, for those of you casual horror fans looking for a good, non-gory horror film for the family to watch (in the same vein as Insidious or The Conjuring), you can’t go wrong with peering into The Darkness. –SF

The Boy — a review

Hello? Creepy doll? You up there? If so, you can stay there, little buddy!

Hello? Creepy doll? You up there? If so, you can stay there, little buddy!

Full disclosure time here: I’ve had a mad (simply mad, I tell you!) crush on actress Lauren Cohan since I first laid eyes on her during the second season of The Walking Dead. And although her presence on that zombie soap opera isn’t enough to keep me watching it, I still keep an eye out for her whenever she shows up in other projects, such as the straight to video opus Death Race 2. 2016’s The Boy is her first starring film role, and it was actually released in theaters! Whoa, looks like this girl is definitely going places.

In The Boy, Cohan stars as Greta, a young woman who has been hired to baby-sit a kid for a wealthy old couple who live in a spacious mansion in England. Weird stuff happens right at the start when Greta, showing up at the mansion for the first time, removes her boots and leaves them at the front door–only to have them vanish when she goes to retrieve them later. But it really gets weird when Greta realizes that the “boy” that she has been hired to take care of is nothing but a life-sized doll of an eight year old lad with creepy alabaster skin and eyes that have a thousand yard stare.

Hmm, that zombie-killing gig is looking better by the moment, here....

Hmm, that zombie-killing gig is looking better by the moment, here….

Greta is given a list of things that must be done for Brahms (aka the creepy little doll). This list, which includes playing selected pieces of music very loudly, must be strictly adhered to, reminding me of the rules that the characters in Gremlins had to follow in order to guarantee nothing went wrong–and of course they ignored those rules right off the bat. Greta does the same thing. Once the old couple are gone, leaving her alone in the mansion, Greta just tosses the doll aside and kicks back and relaxes. Big mistake, for once she ignores the rules, that’s when the really creepy stuff happens.

I enjoyed this one. It has a nice, Gothic atmosphere, and slowly builds up its terrors, as opposed to diving straight in teeth-first. The Boy is basically a mystery/thriller that unravels its plot with care, including the twist near the end. Cohan acquits herself very nicely here, effortlessly carrying the movie as the only person on screen for long stretches of its running time. The Boy may not be the greatest film ever made (it has its share of plot holes), but for what it is, it’s entertaining enough to enjoy on a rainy weekend afternoon. –SF

10 Cloverfield Lane — a review

There was a woman here before you. Her name was Roseanne. We do not speak of her....

There was a woman here before you. Her name was Roseanne. We do not speak of her….

While he was busy directing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams also found the time to produce a sequel (of sorts) to Cloverfield, the found footage movie that he produced back in 2008 (and was directed by Matt Reeves, who would go on to direct the superb Dawn Of The Planet of the Apes) about a giant monster attacking New York City. Much like the original film, which was shrouded in secrecy, the marketing for the sequel was a mystery wrapped in an enigma stuffed in a riddle. It wasn’t even officially announced until less than two months before its release, and the cast (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr.) weren’t even told the name of the movie they were working on during filming.

The title is 10 Cloverfield Lane, and the film, directed by first timer Dan Trachtenberg, is fantastic. First and foremost, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not a found footage film. The original Cloverfield was very enjoyable in how it creatively used its found footage format, but that whole sub-genre, which first started with The Blair Witch Project, has been so overused since then that it’s become something to actively avoid whenever a new found footage flick is trudged out. Just by telling its story in the traditional format, 10 Cloverfield Lane scores some major brownie points right out of the gate.

We're working on getting out of this oppressive bunker...tomorrow. Right now, we've got stuff to do.

We’re working on getting out of this oppressive bunker…tomorrow. Right now, we’ve got stuff to do.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead (2012’s The Thing) stars as a young woman named Michelle who’s on the run from a broken marriage. Ignoring her husband’s pleas over the phone (played by Bradley Cooper in a voiceover performance) to just come back home, she races off into the night, where she gets into a car wreck. When she wakes up, it’s not in a hospital, but an underground bunker that’s run by Howard, an imposing man (very well-played by Goodman) who informs her that the world above has come under some kind of an attack, and that they are far safer staying in the bunker, which is tricked out with all the amenities they would need.

But what makes 10 Cloverfield Lane so good is the annoying little fear that Michelle has that everything that Howard has told her is a lie, that he abducted Michelle just to keep her as his slave in the bunker. Is Howard the real monster here? That’s the central mystery, and the writers have done a great job in setting it up and letting it unfold in layers over the course of the film. Winstead is marvelous here as Michelle; her character is filled with a firm, quiet resolve and she plays it magnificently. There are far too many twists and turns in the plot for me to talk about this film more in detail, just know that 10 Cloverfield Lane is an mesmerizing thriller that will keep you glued to the screen for all of its running time. Don’t miss it. –SF

The Forest — a review

This is certainly a lot faster ride than going by horseback.

This is certainly a lot faster ride than going by horseback.

Located at the base of Mt. Fuji is a forest known as Aokigahara. It’s perhaps best known as the “suicide forest” due to the number of people who go there to kill themselves. There’s actually a sign at the start of the hiking trail that urges people who’re thinking of killing themselves to reconsider and call a special hotline. In The Forest, Natalie Dormer takes some time out from the wacky doings in Westeros to investigate the disappearance of her twin sister, who’s a teacher in Japan. Despite the fact that she has not been found, the twin has been last seen entering the “suicide forest”, and since she hasn’t come back out, she’s practically been written off as being dead by the Japanese.

But our heroine just knows that her sister is still alive, thanks to the psychic connection that they share (it was that same connection that alerted her to the fact that her twin was in trouble in the first place) and she’s determined to come to Japan and find her, even if it means upending the darn forest and shaking her out! If you’ve watched enough of horror movies, you know things go sideways the moment she walks into the forest. Despite receiving aid from a local guide, along with a handsome travel writer (who’s looking for a good story, and maybe a soul mate) Dormer’s character starts acting like a typical dopey horror movie heroine in that she keeps making really bad decisions for no reason.

Don't turn around...don't turn around...don't turn around....

Don’t turn around…don’t turn around…don’t turn around….

Having your characters do stupid things is the norm for all ineptly-made horror flicks, in whose ranks of the goofily dimwitted The Forest now stands should to shoulder with. This looks like the type of movie that somebody like Dormer would make just to show that she can do other things aside from dodging dragons on a weekly basis. And, seriously, who can blame her? Especially if there’s a nice payday attached to the prestige of being the star of your own movie. But in addition to having the main character act like an idiot, the movie itself also feels idiotic in how it lacks any real scares whatsoever.

Part of the problem is that the filmmakers don’t make it clear from the start what we’re dealing with. Is the forest haunted by the souls who have ended their lives there? Ok, fair enough, but then we’re treated to the interesting idea that Dormer’s character might be being gaslighted by somebody. This would have been a cool twist, but no, never mind, it’s quickly dumped in favor of the spooky forest idea once again. Saddled with a badly thought out and confusing script that’s filled with cardboard characters, The Forest is a snooze-fest right up to its cheap, tacked-on ending. Skip it. –SF

Crimson Peak — a review

I heard some strange noises, and now I'm going to investigate in the dark...what can go wrong?

I heard some strange noises, and now I’m going to investigate in the dark…what can go wrong?

In Crimson Peak, the latest film from director Guillermo del Toro, Mia Wasikowska, who starred in the title role in Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, stars here as Edith, a young woman of means who lives with her wealthy widowed father in Buffalo, New York. Her father receives a visit from a British Baronet named Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleson), who’s looking for investors for his drilling machine. Although he’s turned away by her father, Edith has fallen hard for him, and they begin a whirlwind romance that must come to an end at the insistence of Edith’s father, who bribes Thomas and his sister Lucille (the always great Jessica Chastain) into leaving town.

But when Edith’s father abruptly dies in a mysterious accident, it’s Edith who leaves town, with Thomas as her husband. Moving into Thomas’ decrepit old mansion, which sees rain and snow inside the main hall thanks to a large hole in the ceiling, Edith begins seeing scarier things than black mold. The house is crawling with frightening ghosts, all of whom are seemingly after Edith for some reason. Guillermo del Toro was coming off of the SF/fantasy Pacific Rim when he made this, and it’s a welcome return to the type of luridly fun dark horror story that he tells so well.

You couldn't have had a mice problem...oh no, it just HAD to be ghosts, right?

You couldn’t have had a mice problem…oh no, it just HAD to be ghosts, right?

Those expecting a typical horror movie might be disappointed here, as Crimson Peak is more of a Gothic Romance that slowly builds its story, as well as a keen sense of dread, from the very beginning of the film. It’s a credit to del Toro’s skill as a director, as well as his marvelous cast, that the romance aspect doesn’t feel silly or tacked on. Edith and Thomas had gotten married under very strained circumstances, and their struggles to rediscover one another rings very true.

Walk this way...wait until I give you the cane.

Walk this way…wait until I give you the cane.

However, the horror elements are handled expertly. Del Toro always had a great way of handling ghosts, making them appear truly frightening without the need for great melodrama. While the entire cast is very good, Wasikowska and Chastain are standouts. Just like she effortlessly carried Burton’s Alice on her slender shoulders, Wasikowska does the same here, and Crimson Peak is all the better for her presence. And Chastain takes what could have been a silly role and humanizes it greatly; the two lead actresses own this film, and it’s worth seeing for their performances alone. It’s good to have del Toro back on comfortable (and haunted) ground. –SF

Bone Tomahawk — a review

I'm giving these sons a bitches 30 seconds, and then I'm coming in, and hell's coming in right behind me!

I’m giving these sons a bitches 30 seconds, and then I’m coming in, and hell’s coming in right behind me!

When the western town of Bright Hope suffers an Indian attack late in the nineteenth century, Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) rides out with a posse to rescue the people who have been abducted. They also stole a bunch of horses that had been kept at the corral, viciously killing the young livestock worker in the process. Sheriff Hunt’s jail has also been cleared out–his deputy, the local nurse (Lili Simmons) and a prisoner they had in a cell (whom the nurse was taking care of) are all gone. Examining the arrows and other weapons left at the scene, Hunt doesn’t recognize the tribe that attacked them. But when he consults with an expert (Zahn McClarnon), Hunt gets a nasty surprise.

It turns out that the town had been attacked by a group of backwards cave dwellers who still live as if they’re in the Stone Age. Shunned by the other Indian tribes, this group of cave dwellers are a bunch of savage cannibals–which is why they abducted the people; they are merely food to be eaten. Getting a location of the cave dwellers from the expert, Hunt quickly sets up a search party that consists of himself, his reserve deputy Chicory (well-played by Richard Jenkins), Arthur (Patrick Wilson, who gives another good performance), whose wife was abducted by the cave dwellers, and a gunman named Brooder (Matthew Fox, from Lost, who is superb here).

The sooner we deal with these guys, the sooner we can get our horses back, darn it!

The sooner we deal with these guys, the sooner we can get our horses back, darn it!

Bone Tomahawk is a fantastic blend of the old west with horror. As a kid I used to read such weird western stories as Jonah Hex, which offered a regular dose of the supernatural and cowboys, so this movie was right in my wheelhouse. And to add to the fact that it’s got a great cast, in addition to those already mentioned there’s also David Arquette and Sid Haig as a pair of deadly robbers who both shine in an early scene, as well as the always great Kathryn Morris (best known from the series Cold Case), who stars here as Hunt’s loving wife.

There's nobody here...let's get back to the card game.

There’s nobody here…let’s get back to the card game.

Gore-hounds expecting a blood-soaked horror flick may be let down, as Bone Tomahawk moves at a stately, slow-burn pace, letting you get to know its characters before the bloody confrontation with the cave dwellers. And on the flip side, western fans may well be turned off by the film’s extreme gore. But if you’re looking for a gripping, original story with fully developed characters that will have you on your seat for the better part of the film, then you may well want to give Bone Tomahawk a shot. It’s highly recommended.
–SF

Stephen King’s It — A Review

The Monster Squad ain't got nothing on us!

The Monster Squad ain’t got nothing on us!

I was never the type who was afraid of clowns. That didn’t stop me from enjoying Stephen King’s novel It, which was a massive (over 1000 pages long) book that could also be used for home protection just by flinging it at a burglar. The central villain in King’s epic book was a clown named Pennywise who stalked and tormented a group of children in the summer of 1960. The book took an interesting slant by actually being two separate stories: the first battle against Pennywise by the kids in the summer of 1960, and the second battle, occurring thirty years later, when the now-grown children reunite to battle Pennywise one last time when he comes back to stalk children in the dingy Maine town of Derry.

C'mere, darling, and give yer old Pennywise a great big hug!

C’mere, darling, and give yer old Pennywise a great big hug!

Stephen King’s It was produced into a two part mini-series that aired on TV back in November of 1990, and this fall of 2015 is the 25th anniversary of the TV version. I wish I could say that it was a superb mini-series. But even while I enjoyed the novel, I always considered It to be one of King’s lesser books, anyway. It was still vastly entertaining, but I was never really scared at any point in the novel. And I have the same problem with the mini-series overall: it’s uneven and just not very scary. But the miniseries has two saving graces: The first half, with the children back in 1960 is riveting, thanks to the superb performances of the kids, who’re led by Jonathan Brandis (SeaQuest: DSV). The other saving grace is the actor who they hired to play Pennywise, Tim Curry.

What bedtime story shall Pennywise read for ya, huh? C'mon, don't be shy....

What bedtime story shall Pennywise read for ya, huh? C’mon, don’t be shy….

Yes, Doctor Frank ‘N’ Footer from The Rocky Horror Picture show was cast as the central villain here, and his performance is one of the best things about this film. Curry, with his large, bulbous eyes, is visually striking as Pennywise the Clown, but he also employs a darkly comic savage streak in the character that always livens up the dull surroundings. Curry is one of the main reasons to watch It, for his gleefully maniacal performance is very welcome–especially within the oddly listless and bland second half of the mini-series (and as good as Curry is in this, it’s ironic to note that, when first offered Pennywise, Curry turned it down, not wanting to deal with the make up process. It was only when the director, Tommy Lee Wallace, promised to simplify the make up that Curry signed on).

Never should have left the Walton's farm, nope. Big mistake there....

Never should have left the Walton’s farm, nope. Big mistake there….

But despite solid actors like Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Harry Anderson, Tim Reid, and Annette O’Toole playing the adult cast, you never feel any real sense of them being in danger, which drags down the second half. When Curry terrorizes them, I enjoy these scenes more for Curry’s performance, and he easily steals every scene he’s in. But we’re ultimately denied a showdown with Pennywise, thanks to King’s rationale for the character, which is that he winds up being some weird, huge alien spider that uses the clown persona as a mask of sorts. So we’re reduced to watching the adult cast battle a giant alien spider puppet, which looks just as silly as it sounds.

Still, horror movie buffs, as well as Stephen King fans, may enjoy this version, as well as some interesting trivia. The director, Tommy Lee Wallace, worked with John Carpenter back in the day. Specifically, Wallace worked on Carpenter’s original Halloween, where he played the villain (he was uncredited). So what this basically means, my children, is that Stephen King’s It was directed by none other than Michael Meyers. Cue the Halloween music. –SF