Talking Movies: It: Chapter Two

Talking Movies

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Released: September 2019
Director: Andy Muschietti
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures
Budget: $60 to 79 million
Stars: James McAvoy, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan, Andy Bean, and Bill Skarsgård

The Plot:
Twenty-seven years after facing and defeating Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Skarsgård), the Losers’ Club are called back to Derry to face the terror of It once again but, in order to overcome their greatest fears, they must first remember their past and rekindle their friendship.

The Background:
It: Chapter Two is, obviously the sequel (or second part) to the hugely-successful It (Muschietti, 2017), which retroactively retitled itself It: Chapter One just before the credits rolled. Given the length and structure of Stephen King’s original 1986 novel, it only made sense to split the story into two parts (which was all-but-inevitable when Chapter One raked in over $700 million against a $35 million budget), and everyone involved has clearly gone to great lengths to secure some big and talented names to help bolster Chapter Two even further.

The Review:
Chapter Two picks up twenty-seven years after the conclusion of Chapter One; a grown-up Mike Hanlon (Mustafa), who has stayed in Derry the entire time and become somewhat obsessed with watching for signs of Pennywise and haunted by his memories of the first movie, is forced to call his old friends up when It awakens and begins not only abducting, dismembering, and eating children but also calls out to the Losers to settle their score.

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It: Chapter Two certainly excels with its casting.

Unfortunately for Mike, the Losers are all grown-up, successful adults with no memories of Derry, Pennywise, or their friendship; Bill (McAvoy) is a successful writer who overcame his stutter in favour of struggling with writing good endings to his books, Beverley (Chastain) has become a successful fashion designer who is trapped in an abusive marriage, Ben (Ryan) is now a fit and healthy architect, Eddie (Ransone) works as a risk assessor, has traded a fat mother for a fat wife, and fell back into his dependence on medicines and his inhaler, Richie (Hader) has become a stand-up comedian, and Stan (Bean)…well, it’s not said in the film what he does, but he’s grown up too. However, Mike’s phone call is enough to reignite the Loser’s memories (for better and worse) and compel them to return to Derry in record time to get caught up and piece together their memories, and their friendship, to perform an ancient ritual that Mike believes will destroy Pennywise once and for all.

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It: Chapter Two definitely ups the gore and horror.

As I may have mentioned in my review of Chapter One, It is, unquestionably, my favourite novel of all time; King builds his characters so well that I can’t help but feel for each of them and, as I have grown older, my connection to the themes of It (friendship, childhood, adulthood) has only grown stronger. While I enjoyed Stephen King’s It (Wallace, 199) and Tim Curry’s rampant portrayal of Pennywise, I always felt like It needed another shake of the stick, one free form the restrictions of a made-for-television miniseries. While Chapter One altered some elements of King’s novel (changing the time period, adding new scares, altering some of the motivations and so forth), I didn’t really mind this and the movie didn’t disappoint in showcasing how malevolent and psychotic Pennywise can be.

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The kids make a much welcome return thanks to flashbacks.

Chapter Two, however, faces the same problem as the 1990 miniseries (and one also present in the book) in that it must now live and die on the strength of the adult version of the Loser’s Club. Given that Chapter One pulled a lot of its presentation and inspiration from Stranger Things (Various, 2016 to present) and the fact that the kids were so good in their roles, this is a tall order but the cast of Chapter Two largely fulfils this by bringing in some great talent for the adult roles.

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Richie and Eddie’s banter keeps the film lively and energetic.

Hader and Ransone especially stand out; their foul-mouthed banter and close friendship adds a lot of heart and levity to the film, while McAvoy and Chastain bring the emotional weight and acting nuance. Mustafa portrays Mike far from the wise mentor figure he assumed in the 1990 miniseries and instead pulls more from the fatigued, terrified obsession that Mike struggles with in the book. Unfortunately, there once again isn’t too much for Ben or Stan to do this time around; Ryan is serviceable in the role but, where child-Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) assumed Mike’s role of historian and exposition in Chapter One, adult-Ben is mainly there as a mediator and to rediscover his love for Beverley. Once again, Skarsgård steals the show as Pennywise; unlike Curry’s madcap performance, Skarsgård is a creepy, legitimately terrifying force who loves to mess with Its prey before It feeds. Chapter Two feeds (pun intended) Pennywise a far greater body count as he chomps down on adults and children alike, literally biting the heads of Its prey in a shockingly gruesome display. Skarsgård also gets a one-up on Curry in that the finale thankfully does not lose his visage or presence, allowing the final confrontation between Pennywise and the Losers to be far more entertaining while still staying true to the source material.

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Skarsgård remains a truly creepy Pennywise. 

Despite upping the gore and creepy visuals, the bulk of Chapter Two’s scares again rely on jump scares, which is fine as they’re generally well done and Pennywise is a very charismatic presence, but the film does struggle with its pacing at bit. For example, Mike rings the Losers and they all arrive literally moments later with little issue. This does happen in the book and the miniseries but it stuck out to me as a little rushed as the film then slows down a bit so we can get truncated snippets of their lives. A couple of examples of this are Bev making very short work of her husband when he attacks her, with little to none of the catharsis given in the book to this moment, and Ben summing up his weight loss in one line, which is very disappointing considering how hard John Ritter fought to include an abridged version of Ben’s weight-loss story in the miniseries. However, I think some of these pacing issues will be absolved if you watch both parts back-to-back as one big movie (or, even better, they release a supercut version), that way you won’t lose any momentum as you’ll be familiar with all the characters. Also, when the film includes the original child actors, it makes the wise decision to include new scenes, storylines, and scares that pull more material from the book so it never really feels like its treading over the same ground or telling us things we already know.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Fundamentally, Chapter Two follows many of the same beats as the book and the miniseries but there are some interesting wrinkles; one of the biggest is the idea that Richie is actually in love with Eddie and has been harbouring an unspoken homosexual love for him this entire time, which I never even thought of or picked up on when I read the book. Another is Mike managing to escape the attack by the aged Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) with only a flesh wound, allowing him to not only participate in the final battle but finish up his character arc when his desperate belief in the Ritual of Chüd faisl to destroy Pennywise and Mike is revealed to be severely traumatised by his childhood nightmare. A big spoiler for anyone who hasn’t read the book is that Stan never makes it back to Derry, opting to slit his wrists instead. In the book and miniseries, he leaves a chilling message scrawled on his bathroom tiles (simply the word “It”), which is a genuinely spine-tingling moment; here, it’s a brief blink-and-you’ll-miss-it inclusion and, rather than killing himself because he was unable to face his fears and knew that pennywise was due to reproduce, Stan instead kills himself so that his fear won’t hold back the Losers and will galvanise them. This is given a heroic air in the film, which helps keep Stan a part of the group, but it’s never really presented as a motivation for the Losers sticking around to face Pennywise again.

Eddie also ends up dead in the finale; honestly, I thought that Mike was going to die (either in his place or as well), given his presence in the end, but Mike survives and Eddie gets impaled by one of It’s Spider-legs. This comes after Eddie has overcome Bowers and found the strength to strike what appears to be a fatal blow to the Spider and, before he dies, Eddie allows the Losers to realise that they can defeat It by disowning their fear of It and reducing It to a weak form, allowing Eddie to die a hero. This is a small issue, however; the new It movies seem to favour an oversimplification of It’s desire to inspire fear in Its prey. In the book, It likes Its prey to be scared because it improves the taste of the flesh and It delights in tormenting Its victims but, in these films, the Losers are able to defeat It by standing up to It and rejecting their fear of It, reducing It to little more than a blubbing baby. This was a factor in the book, miniseries, and Chapter One but, generally, Pennywise is enraged at the Losers hurting It and making It experience fear, rather than being powered by fear. It’s not a massive issue, as it’s a perfectly acceptable adaptation of Pennywise, but, as I say, it is a bit simplified. Similarly, Chapter Two seems to prefer the idea that It is actually an extraterrestrial lifeform that crashed to ancient Derry on a meteor, rather than an unspeakable eldritch horror; It’s true from is still living light but, rather than a Lovecraftian mass of orange lights that defy life, Chapter Two realises this form as three spinning orbs. Again, a fine way to show it and to hint at there being more to It, but a bit of an oversimplification.

Finally, one thing I feel would have helped with the film’s pacing is just omitting Henry Bowers completely. Henry (Nicholas Hamilton) took an unquestionably fatal tumble in Chapter One and his inclusion, while true enough to the book, is diluted so much that it would have been probably a lot better and easier to say Henry died and have It take the form of a zombified Bowers to attack Eddie. The time spent with Henry, brief though it may be, could then have been put into showing the adult Losers’ lives a bit more prior to returning to Derry. A big plot point for Bill is that everyone loves his books but hates the endings he writes; this is not-so-subtly based on real-life criticisms of a lot of King’s work, especially It. I, however, was always happy with the idea that It is best translated as a giant Spider; it worked as a metaphor and the ending always hit me hard as the Losers sacrifice so much to end Pennywsie’s threat and it’s a real poignant reflection of what it’s like to grow up and forget (or grow apart from) the friends that were once so important to you. Chapter Two, however, actually improved on the ending in a way that I found heart-warming in that, unlike in the book and miniseries, the Losers don’t lose their memories of each other after defeating Pennywise. Them losing Stan and Eddie and their memories after working so hard to remember everything always broke my heart so this really made me happy. Stephen King’s gratuitous cameo could have been shorter, though…like, he has a lot of lines and a lot of time was spent on indulging him.

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The Summary:
While not as good as It: Chapter One, It: Chapter Two is still a solid horror movie; there’s plenty of creepy moments, gore, and a surprising amount of humour here that’s sure to appeal to fans of the first movie. Allowances have to be made for the characters we became attached to now being grown up and the cast does a great job stepping into the shoes of their younger counterparts; the cast is scarily fitting, which really helps to adjust to this narrative shift. While some of the plot points are a bit weaker and the ending may be disappointing to some, as a massive fan of the book I was very satisfied and just as touched by the ending, especially some of the tweaks they made that, in my opinion, actually improved it.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Game Corner: Mortal Kombat 11 Guest Characters

GameCorner
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I’m a bit late with this but NetherRealm Studios’ Mortal Kombat 11 will be coming later this year and, as with every Mortal Kombat, fans have immediately started asking several questions: What characters will be returning? What new characters will be included? What will the story be? What new, or returning, gameplay mechanics can we expect? Just how brutal will the Fatalities be?

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Guest fighters are now commonplace in Mortal Kombat titles.

And, of course, the question of guest characters. After the inclusion of Freddy Krueger in Mortal Kombat (ibid, 2011), Mortal Kombat X (ibid, 2015) featured four guest characters from outside the franchise: Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, Alien, and Predator. This may have been a bit of overkill; I would argue that it would have been enough to just have Alien and Predator and that the other two DLC spots could have gone to some classic Mortal Kombat characters but it does set a tone for what we can potentially expect from Mortal Kombat 11.

The question of guest characters has been brought up to me in conversations about the videogame so I figured I would talk about a couple of characters I’d really like to see turn up as DLC in Mortal Kombat 11.

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Pennywise would be my first choice.

The first is Bob Gray, better known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, the eponymous “It” from Stephen King’s classic 1986 novel. Honestly, I would argue that it’s extremely likely that we could see Pennywise in Mortal Kombat 11 as NetherRealm Studios is a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, which is itself a subsidiary of Warner Bros., the studio behind It: Chapter One (Muschietti, 2017), It: Chapter Two (ibid, 2019), and Stephen King’s It (Wallace, 1990). As a result, the rights shouldn’t be any more of an issue than they were to get Freddy or Jason into the game. While it’d be nice to bring in Bill Skarsgård to voice the character, NetherRealm Studios would most likely do what they did with Freddy and simply have It chuckle, roar, and growl as It attacks. Given that Mortal Kombat 11 is set to bring back character variations, which allows each character to have three slightly different playstyles, each one associated with a different costume, I would hope to see NetherRealm Studios continue what they did with Leatherface when it comes to Pennywise’s variants.

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Seeing It’s different looks would be an essential inclusion.

Each of Leatherface’s variants was modelled on a different outfit from one of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (various, 1974-2017) movies. Since DLC characters tend not to have the same amount of additional costumes as regular fighters, I’d do the same for Pennywise; have one variation be modelled after Pennywise’s 2017 look, one after his 1990 look, and one more closer to his depiction in the books (a shiny, silver suit with big orange pompoms and a bow tie, as illustrated above by Mikael Quites).

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Make use of Pennywise’s warped sense of humour.

Next, for Pennywise’s general moveset and depiction, I see Pennywise as a very grounded all-rounder. It would have an average jump height, speed, and recovery and could clash at opponents with claws, fangs, and tentacles. I would look back to what NetherRealm Studios did with Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat and the Joker in their Injustice titles (NetherRealm Studios, 2013; 2017), specifically in Injustice 2, where the Joker was depicted as a nightmarish clown. Just imagine seeing Pennywise morph through some different forms or holding a balloon (or a bunch of balloons) in front of Its face while taunting Its opponent, perhaps while munching on a child’s arm. Pennywise’s special moves could be as varied as you want; I remember being really disappointed with how limited, boring, and weak Freddy’s special moves were in Mortal Kombat and NetherRealm Studios really made up for this with Mortal Kombat X’s guest characters.

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Mesmerise a foe or just chew on their flesh!

Pennywise could warp from one side of the screen to another in a cloud of orange smoke or a burst of orange light, stun or screw up an opponent’s controls with a Deadlight Gaze similar to Quan Chi’s Trance from MKX, and chomp away at the opponent’s face and neck with those big old vampire teeth like Mileena’s Pounce from MKX or Reptile’s Fatality from Mortal Kombat 4 (Midway Games, 1997).

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Let’s get those spider legs in there!

I’d also like to see Pennywise dart towards the opponent with spider legs like in the 2017 movie and similar to D’Vorah’s attacks, maybe summon a bunch of drowned dead kids to hold the opponent in place, and grab the opponent whilst spewing toxic bile over them in Its Leper form. I would avoid using balloons in any of Pennywise’s moves and save them for the intro and outro animations but I guess It could use them as explosive traps to propel the opponent into the air.

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As for the X-Ray moves, I’d like to see Pennywise morph into a gruesome variant of the Frankenstein Monster and the Mummy and perform a move similar to Jason’s Back Breaker/Tight Squeeze and have It crush the ribcage of the opponent, and use those razor-sharp fangs to crush the opponent’s shoulder blade.

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You can’t have Pennywise and not do the Spider…right?

For Pennywise’s Fatalities, you have to go back to the Spider-It; take inspiration from the 1990 version, yes, but I would also either incorporate anything used in It: Chapter Two (if this form even appears) and both the Alien’s Killer Queen Fatality and Scorpion’s transformation from Mortal Kombat 4. Have Pennywise contort and twist into a giant, crazed spider; have It impale the opponent through the chest/stomach, tear their upper body off, and then drop their still screaming form into its salivating jaws.

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The Deadlights could melt foes to their bones!

It’s other Fatality could be based on the depiction of the Deadlights in It: Chapter One; have Pennywise grab the opponent and Its head split open, mesmerising the opponent so they float up to the Deadlights that then melt the flesh off their bones similar to Nightwolf’s Ascension Fatality from Mortal Kombat.

Brutalities are generally quite standard but you could have Pennywise rip the opponent’s head or limbs off and start gnawing away, slice the opponent’s legs off at the knees with Its spider legs, maybe toss a balloon at the opponent’s face that explodes in a burst of Deadlights and has the opponent’s head explode.

As for Pennywise’s story and ending…well, these are never that strong or defined for Mortal Kombat’s DLC fighters; Pennywise’s status as a transdimensional being means that It could easily be sucked into the Mortal Kombat universe and want to compete for chance to dine on new fears and new flesh. Its ending would simply be to accumulate the power necessary to spread Itself over the multiverse and feast for all eternity, or perhaps even eat Itself to death, or, maybe, some kind of hint towards King’s interconnected multiverse.

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I’ll take Spawn any time!

The other guest character I think is perfectly suited to Mortal Kombat is, of course, Spawn. If he hadn’t already appeared in Injustice 2, I would have also suggested Hellboy but Spawn also has a high probability of appearing as Todd McFarlane, the character’s creator, has all-but-guaranteed that his violent anti-hero will make the cut later this year.

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Spawn’s no stranger to being a guest fighter.

While McFarlane is known for blowing a lot of smoke when it comes to his most popular creation, it cannot be denied that Spawn would be a great fit for Mortal Kombat; Spawn was also previously a guest fighter in the Xbox version of SoulCalibur II (Project Soul/Namco, 2002) so a lot of his moveset could be drawn from that title. His story would also be just as simple as him being transported across dimensions and fighting to get back home, though I’d have his ending be suitably dire and angst-ridden, like he ends up displacing Malebolgia and becoming an evil despot intent on conquering the multiverse.

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Safe to say that Spawn’s look has changed a lot over the years.

Spawn also has a few distinctive looks that could be used for his variations; the classic Spawn look is a must, as is his tattered-and-torn look, and maybe Medieval Spawn, Angel Spawn, the Redeemer, or some other look could be incorporated into his last variant. Spawn could emerge through a hellfire portal like Freddy, or simply teleport himself in a burst of Necroplasm, and you could even bring in the legendary Keith David to reprise his much-lauded role as the character’s voice artist.

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Spawn’s brute strength and magic could pummel foes.

Spawn is a great opportunity to carry over some of the superhero-stylings of Injustice 2 thanks to his vast and varied moveset; Spawn could do variants of Superman’s Flying Punch, Lockdown Launch, and/or Rising Grab while teleporting in a manner similar to Scorpion, use his cape to float over the battlefield and launch himself down at opponents, and blast out energy bolts or beams (similar to Doctor Fate) that could set the opponent on fire.

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Go back to Kratos for an idea of Spawn’s moveset.

Spawn also has the added bonus of being well-known for his cape and chains; he could incorporate a Cape Parry similar to Batman’s, or wrap his opponents up in it like Sindel used to with her hair, and whip his chains around in a flurry like Takeda in MKX, Kratos in Mortal Kombat, and Scarecrow in Injustice 2. Spawn is also known for using heavy-duty firearms so could bust out a machine gun or rocket launcher like Jax did in MKX, or these could possibly be saved for his grabs and throws.

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Spawn should definately send his foes to Hell!

For his X-Rays, Spawn could grab his opponent’s head in both hands and crush their skull, or use his chains to draw them in close and snap their joints. I did have an idea for one Fatality that, similar to the Killer Queen, would see Spawn summon Malebolgia but, rather than repeat myself, I think it might be better to do something like the stage transition from Injustice: Gods Among Us and Cyborg’s Super Move from Injustice 2, which sees the opponent launched to Apokolips and assaulted by Darkseid and Parademons, respectively, only replace Apokolips with hell similar to that seen in Scorpion’s Fatalities/outros and Darkseid and the Parademons with Malebolgia, the Violator, and other Hellspawn.

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Spawn’s powers would allow for some gruesome Fatalities.

As for his second Fatality, Spawn could wrap his cape around the opponent’s head and suffocate them, or crush it, but that’s a bit lame; perhaps something similar to Reptile’s Weight Loss Fatality from Mortal Kombat or Scorpion’s Super Move from Injustice: Gods Among Us would be better and a good way to reincorporate some brutal moves previously used by other characters in other games. I’d also look back to Kratos, Takeda, maybe even Kabal for inspiration for Spawn’s Brutalities, which could be anything from detonating a grenade or energy blast in an opponent’s mouth to tearing their limbs off with his chains.

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Scorpion is eager for some fresh faces to set on fire!

In the end, Mortal Kombat 11 is sure to have its fair share of guest characters; for me, drawing from horror movies and violent superheroes/comics is a great starting point as certain characters just fit the franchise. NetherRealm Studios might seek to incorporate faces more familiar to their franchise, which I wouldn’t be adverse to (I’m looking at you, Rain!), or to other franchises (perhaps Chucky or Michael Myers, maybe even someone really obscure like Pumpkinhead!) but, for me, using Pennywise makes sense as It is a natural inclusion, is basically owned by the studio already, and has a big movie coming out this year so it all ties together as a marketing move, and Spawn is as natural an inclusion as someone like Hellboy or Kratos. You’d be hard pressed to find a more violent anti-hero, who still retains a lot of the popularity he had in the mid-nineties, without alienating the kids who might force their parents to buy them this super-gory game just because Batman has been included.

Time will tell who will make the cut but let me know in the comments what you think of these picks, who you would like to see show up, and your opinion of guest characters and Mortal Kombat in general.

10 FTW: Horror Remakes That Are Surprisingly Good

We’ve heard it all a thousand times by now: “when will Hollywood stop with the remakes!?”, “Why can’t Hollywood come up with new ideas!?”, “Remakes suxxorz1!!” Honestly, while some films should never be re-made and some remakes do baffle the mind, remakes aren’t the plague of cinema that a lot of people like to think they are. In fact, some are pretty damn good.

If you’re one of those bleeding heart Twitter people, though, who just like to decry remakes in general, maybe you should take a moment to consider this small list of horror remakes that are not only surprisingly good but, in some cases, actually surpass their originals:

Halloween
10 Halloween (Zombie, 2007)

We’re kicking things off with quite the controversial choice here. I’ll argue until the end of time that John Carpenter’s Halloween (Carpenter, 1978) is the forefather of all modern horror, particularly the slasher genre. It’s a subtle, atmospheric piece with a fantastic, mysterious antagonist and the truly frightening prospect that random unspeakable acts of horror can happen in a suburban environment. Rob Zombie’s take, however, is a loud, frenetic, uncomfortably gruesome take on the property. Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch/Tyler Mane) is an incredibly disturbed young boy from a violent and abusive family who becomes a remorseless, emotionless, unstoppable tank of a killing machine. Zombie delves right into his own take on Michael’s backstory, presenting in grotesque detail the exact events that turn Michael into a nigh-supernatural killer.

In many ways, the initial focus of the film acts as a kind of prequel to the events of Carpenter’s original, as the remainder of the film’s runtime is devoted to recreating Michael’s killing spree in Haddonfield, with the primary difference being that nearly the entirety of the film is told from Michael’s perspective. Sure, Malcolm McDowell, great as he is, cannot hope to compete with the fantastic Donald Pleasence but the film is bolstered by the incredibly cute Scout Taylor-Compton (who is arguably more attractive and relatable to modern audiences than Jamie Lee Curtis) and even appearances by Brad Dourif and Danielle Harris (and what an appearance hers is!) While it’s unlikely to be as iconic or influential as Carpenter’s benchmark film, for those who find the original and its sequels dated and slow, Rob Zombie’s remake is a much-needed kick up the ass that, for better or worse, dragged Halloween kicking and screaming out of obscurity.

Poltergeist
9 Poltergeist (Kenan, 2015)

I know, right? How could Hollywood ever even entertain the idea of remaking Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg’s 1982 horror classic? Well, they did, and don’t be mistaken; it’s not actually that bad. While it lacks probably my favourite scene from the original, where corpses rise from the Freeman’s unfinished swimming pool, the remake is just as terrifying and engaging as the original, with the added bonus of having a modern-day make-over that is far more accessible than the now-dated original. Don’t get me wrong, the original is still a classic, but Sam Rockwell and Kennedi Clements put in some great performances, easily on par with those of Craig T. Nelson and the late JoBeth Williams. Did Poltergeist necessarily need a remake? Probably not, and the fact that numerous haunted house stories since the original have all pulled from or mirrored Hooper’s seminal horror classic probably didn’t help to differentiate Kenan’s new take on the property, but I feel it’s a largely misrepresented film that is nowhere near as bad as some people think.

It
8 It (Muschietti, 2017)

Although I spoke about this film quite recently, it is deserving enough to make this list. Watching Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 miniseries, great as it is and as amazing as Tim Curry’s performance in that is, you can’t help but think that Stephen King’s novel deserved to be told without the restraints of a television miniseries. Focusing exclusively on the child side of King’s story, and bringing the events forward to the 1980s rather than the 1950s, Muschietti adheres closely to King’s text while still putting his own spin on events. Bill Skarsgård’s take on Pennywise is suitably unsettingly and otherworldly; what he lacks in Curry’s charisma he more than makes up for by being genuinely creepy and a fearsome menace. Muschietti also focuses on the friendship and troubles of his child protagonists incredibly well, anchoring them to the film’s central narrative and allowing King’s themes of childhood and loss of innocence to play out beautifully. With a lengthy runtime and concluding on a fantastic tease for a second chapter, this new version of It, while not without its issues (primarily regarding screen time for the many characters), did not disappoint in realising the gruesome potential that the miniseries could only hint at.

7 Dawn of the Dead (Snyder, 2004)

Released at the peak of Hollywood’s new-found fondness for zombie films in the early-to-mid-2000s, largely spearheaded by 28 Days Later (Boyle, 2002) and the God-awful Resident Evil (Anderson, 2002) and its decent-enough sequel, Resident Evil: Apocalypse (ibid, 2004), Zack Snyder’s remake of George A. Romero’s massively-influential 1978 film of the same name takes the general themes and premise of its source material and ramps them up with some incredible action, grotesque gore effects, and a much-needed modern day gloss. While zombie purists may lament the inclusion of the fast-moving, animalistic undead introduced in 28 Days Later, Snyder’s rapid editing and penchant for style over substance make the creatures more vicious and scary than in Romero’s original film. With some great supporting performances by the likes of Ving Rhames and Michael Kelly (and even a brief cameo by Ken Foree, repeating his iconic line from the original film), Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead is a non-stop masterpiece of zombie cinema that never slows down to the snail’s pace that Romero’s introspective original prefers to adopt.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre
6 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Nispel, 2003)

One of the primary reasons I was inspired to make this list, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Hooper, 1974) was a film that desperately needed this remake! Seriously, the original might have been shocking and gruesome at the time but, since then, it has not aged well; it’s a slow, dull piece of cinema that drags on way too long, with questionable acting and a lifeless soundtrack. The only redeeming quality comes from the maniacal Sawyer family, and even they are a hooting, loud bunch of camp. Produced by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, which would go on to be responsible for a variety of horror remakes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is much better than it had any right to be. With an uncomfortable gradient, shocking soundtrack, and even some decent performances by Jessica Biel and Eric Balfour, Nispel’s remake downplays the cannibalistic nature of the franchise in favour of grotesque torture-porn levels of horror.

While the film reintroduces Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski), one of horror’s most iconic figures, and even suggests a tragic backstory for the character, Nispel’s Chainsaw brought us one of the most despicable and significant horror icons in years in the form of Sherriff Hoyt (masterfully embodied by the great R. Lee Ermey). Hoyt, a tobacco-chewing, foul-mouthed sadist, drives the plot of this remake, raises its quality to another level, and his popularity was arguably responsible for the equally-enjoyable prequel, The Texas Chain saw Massacre: The Beginning (Liebesman, 2006). On a side note, though, am I the only one shocked that, including remakes and reimaginings, the Chainsaw franchise is made up of eight separate movies? Crazy!

The Blob
5 The Blob (Russell, 1988)

Now we’re getting somewhere! Irvin Yeaworth’s original 1958 film, starring Steve McQueen, was a campy piece of B-movie mush that has come to resemble a comedy more than a science-fiction piece. Channelling the likes of David Cronenberg and John Carpenter, Chuck Russell’s reimagining, however, takes the story of the bulbous alien lifeform to far more grotesque levels. Incorporating some incredibly disgusting practical effects, the population of a small town is literally dissolved by the titular amoeba. Although some of the composite shots are obviously dated by today’s standards, an entirely CGI rendition of the Blob would probably have aged incredibly poorly by now. Instead, The Blob retains a level of camp in its premise but, with its gruesome effects and no-nonsense attitude, is a great example of how effective and impactful practical effects can be.

Friday the 13th
4 Friday the 13th (Nispel, 2009)

We’re back with Marcus Nispel and Platinum Dunes for this masterfully well-crafted remake of not only the original 1980 classic but, also, the first three sequels. Similar to Halloween, for those who find the original movies to be dated and cut-and-pasted, by-the-numbers slasher films with very little to differentiate them from each other until Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (Steinmann, 1985) then this is the film for you! In fact, I often encourage newcomers to the franchise to watch this film and then jump straight to Jason Lives! Friday the 13th Part VI (McLoughlin, 1986); not because the continuity would tie together but, by doing that, you watch one kick-ass film with loads of gratuitous mid-2000s sex (which is far more graphic, enjoyable, and realistic than sex scenes from the 1980s) and horror imagery that sums up the first four entries of the franchise incredibly well and then you can delve into the enjoyable nonsense of zombie Jason Voorhees.

Beginning with the brutal decapitation of Mrs. Voorhees (Nana Visitor) and detailing how Jason (Caleb Guss/Derek Mears) witnessed her murder and grew up alone in the wooded forests of Camp Crystal Lake, as well as detailing Jason’s transformation from the lesser-known burlap sack look to the now-iconic hockey mask, Friday the 13th is filled with some incredibly gruesome kills as Jason uses bear traps, snares, and other tricks to entrap and kill hapless teenagers all over the shop. Add to that some strong performances by Danielle Panabaker, Aaron Yoo, and Jared Padalecki and you have an intense, non-stop horror film that, like Jason, comes at you a mile a minute. Honestly, the only bad thing I have to say about this film is that, despite making $92.7 million on a budget of $19 million, we never saw a sequel; even Rob Zombie’s Halloween got a shitty sequel!

The Thing
3 John Carpenter’s The Thing (Carpenter, 1982) and The Thing (Heijningen Jr, 2011)

Here’s some more controversy for you: I actually liked Matthijs van Heijningen Jr’s version of The Thing. It starred Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who I absolutely adore, and, while marketed as a remake, was actually, ingeniously, a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 horror/sci-fi classic. Based exclusively on a brief scene from Carpenter’s film, van Heijningen Jr’s The Thing details how a Norwegian research team unearth an extraterrestrial craft and unwittingly awaken a shape-changing, parasitic alien lifeform and concludes with the survivors attempting to hunt down and eliminate the creature’s final form, which leads directly into the beginning of Carpenter’s The Thing.

Drawing loosely from both Christian Nyby’s 1952 B-movie classic The Thing From Another World! and the story that inspired it, Who Goes There? (Campbell, 1938), John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the quintessential examples of the effectiveness of practical special effects to the horror genre. Kurt Russell and Keith David lead the charge when their small Antarctic outpost is slowly assimilated by the titular alien creature, leaving the survivors to descend into distrust and anarchy as they struggle to fight off the ever-growing menace both outside and within their number. Carpenter’s film features some truly incredibly moments of practical effects wizardry, from a torso sprouting razor sharp teeth, to a severed head growing spider-like appendages and a dog literally splitting in two as tentacles blast out from its head; yet, while its similarly-impressive practical effects were tampered with in post-production, I never felt like Heijningen Jr’s The Thing was sub-par to Carpenter’s film. Instead, it works amazing well as a companion piece, allowing one to binge-watch both movies side-by-side and be suitably entertained.

Evil Dead
2 Evil Dead (Alvarez, 2013)

Similar to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Sam Raimi’s landmark 1981 horror film The Evil Dead was in desperate need of a remake. Sure, the stop-motion, puppetry, and practical effects were great considering the limited time and budget Raimi had available to him but, over time, neither they nor the acting have aged incredibly well. In fact, for me, Evil Dead II (Raimi, 1987), which retells the events of the original in its opening moments, already surpassed Raimi’s original film by leaps and bounds: Ash (epitomised by Bruce Campbell) is a far more capable, well-rounded character, the effects are much better, and the film adopts a quirky style of black comedy that was sorely missing in the original. Fast forward to 2013 and, rather than attempt to emulate Raimi’s black comedy style, Fede Alvarez approaches his remake with an intense seriousness.

The horror is brutal and horrendous to look at; there’s no laughing deer heads here. Instead, characters saw their arms off, are attacked by nail guns, get beaten by crowbars, and are forced to tear their arms off at the elbow in gruesome fashion. The plot is largely the same, with a group of largely likeable characters accidentally awakening an ancient evil, but the stakes are much higher; here, the evil seeks to take on a physical form and bring about the apocalypse whereas in Raimi’s original film it simply wanted to claim the souls of those trapped in the cabin. While it lacks a character as iconic as Ash, Evil Dead makes up for it with some truly difficult to watch moments that are both sickening and perversely entertaining; even Raimi’s controversial tree rape scene is included and utilised in a far more effective and plot-relevant way and that alone is reason enough to place this film over the original, in my view.

The Fly
1 The Fly (Cronenberg, 1986)

This is it, the quintessential argument that not all remakes are bad and that they can, in some cases, vastly surpass their originals. While Kurt Neumann’s 1958 film of the same name may be closer to the original story and is still a pretty decent piece of 1950s science-fiction, despite its now campy tone, Cronenberg took the idea of a man teleporting himself with a fly and took it to whole new levels. Before, the man bore the head and arm of the fly as a result of the accident and slowly deteriorated into madness; here, though, thanks largely to an absolutely stellar performance by the always-amazing Jeff Goldblum, Cronenberg details the physical and mental degradation of his main character, Seth Brundle, in painstakingly brutal detail. Brundle, a brilliant scientist, initially embraces his newfound physical attributes before realising that he has been stricken by an infection on a cellular level not unlike AIDS or cancer. Soon, his body deteriorates at an alarming rate, with top-notch special effects being employed to make Goldblum practically unrecognisable through heavy make-up and full-body prosthetics.

As he alienates those around him, Brundle’s mind also begins to depreciate; initially desperate to reverse the effects, he soon comes to believe that he was never a man to begin with and prepares a gruesome legacy for himself whereby he will merge his crippled body with that of his lover (a strong, heartwrenching performance by Geena Davis) and his unborn child. In the process, he not only dissolves his rival’s hand and foot with corrosive fly vomit but literally bursts out of the remains of his decrepit human skin to emerge as a grotesque fly-like creature, before finally, tragically, forcing his lover to end his torment. The Fly transcends boundaries; it is a horrific tale of science gone wrong, a body horror with terrifying consequences but, at its heart, it is also an extremely tragic love story. Cronenberg did what many fail to do with their remakes; he took the original concept and not only put his own spin on it but also transformed it into something entirely separate from the source material and yet vastly superior to it in many ways.

Arguably, remakes like A Nightmare on Elm Street (Bayer, 2010) (which attempted to put a unique spin on the franchise and ended up becoming a carbon-copy retelling of Wes Craven’s seminal 1984 original), Total Recall (Wiseman, 2012), RoboCop (Padilha, 2014) could really learn a thing or two from The Fly, and many of the remakes on this list. If you’re going to remake a movie, don’t just retread the same material as before; go back to the source, back to the text, and either produce a more faithful adaptation or extrapolate the core themes and general premise and produce a great movie, rather than a simple, insulting cash-grab.

Talking Movies: It: Chapter One

Talking Movies
It

Twenty-seven years after the much-lauded (but equally criticised) miniseries by Tommy Lee Wallace and some thirty years after the publication of Stephen King’s original novel, director Andy Mushietti brings one of King’s most terrifying works (and my personal favourite book ever) to the big screen with the novel’s gruesome imagery and themes largely intact. Unlike the novel, It takes place at the back-end of the 1980s and revolves around the coming together of seven outsiders to face an unspeakable, shape-changing nightmare in their quaint little town. Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), who suffers from an uncontrollable stutter, is absolutely devastated after his little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), goes missing one rainy afternoon.

While Bill, blinded by grief and guilt, is determined prove that Georgie is still alive, Georgie has actually fallen prey to Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), a sewer-dwelling maniacal shape-changing creature that feeds on children. With school out for the summer, Pennywise begins to haunt and terrorise several of the neighbourhood children, who are already struggling to avoid being targeted by local bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and their own adolescent issues. While Bill regularly visits the Barrens and investigates the sewer outflow pipes alongside his friends Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stan (Wyatt Oleff), they run into local new kid Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and, while patching up the wounds he suffered at Bowers’ hands, join up with Beverly (Sophia Lillis). As the group bond as friends, they each recount their encounters with Pennywise, share stories of the history of their home town, and work to figure out how they can avoid ending up on missing posters

After a particularly apocalyptic rock fight against Bowers and his friends, they befriend Mike (Chosen Jacobs), the only black kid in town, and figure out that Pennywise appears to live beneath a dilapidated house. Journeying inside, they are attacked by Pennywise and realise that, together, they are able to wound and stand up to the creature. The remainder of the film deals with them overcoming their own individual fears and coming together as a group to not only solve the mystery surrounding Bill’s brother but also destroy an evil that has apparently existed for hundreds of years. Although primarily revolving around a horrific situation, the core themes of It are friendship and coming to terms with adolescence and the loss of innocence. Fittingly, the depiction of the child protagonists is staggeringly on point; the Losers Club (as they dub themselves) all seem to be close friends and their dialogue and interactions appear real and well-developed. However, due to the sheer amount of characters present in the narrative, some of them get less development time than others; Richie never encounters Pennywise by himself (which seems an odd omission given that the other six characters all get attacked by Pennywise separately before coming together), and Mike is largely absent and a lot of his characteristics are transplanted onto Ben (who also isn’t as prominent as he is in the book or miniseries). Despite this, the characters are all very likeable and layered characters, each dealing with their own problems and struggling to deal with the trials they face as children.

The real star of the show here is Bill Skarsgård. While Tim Curry put in a truly iconic performance in the original miniseries, playing the part of Pennywise with a manic glee that remains iconic to this day, Skarsgård opts for a far more intimidating, creepy take on the character. Pennywise taunts his prey, lulling them in with Its comedic appearance and mocking them as It seeks to bring their fear to breaking out and feast upon their flesh. While Pennywise is noticeably absent for sections of the film’s middle, the entire plot and motivations of the children revolve confronting It; this also serves to give Skarsgård’s appearances that much more impact and he really embodies the dark comedic menace of the creature. Right off the bat, It sets itself up to be much more “inspired by” King’s book than directly based upon it. As an adaptation, it retains many key scenes, themes, and characters from the book but places them within entirely new settings. Unlike The Dark Tower (Arcel, 2017), It has the runtime to properly flesh out the child protagonists and bring King’s story to the screen in a far more faithful way. It’s fair to say, though, that, much like the original miniseries, It is quite a departure from the book. The violence and general themes are present but a lot of the specifics are altered; Pennywise takes different forms than in the book and attacks the children in very different ways, and the idea that they can overcome It by not being afraid of It is far more pronounced here than it is in the book.

Perhaps the biggest departure is the fact that It revolves entirely on the narrative of the children; the book and miniseries detail how the children encounter It in the 1950s and then again as adults in the 1990s. All throughout the film’s marketing, no mention was made of inserting the adult narrative into the film or producing another movie to tell that story but it turns out this was a masterful strategy as, right before the end credits play, the film retitles itself as It: Chapter One, which should hopefully mean that a second chapter will follow to complete the story. This means that It is purely focused on developing and portraying the characters as children, establishing the world they inhabit and the rules of that world, as well as dipping its toe into the more metaphysical aspects of Pennywise. Is It the beginning of a new age of successful, profitable horror movies? The critical and commercial success seems to think so, though I was slightly disappointed to find that the film is more about the in-your-face, loud scares and less on haunting, spine-tingling scares, as I had hoped and suspected from the trailers (most disappointing of all was that the creepy soundtrack heard in the trailers was absent from the film). However, It doesn’t rely on random jump scares as much as you might think; the tension builds appropriately well and the payoff is suitably cathartic – Pennywise’s possession of the kids’ slide projector and attacks them in a large, monstrous form exemplifies this wonderfully. As an adaptation of one of King’s works, It fares a lot better than The Dark Tower and many other adaptations. Many liberties are taken with the source material but they all retain the essence of the text in a way that fits and feels natural, while still leaving plenty of unused material for the sequel. Some characters could’ve been given more screen time and a bit more spotlight but, overall, the film works extremely well as a coming of age story featuring a truly creepy and horrific villain.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Recommended: Definitely, if only to finally see a really well done adaptation of a Stephen King story.
Best moment: Probably the first real showdown between the Losers and Pennywise in the house on Neibolt Street.
Worst moment: Despite the decent runtime and the well-developed characters, the lack of screen time for Mike and Ben was a bit of a miss-step for me.