“IT: Chapter Two”- Practically Gospel for Horror Movies

Amazing. Just amazing. That is the simplest description I can give for IT: Chapter Two. Although I had never read the whopping 1,000+ page novel, I could tell throughout the screening that this adaptation was just what Stephen King, Pennywise, and the Losers deserved.

IT: Chapter Two follows up on the events of Chapter One, set twenty-seven years further. We come back on the group of outcast pre-teens who have aptly labeled themselves “the Losers”, who return to their hometown of Derry, Maine upon learning that the mysterious entity that they refer to as “IT” has returned, who commonly portrays itself as Pennywise the dancing clown, in one last attempt to defeat It for good.

The film is incredibly layered, so my review will not cover much of the events and the portrayals. But I can say that this was done incredibly well. Throughout the movie, I had a clear understanding of who the characters were through and through. That is one of King’s talents: he creates phenomenal characters. Every actor gave a stellar performance, and our attention will always be drawn towards Bill Hader as comic relief Richie (who has conveniently grown up to become a comedian). But make no mistake: Hader nails it with the fear and desperation aspects. Not only that, the movie contains fantastic scares (if you are into such things) that had me saying to myself in a shaken and impressed manner: “Damn!”

I have seen the 1990 miniseries with Tim Curry as Pennywise, so I knew what to expect as the movie progressed, but I feel I would have enjoyed it even more had I read King’s novel. I worry about attempting to read It now, as I believe I will not be able to shake the actors from my mind as I delve into the original story.

This is a MUST SEE if you love a good movie of any genre. It is an even further necessity if you are a horror fan, almost as if it were canonical in a Horror Bible. Even if you shy away from scary movies, I definitely encourage you to find the bravery to sit through the entire two hours and forty-nine minutes.

“M” (1931): a Necessary (and easily accessible) Watch

This is a movie that remains one of my favorites, and has influenced numerous filmmakers over the ages, including William Friedkin (director of The French Connection and The Exorcist), sits on IMDb’s Top 250 Movies chart at no. 84, is available through the Criterion Collection, and yet almost nobody I know has heard of it. (Okay, most people aren’t familiar with the Criterion Collection, I just threw that in there to add another accolade. But by the time you’ve started reading my blogs, I hope you will become of fan of Criterion)

Consider your ignorance over as I share this masterpiece of a thriller with you: M (yes, just the letter “M”), dated from 1931 Germany in the years leading to the rise of the Nazis. Its director was Fritz Lang, who created the iconic and groundbreaking silent sci-fi, Metropolis. It also helped launch the international career of Peter Lorre, who at that time was known as a comedic figure for German cinema.

What drew me to this movie were three separate aspects:

  1. The title- I scrolled through IMDb’s Top 250 and found it listed as a single letter of the alphabet. It was unique in that it stuck out from the others on the list that contained traditional poetic or literary figures of speech.
  2. The poster- The image I have attached is the original poster from its theatrical release, which depicts the letter “M” printed on the palm of a hand. Like the title, this had a mysterious element to it, and made it all the more fascinating. And finally…
  3. The plot description- I was immediately sold after reading the brief description of the events that transpired throughout the movie. That served as the final incentive to eventually find the movie and watch it.

Perhaps I should stop going on and on about my discovery of this obscure but important movie and finally share its plot with you: a serial killer who preys on children is on the loose, and the police are unable to catch him. Suffering from the immense crackdowns that are interfering with their way of life, the career criminals and gangsters decide to join in on the manhunt and rid the streets of the monster.

What made the movie so powerful for me were the techniques that are used throughout its run, constantly using suggestive themes. Val Lewton really pioneered the thought that it was not what you saw that made something terrifying, it was what you didn’t see. Though I am not a fan of Lewton’s films and consider them overrated, I believe he hit the nail on the head with this one.

The opening scene perfectly sets up the environment of its setting: a city’s population is on its edge due to the mysterious killer’s deeds. A mother brushes it off and waits for her daughter, Elsie, to come home from school. Elsie is seen walking down the streets dribbling a ball, and proceeds to throw it against a newsstand that has a sign on it advertising for any information people may have on who the killer’s identity is. Suddenly the shadow of a man covers the ad, and asks the girl her name. The scene cuts back and forth from Elsie and her mother, as the stranger buys her a balloon and her mother anxiously awaits her daughter, who is now hours late. Finally she desperately calls for her from the window, and we then see Elsie’s ball rolling through an empty field and her balloon caught in telephone wires.

“DAMN!!!!” I thought as I watched this for the first time. What a way to terrify somebody! It had me imagining myself in such a horrific scenario. This immediately sets the tone of fear and anger for the rest of the movie.

But on top of the fantastic depiction of a manhunt, the movie also delves into the legal and moral concept of culpability, as Lorre’s character, the killer Hans Beckert, passionately pleas that he is compelled to commit his crimes that he is ashamed of. There is also a play on how passion clouds one’s judgement, and what are we really seeking: justice or revenge?

Apart from the fantastic story and performances, one has to also appreciate the technical accomplishments of M, which was released in 1931 as sound was gradually entering the mainstream movie industry. Many techniques are sound-oriented, such as a car honking its horn or a telephone ringing, as the main way to direct everything prior to the introduction of sound was through visual means. The director would no longer have to use a visually creative manner to depict characters being spooked by somebody yelling in a separate room, the director can just insert the audio recording of the yelling actor in the editing room, or simply record the actor there on the set. In fact, Hans Beckert’s theme for his presence, even when we don’t see him or recognize him, is his whistling of In the Hall of the Mountain King, a technique that had traditionally been used in operas.

If I’ve succeeded in winning your fascination of this movie, and if you have two free hours on your hands, then I suggest you find a way to watch it. Due to certain clauses in copyright law, you can easily access it through YouTube. Not pay for viewing on YouTube, I’m talking about a traditional user uploading it as if it were their own video.

So what are you waiting for? You don’t have any more excuses! Find some time to sit down and watch M! You’ll definitely thank me for it, later.

Remakes?

(this essay is what I’d consider an improvised theory, in that I propose the question/theory and attempt to answer it as I write it)

This coming Friday, September 6, we will see the highly anticipated “IT: Chapter Two”, the film depiction of the second half of Stephen King’s iconic novel. The first installment depicting the first half of the novel proved to be exactly what viewers (and readers) were looking for, and it seems that Chapter Two will reach the same heights, based on early reviews (I’m really looking forward to Bill Hader’s performance as older Richie, whom I hear steals the show).

This could be considered a remake of the 1990 miniseries adaptation of King’s novel that includes Tim Curry as the title character’s personification as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The miniseries proved to be a success, and helped cement Pennywise and the fictional Derry, Maine further into pop culture. But that was TV, and aren’t we talking about movies? Of course, and I must ask (as a form of devil’s advocate) do I really want to blur the lines between different mediums of art, such as TV and film? I have made this distinction several times, such as with big screen adaptations of Stephen King’s other masterpiece, “The Shining”, and JRR Tolkien’s magnum opus “The Lord of the Rings” when it comes to addressing the fans of the books who were critical of the movies.

TV generally allows for more time to tell the story, while movies are generally limited to single installments. However, exceptions can be made, such as splitting “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” into two separate films, as well as making a trilogy of “The Hobbit”. “IT” proves to be an example of this exception, and it could have been done as a series on HBO if the filmmakers wanted to do so. But it seems there is more status in getting a story onto the big screen. After all, that was one of Warden Gentles’ severe criticisms of aspiring entertainer Tobias Fünke on Arrested Development: he’s not a coward, but a “television actor”.

But so often filmmakers attempt to take an iconic story, familiar or unfamiliar, and present a new take on it. Why exactly do they continue to do this? We have countless adaptations of Biblical stories, A Christmas Carol, and Shakespeare, yet nobody bats an eye. Perhaps it is because these stories having already existed for hundreds of years, prior to the invention of film, and would often be retold in innumerable forms, but not one singular and easily accessible piece like a movie? But when we learn that somebody is remaking On the Waterfront, everybody loses their minds! (Wait a minute, was I just channelling Heath Ledger’s incarnation of the Joker? Oh, that’s another example of multi-medium adaptations). Movies are bigger projects that require higher investment than that of theatre or television, for the most part, and they are easier to advertise. Perhaps that is why original movies, or even adaptations of novels written in the twentieth century onwards, are easier to etch into stone as THE version of the story, the standard.

Very few times do remakes succeed. The Departed was a remake of a Hong Kong thriller, Internal Affairs, and won the Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty (nominated for the Best Picture Oscar). For the most part, however, remakes fail miserably, such as the 2006 version of The Omen (which was probably made to cash in on the June 6th, 2006 release date [06-06-06]), and Gus Van Sant’s 1998 version of Psycho.

Maybe we do this because we go into the film industry with the attitude of stage and print media that existed for millenniums before: every adaptation is its own different version, so there will be multiple takes with good and bad qualities? However, we have not realized that movies are held to a different standard than that of the stage for millenniums, in that the movie is easily accessible and not dependent on your location or time of existence. A stage version of Hamlet performed in 1940s San Francisco is different from Reservoir Dogs, eternally accessible (unless it becomes “lost”).

Theatre is different. There innumerable versions of Eugene O’Neill’s plays can be performed until the end of time, but when it comes to the movies it will be 1962’s version of Long Day’s Journey into Night that will be the standard. A Streetcar Named Desire will dominate theatres all around the world, but people will take aim at any film version that does not include Marlon Brando’s perfect performance as Stanley Kowalski. To Kill a Mockingbird, however, has been adapted to film (though I personally dislike it), and is in the midst of a powerful run as a Broadway drama. The same can be said of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (this one I love) and has appeared on the stage many times before and after the film version.

It occurs to me that remakes are just quintessential for art, but it is nearly impossible in the film industry, as one movie captures an entire generation around the world, and those viewers will more than likely be disappointed when the inevitable remake comes along.

Welcome…

When I was a child, I was often told I was obsessed with movies. People would roll their eyes when I referenced a certain title. The thought that must have run through their minds was: “This kid must have no life.”

But during my junior year of high school, I took a course, “Survey of Film”, and it finally gave me a justification: “Cinema (not “movies”) is an art.” It gave me a whole new way to watch movies, and opened this world for me even further, and gave me a whole new appreciation. A reverence, perhaps?

I came to the realization that folks like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Martin Scorsese were not just “really good directors”. No, they were geniuses in this genre of art. Centuries later, scholars would look back at these men who had been entertaining me and rank them alongside Mozart and Picasso.

I learned that there were many other legends that I needed to familiarize myself with: Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa. Not only would I need to familiarize myself with mainstream legends, I would need to search for international artistic directors that people in my inner circle most likely would never have heard of if it had not been for me referencing them: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Ingmar Bergman, Luis Buñuel, Fritz Lang, and Jean-Luc Goddard.

I’ve come to understand that the best metaphor for cinema is that of a city. Upon your first visit, you head to the most popular destination, the basics that could be described as Looney Tunes, Disney, and Lucasfilm (well, the latter two are now synonymous, I’m talking pre-2012 acquisition) that we were introduced to as children. When you return for your next visit after maturing you are able to gain familiarity with the local culture: think Hitchcock and other such legends. When you fully move in, you find the niches around your corner, or seek out the places that provide you with an adventure along the way: think Criterion Collection. And then there are some places you just don’t want to go anywhere near: think pornography… or maybe the Twilight Saga.

So, we have come to the vast City of Cinema, and I implore you to let me be your guide as we wander this wonder of the world…