Something to admire (and be scared of) for the next 27 years. IT – movie review

Starting off as the most anticipated movie of 2017 among horror fans, Stephen King’s IT is now the highest grossing horror film in cinema history (at least in the US), only some two weeks after it hit the American theatres.

It 2017 1The movie about a bunch of kids – the appropriately named “losers” – who fight a multidimensional demon, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, has also aimed to give a more faithful adaptation to the 1986 King’s novella of the same name, whilst improving upon the 1990 TV mini-series starring the great Tim Curry.

Although the director Andy Muschietti (Mama, 2013) has claimed to aim for a great adaptation of the source material, ignoring the mini-series, most of the viewers compare the two visual products. And so did I (guilty!).

It 2017 2This umpteenth King’s adaptation has gained mostly praises and consent among both moviegoers and professional critics. Unfortunately, though, there are those who claim the 1990 mini-series is way better than the 2017 film, mostly for the sake of going against the grain.

Let me get this straight, then: 2017 IT is a truly good film, with high entertaining and acting values and a great atmosphere.

Before delving into that, I’d like to give my opinion on two of the main questions audiences were (are) concerned about going into this film. Does the movie top the 1990 mini-series? And, more importantly, is Bill Skarsgård Pennywise better than the memorable one portrayed by Curry?

IT 2017 5Firstly, it’s important to bear in mind that the 1990 mini-series was divided in two parts, the first of which focused more on the kids (as in the 2017 movie) and their struggle with the dancing clown, whereas the second half was dedicated to their adulthood and their final attempt to kill Pennywise off. The first half is quite enjoyable and well-made, unlike the second which is mostly convoluted, unintentionally silly and, here I state it, boring. Muschietti’s film picks up on the first part of the story and, in my opinion, makes it better in many regards: higher production values, more consistency in the pace and better scary scenes. Although I didn’t find the movie overly scary, I can imagine many viewers being at least startled by IT. Particularly, a long sequence in a disused house and the opening scene are truly effective and set the tone for the rest of the movie.

Furthermore, the characters are great and the casting choices on spot. The kids are brilliant and their chemistry seems natural and never forced. Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher, The Book of Henry, 2017) is mesmerising and captured my full attention every time he was on screen. Richie, played by Finn Wolfhard (Mike from Stranger Things), delivers great one-liners and is the perfect comic relief in the movie. Despite having less screen time at their disposal, even the other five members of the losers club fit perfectly into the story and each one of them brings something interesting to the table.

Obviously, though, the make or break deal in terms of characters (and success of the movie in general) is Pennywise, played by Skarsgård. He was awesome!

IT 2017 3I wouldn’t go thus far to state he was better than Tim Curry, but he definitely nailed the role and gave it an original interpretation. Curry’s Pennywise is unsettlingly friendly, whereas Skarsgård’s is genuinely terrifying and off-putting. Which one is better is for the viewer to decide; I, personally, love them both but believe that Curry is the saving grace of the mini-series, whereas Skarsgård’s character blends in the 2017 movie seamlessly and delivers on another level in comparison to his predecessor. However, it’s fair to say that Skarsgård’s performance is backed up by great CGI and editing effects that improved his movements and facial expressions – stuff that Curry couldn’t rely on.

Other than these two big questions (controversies, if you will), the aspects I appreciate the most about IT are its respect of the source material and the overall look and feel of the movie. The 2017 adaptation has a darker vibe, reinforced by some gore effects, that immerse you in the experience while, simultaneously, puts you in front of the kids’ everyday struggles and fears. I also believe that the level of entertainment is heightened by some comedic moments and bits of dialogue that make the movie well-rounded and enjoyable in diverse regards.

Seeing the first movie Andy Muschietti came out with, I was afraid IT would have relied too heavily on CGI. Sure, the computer generated special effects are all over the place, but they blend in with the practical effects and makeup perfectly, to the point that most of them don’t even look like CGI.

In regards to the flaws of the film, I could think only about a couple of issues. First of all, the group of teenagers who bully the “losers” throughout the all movie are simply unbearable: more than annoying bullies, they are borderline psychopaths. Every scene they are in seems so ridiculously over-the-top and they become distractive quite soon into the film.

Also, the horrifying vision of one of the kids looks extremely silly and, every time it was on screen, it took me out of the film.

IT 2017 4Finally, I’d have liked to see in the movie all those dark bits from King’s novella that have been cut out because they’re too gruesome. In all honestly, I believe this movie would have benefitted from a much darker tone in regards to the human side. In other words, it would have been cool to see the horrendous shit the kids are going through in the book. Nevertheless, what we got is good enough.

In conclusion, I think IT is a horror film everybody who loves the genre should watch in the more unbiased way possible. For example, I usually prefer unconventional horror films (artsy, symbolic and slow-paced ones), but I can’t deny that the 2017 King’s adaptation is a fun ride and does everything the target audience asks for! Strongly recommended. Cheers!

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The Classics of Horror #6 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)

This is a very sad week for the world of arts and entertainment.

Two highly inspiring figures have passed away: Chester Bennington, frontman of Linkin Park, committed suicide last night and George Romero, father of the zombie sub-genre in cinema, had died in last Sunday.

I can’t stress enough how much the sudden death of a singer who accompanied me with his melodies throughout my whole life shocked me. However, I’m not entitled to talk about it in this blog, although I wish I could express my grief in a better way.

Instead, I hope to make the brilliant director justice by reviewing, unbiasedly, the film that made him famous and gave us the basis for each single zombie movie that came out from 1968 to this day.

Night of the Living Dead is one of the first independent horror flicks, which grossed more than $30 million world-wide on a budget of only £114.000.

Last black and white entrance on this list, Night of the Living Dead tells the story of a small group of people gathered in an abandoned house trying to survive the return to life of the dead. This supernatural occurrence has been caused by radiation leaks that turn on the brains of corpses, basically resuscitating and turning them into flesh eaters.

Night of 2As this brief plot summary might suggest, the flick establishes the rules for each and every zombie movie (especially those involving slow ghouls): they feed upon human and animal flesh, they can’t be killed unless their head gets smashed, their bite is contagious and so on.

Romero has set the rules basing them on centuries of literature, dark fairy tales and bonfire stories, creating a fertile ground for one of the most successful sub-genres in cinema history.

With a small budget to his disposal, the director has also been able to confine the story within a narrow location – although news reports keep showing, throughout the movie, the consequences of the phenomenon on a larger scale, the focus of action is a small house with thin walls and, virtually, a few chances of survival.

Night of 1Even though today Night of the Living Dead wouldn’t scare a child, when I came out it’s been perceived as gory and unsettling. For example, the scene where the zombies eat the flesh of their victims must have been a massive shock for the 60s audience.

The film wasn’t ballsy only in terms of gore and violence, though. It’s then-daring employment of an African-American hero as the lead and its ubiquitous availability on television and video thanks to a lack of copyright all played roles in Night’s success. The racial component was, indeed, more shocking than the bloody sequences: “Everyone was sort of noticing the film was talking about the racial issue”, Romero said in a recent interview. “To us, it wasn’t a racial message at all”, he added, “in fact, when we cast Duane Jones (as the lead) – when Duane Jones agreed to do it – we didn’t change the script” to make it more suitable for a black character.

Night of 4.jpgNevertheless, the director himself claimed his flick to be more than just a zombie movie: “Our point was more the disintegration of society, the inability to communicate, the disintegration of the family unit. That’s the stuff that we were interested in”.

However, the social commentary doesn’t quite emerge in the film.

In my honest opinion, Night of the Living Dead is a rather weak film. Regardless its historic impact and influence, the movie lacks a sense of urgency and inevitability, which is what should emerge in a good zombie flick.

Furthermore, with the exception of Jones, every cast member gives an amateur performance, often over-the-top and laughable when it’s trying to be dramatic.

Night of 3Some of them are plainly annoying, for instance the girl who loses her brother in the first sequence involving the living dead. She’s so pathetic and nerve-wracking throughout the all movie and her contribution to the survival attempts is below nil.

Overall, the main issue with Night of the Living Dead is that it doesn’t hold up anymore.

It’s probably the least watchable out of Romero’s film and, also, in comparison to Rosemary’s Baby – which was released the same year – it looks extremely dated.

In all fairness, I wouldn’t suggest to watch Night of the Living Dead, unless you are a die-hard Romero’s fan or particularly interested in the zombie sub-genre. Instead, I recommend Dawn of the Dead (1978) and The Dark Half (1993) by George Romero, because in my opinion they are its best works. Cheers!

Top underrated horror ‘gems’ – #5 The Lords of Salem

*Skip the premise to jump directly to the post if you’ve read my previous articles*

Premise – Horror movies have always been divisive towards the audience. From the 80s, the cult franchises have created a trend particularly appreciated by the viewers. The Nightmare movies, the Halloween franchise as well as the Hellraiser flicks have marked the path that walked us, the audience, to an overwhelming cinema market filled with non-original movies, remake, reboots, sequels and prequels.

The formula is basically this: a director makes a successful movie with a little budget and a big return at the box office. So that the Hollywood major labels exploit said success to make tons of sequels and prequels that hit the box office without telling anything new or original to the viewer (ehm ehm… Saw, Hostel… ehm ehm). Sometimes, even the first installment is disappointing by every means but the economical profit (ehm ehm… Paranormal Activity, Wrong Turn… ehm ehm).

All these franchises have something in common, i.e. poor writing, bland characters, jump scares, unoriginal villains, flawed cinematography. Why are they successful? Because the horror audience is now used to go to the movie expecting to have ‘a good time’ instead of being shocked and disturbed by an original, unsettling and brave script filled with good performances, relatable characters and true fear.

What are the consequences? Not just new masterpieces such as It Follows and The Babadook, among the others, are considered as boring movies. Not just the milestones of horror cinema are now considered worthless. But also quite good movies that came out in the last 20-25 years have been underestimated by both audience and reviewers. Here a list for you, hoping you guys can have some fun and meditation on something a bit more original and ‘out there’. Enjoy.

NOTE: some movie franchises are actually worth watching, please do not dismiss the first Saw movie as well as the well-directed Insidious movies. Both from the talent of James Wan. The guy brings it right home.

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The Lords of Salem (2012) is an independent horror movie written, produced and directed by the controversial Rob Zombie.

It’s fair to say that Rob Zombie is one of the most divisive directors working today, not only in the horror industry. To be honest, he’s one of my favourites, even though he’s not immune to criticism, since his previous movies weren’t perfect at all. Still, to me they are way better than a lot of people seem to think.

Unfortunately, the negative opinion surrounding the guy and his works is shared by the Hollywood majors, which decided not to release both The Lords of Salem and 31 (2016), the latest Zombie’s Flick.

Enough with the general contest. The Lords of Salem, starring Sheri Moon Zombie – Rob’s wife, who appears in every single movie of her hubby – tells the story of an alternative radio host who comes across a coursed disc, which has the power to give people visions and blow their mind apart – metaphorically. Of course, Heidi – Sheri Moon – decides to play it during her program and weird things start to happen in and around Salem, Massachusetts.

The premise sounds kind of corny, I know. But it is original enough and the tone set from the very beginning makes quite easy for the audience to empathise with the situation and Heidi, who is probably the most successful character portrayed by Sheri Moon in her career. Hey, I ain’t complaining watching her on screen, but she had to prove herself as a decent actress beyond a smoking hot chick. And she eventually did in this movie.

The majority of Zombie’s critics have argued that he doesn’t realize movies, but feature length musical videos. To me, that’s not even a criticism per se. Zombie pays detailed attention to the visual aspect of his movies and that is what elevates his stories to an higher level. The Lords of Salem is no exception. On the contrary, it’s probably his best visual work. And I’m not exaggerating by saying The Lords of Salem has the same cinematographic and photographic intensity of Nicolas Winding Refn’s movies.

lords-of-salem-dogs

I know what you guys are wondering right now. Is it a scary movie? In my humble opinion, the answer is yes. It’s scary, filled with a dreadful atmosphere and a couple of inevitable – but also well-executed – jump-scares. As per usual, the problem with this movie lies on the score. Do you like heavy metal? You’ll probably love the movie’s soundtrack. Do you hate that genre? You’ll probably hate the score. Simple as that.

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All in all, The Lords of Salem is probably the best Zombie’s film (alongside with the remake of Halloween… guess what’s the next movie on the list?) but at the same time it’s vastly underrated because it wasn’t promoted by Hollywood. And, once again, Mr. Zombie is a fifty-fifty director, whose movies aren’t easy to sell.

I recommend you guys to see The Lords of Salem. It’s a tough experience that requires loads of attention and patience – yes, the pace is not Fury Road-like – but I assure you it’s worth your time. Cheers.