Since Halloween is coming, it’s time for horror movies.
Last week’s entrant, “It,” comes from a very popular, very long Stephen King novel that previously had been made into a 1990 television miniseries.
The “It” story is set in Derry, Maine, a lovely town but one where seven young teenagers, known as the Losers Club, are bullied for various reasons — speaking with a lisp, being pudgy, seeming sickly, being Jewish or, in the case of the token girl, being a slut when her actual problem is an abusive father. The Losers are the targets of several older boys who might have been called greasers or stoners in the film’s late-80s milieu.
There is another problem in Derry: a shape-shifting clown named Pennywise who lives in the city’s sewer system. He grabs and presumably kills a boy named Georgie, the younger brother of one of the Losers. Later on, an older boy disappears.
As the plot unfolds, we learn that Derry has had similar problems before. The Losers — some brave, some wisecracking, all loyal — try to learn what happened to Georgie and what is happening in their town. The theme of the story is that the Losers must work together and protect each other. The conclusion hints very, very, very strongly that a sequel will be released in the next year or so.
That said, the film is only pretty good. The young actors are believable, and their personal fears are exposed well in their encounters with Pennywise. Still, the pacing is uneven and the narrative consists mostly of one scary meetup with the clown after another. Also missing is even a flimsy hint of a backstory to explain why a murderous clown has come after Derry and its children. Presumably this is a matter to be taken up in the sequel.
What is remarkable is that the “It” opening weekend domestic gross approached $120 million, trouncing recent genre-breakers like “Wonder Woman” ($103 million) and “Dunkirk ($50 million), and doing so when many of the theaters in Houston and Florida were closed.
In fact, movie ticket sales were much lower this summer than in 2016. Some in Hollywood want to blame the messenger, i.e., the rottentomatoes website, for advising people when new film releases weren’t all that good. A more credible theory, and one I prefer, is that people finally are getting tired of formulaic superhero movies, grossout buddy comedies and three- to eight-quel films with the same old characters and not much new in the way of plots.
Maybe a bunch of the people who have bought 350 million copies of Stephen King books were ready for something different, like “It.”