Showing posts with label clowns. Show all posts
Showing posts with label clowns. Show all posts

Mar 21, 2020

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988)


Alien clowns from space are packing “deadly popcorn guns and cotton candy cocoons.” It’s right there in the synopsis, people. If you don’t want to watch Killer Klowns from Outer Space based on that line alone — either again or for the first time — then no one can help you.

Lots of horror films are a huge part of my childhood. Killer Klowns from Outer Space was one of them. For a period during my late tens (that’s tens, not teens), it was almost inescapable. It played on television constantly, and the very first time I caught it, I was home from school with a fever and enjoying the rare chance to absorb daytime television. (I also saw Innerspace and The Shining under similar circumstances. If you’ve never watched The Shining while you’ve had a fever, you  haven't lived.)

Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a gas — a slice of ‘80s horror/comedy filled with bad examples of both, but still a fun title and, I’d even argue, a staple of the genre. Written and directed by the Chiodo brothers, known for their practical effects work and monstrous Hollywood creations, it should be no surprise that the most engaging aspect of Killer Klowns are the clowny creations themselves — them, their weapons, their abilities, and eventually, their spacecraft. Whatever you may think of Killer Klowns from Outer Space as a horror film or a comedy, it never fails to impress as a visual delight of imaginative and well constructed practical effects.


Killer Klowns from Outer Space was for years a video store staple and then following that a cable staple (hence my first interaction with it), and its reputation has only grown over the years. It’s very silly, almost too much at times, but goddamn if it’s not exactly as its makers intended. It’s a sly cartoon masquerading as a horror film, and the joy of seeing John Vernon (Dirty Harry, Charley Varrick), of all people, interacting with those delightful clowns from space makes it all worth it. Not hurting is the presence of Suzanne Snyder, who appeared in enough ‘80s fare (Weird Science, Return of the Living Dead 2, Night of the Creeps, Retribution) that my crush on her during a young age lasted at least through the ‘90s.

For years, the Chiodo brothers have been teasing a sequel, and it’s truly a bummer that they haven’t gotten one to materialize. ‘80s nostalgia is huge at the moment and shows no signs of going away; it’s a perfect opportunity for them to resurrect our favorite galaxial clowns for another round of greasepaint mayhem and very broad humor — before someone remakes it.

Dec 6, 2019

IT: CHAPTER TWO (2019)

 

(Contains spoilers.)

IT: Chapter One, which I guess is what we’re now calling the first half of this saga, was a mostly successful horror flick, if not an overly loyal adaptation of Stephen King’s legendary tome. Though the troubled production, began by True Detective director Cary Fukunaga and concluded by Mama director Andres Muschietti, culminated in a better genre picture than most people were expecting, certain audience members (including me) were a little disappointed that King’s novel wasn’t adhered to a little more faithfully. Still, the essence of the novel remained, and that was the most satisfying part. 

IT: Chapter Two always seemed like the more dubious gamble of the saga, for several reasons, but mostly because the portions of the IT story that deal with the characters as kids are far more interesting, empathetic, and nostalgic than the portions that catch up with their adult counterparts, and this applies to the novel or the original miniseries. Not to mention that the adult portions of the story lend themselves more to the mystical and the strange, including the very odd “ritual of Chüd,” which IT: Chapter Two utilizes and which feels too foreign and unusual when following the fairly straightforward normality of IT: Chapter One. While doing a better job of faithfully adapting the second half of King’s novel, IT: Chapter Two still feels overstuffed at times, and ironically offers a critical flipside reaction when compared to its predecessor. This time, IT: Chapter Two is more faithful to the source material, but suffers at times from offering an inconsistent horror experience, leaving this second half of the saga merely satisfactory. 


Even with the film running at a staggering three hours(!), IT: Chapter Two still feels like it’s in a hurry. It wouldn’t be right to say the introduction to the adult versions of the Losers Club feels perfunctory, but it's awfully streamlined, and Muschietti doesn’t provide enough time for audiences to catch their breath in between meeting each adult counterpart. Beverly (Jessica Chastain), especially, gets the short straw, with the film hurtling through a major part of her character’s background – that she’s matriculated from an abusive relationship with her father to an abusive relationship with her husband. Her character’s reintroduction not only downplays her husband’s mind games that exist in canon, but the film tries to be “slick” by falsely introducing him as a kind man to try and fool the members of the audience who already know he’s an asshole. Meanwhile, Bill (James McAvoy) is writing screenplays for the Hollywood system based on his novels, which star his wife, Audra, but after receiving "the call" from Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), he immediately blows town, leaving Audra behind… never to be seen again. (If you’re familiar with the novel or the previous miniseries, you’ll note this is a major change.) Eddie Spaghetti (an excellent James Ransone, Sinister) is no longer driving cars for the rich and famous, but instead cites his job as a “risk assessor,” which rightfully sounds like the kind of job that a young, neurotic Eddie would grow up to obtain. (I have to give major props to Muschietti for re-using the actor who played Eddie’s mother in Chapter One to briefly play his wife in Chapter Two – it’s somehow both subtle and super on-the-nose, but it works.) The rest of the cast are introduced in the same rapid way, with none of them suffering the kinds of dramatic “Remember that time we were almost killed by a monster clown?” floodgates of memories you’d expect (unless you count a constantly vomiting Bill Hader), and before you know it, the Losers Club are back at the Jade of the Orient Chinese restaurant screaming at demonic fortune cookies. But not Stan, though! Poor Stan (Andy Bean, Swamp Thing); he barely registers as a blip in this new take. By film’s end, when he’s essentially speaking to his friends from beyond the grave, it feels far too late for his character to have the kind of significance the film is asking for, and audiences almost have to remind themselves who he was again. (Poor Stan!)


The criticisms I had for IT: Chapter One remain, mostly in that the changes made from the source material seem unnecessary and useless, feeling especially wrong when arguably significant events from the novel are chucked out in favor of brand new creations that the story, frankly, didn’t need. Whether it's Bill trying to save the life of a young boy who lives in his old childhood house, or the out-of-nowhere revelation that Richie has spent his life running from the fact that he’s gay, there’s nothing wrong with these new subplots, but they just don’t add anything new or constructive to the mix, and this in a movie where there’s already a lot going on. And, again, the humor – for the love of Bob Gray – the humor. Muschietti is fully capable of establishing a creepy and dreadful tone, but he seems intimidated by letting that tone sustain, too often subscribing to the philosophy of setting the audience up with scares and then deflating the tension with a joke. IT: Chapter One had its fair share of this, but IT: Chapter Two’s three-hour running time really accentuates this technique to the degree that it becomes frustrating. Sure, some of the gags are funny, but some are face-palming tone killers, and I’m still trying to figure out which I hated more: Eddie being vomited on by the cellar leper set to ‘80s pop, or the too-long scene where Richie and Eddie are terrified by a Pomeranian. If this were any other property, I’d be more forgiving, but this is a story about a demonic, intergalactic clown who EATS children – who tore off the arm of an eight-year-old kid in the first scene of the first movie – so maybe things shouldn’t be so hilarious. Maybe it’s okay for horror films to retain constant horror instead of the constant up and down emotional ride Muschietti likes to curate. Admittedly, though, some gags do work. The constant references to writer Bill botching the endings to his novels are amusing on both a surface level as well as a meta one, and King, who has been criticized for years with that same claim, was a good sport for letting Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman (the Annabelle series) throw that in. (King cameos as an antique shop owner and shares a scene with McAvoy's Bill, where he tells him that same thing.) Ironically, however, after flinging this joke toward Bill several times, the flick’s own ending feels anticlimactic and silly, being that our cast of heroes literally bully Pennywise to death.

Unless Warner and New Line decide to go ahead with IT: Chapter Zero and explore the town of Derry’s morbid, dangerous history from King’s novel (or if Muschietti assembles his “director’s cut” and resurrects much of the unused footage he shot for both chapters), then this is all she wrote for this long-mooted IT saga. Like the miniseries itself, or the novel before it, or hell, even the kind of idealistic childhood as suggested if not experienced by the young versions of the Losers Club, this new take on IT starts strongly and ends satisfactorily, resulting in an above-average horror epic that manages to be scary, touching, imaginative, and conclusive, even if it’s not definitive. 



[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]

Apr 26, 2019

IT (2017)


The genesis of this new version of Stephen King’s IT was a bumpy ride. I greeted its initial announcement with a resounding “oh” -- especially when hack novelty writer Seth Grahame-Smith came on board as producer. I’ve read the original King novel twice now, and in my mind, no standard-length film or even reasonable number of films could do it justice. And granted, despite a flawless Pennywise portrayal by Tim Curry, the original miniseries is far from perfect, chucking out a lot of rich and creepy Derry history, along with the novel’s depravity, to conform to ABC television standards. But, as imperfect and cheesy and cheap looking as it sometimes is, I can’t help but love it. Nostalgia often overrides good taste, after all, and the miniseries was a huge part of my childhood. 

When True Detective director Cary Fukunaga came aboard to adapt and direct, my “oh” became “oh fuck yes.” And for months I eagerly awaited any developments -- casting, shooting locales, and any early signs of a rating. One day, there was an update: New Line Cinema, who was originally financing the film before parent company Warner Bros. took over, balked at Fukunaga’s proposed budget, so he walked. My hopes were dashed, and I stopped caring again. Eventually, when Mama director Andrés Muschietti was brought on board as a replacement, I felt nothing. It seemed, to me, that this was nothing more than a studio making that typical studio move of hiring someone with reasonable talent but with a short tenure in Hollywood -- i.e., someone to tow the company line, back down from his demands, and hopefully still conjure up something halfway well made. 

IT -- a novel whose concept was very daring, and which could easily be turned into something cheesy and terrible if not done the right way -- seemed doomed.

 

Despite my misgivings and its shortcomings, this new ITeration (ha!), if not a totally faithful retelling of the original story, is totally faithful to its core essence, themes, and intent for relentless terror. And speaking of, is IT scary? Well, as usual in this genre, fear is subjective. What I can say is IT is obsessed with scaring you -- is willing to show you some ghastly and taboo-shattering images in order to do so.

The terror in IT is exaggerated -- almost fairy tale-like -- right down to the design of Pennywise himself. From a horror standpoint, he’s a frightening figure, and of course that’s great. But when taking into account Stephen King’s original intent for this character, as subsequently presented in the original miniseries, it can seem like a bit much. King’s Pennywise was just a clown -- not a purposely scary looking clown -- because his image was supposed to make him immediately trustworthy to children.The Pennywise of 1990 wasn’t scary except for when Tim Curry’s still amazing performance (and some monster teeth) wanted to make him so. This exaggerated terror doesn't stop and start with Pennywise, but all the specters the kids see, including the infamous house on Neibolt street -- everything has been designed to seem extra scary, like you're walking through a haunt during the Halloween season. Sometimes this works in the film’s favor, and sometimes it can seem artificial. It’s clear that another Warner Bros./New Line Cinema horror franchise -- The Conjuring -- was a large influence on IT’s design, and it’s a good measuring tool for what kind of fear mileage you should expect. (Frequent Conjuring-universe screenwriter Gary Dauberman was on script clean-up duty as well.) The Sy-Fy Channel's beloved cult series hit, Channel Zero, also seems to have informed a small bit of the script, mostly in the form of under-the-surface segments glimpsed on televisions in the form of a kids' show, during which the too-happy host eerily tells its kid viewers that "the sewer is a fun place to play with all of your friends."

 

The new Losers’ Club is great, with the standouts being Beverly's Sophia Lillis (Sharp Objects) and  Eddie's Fred-Savage-looking Jack Dylan Grazer (Tales of Halloween). Bev’s very first appearance is gif worthy, and Eddie is more than just the Opie-ish dweeb as essayed in the miniseries. He’s the same hypochondriac he ever was, but with the same smart-aleck mouth of his friends, which helps the character feel less like an archetype. The bond that formed between the young actors during the shoot is evident, which offers the film an additional emotional weight. Bill Skarsgård has the unenviable task of stepping into the clown shoes of a character previously made infamous by Tim Curry, which results in a performance that’s unusual -- one that hews closer to another famous cinematic clown, The Dark Knight's Joker -- but also fitting, and thankfully the makeup and costume aids in hiding the actor’s youth and boyish appearance. 

Granted, not everything works. In an understandable move, the filmmakers decided to concoct some new scares for the film that are different from both the novel and the miniseries in an effort to surprise the portion of the audience who are familiar with both. Some of the kids' unique scares remained -- Beverly's father, Eddie's leper -- but some were entirely invented, along with one that seemed like a throwaway comment, but which inadvertently introduced perhaps unconsidered thematic implications. During one pivotal scene when all the kids meet and admit to seeing some heinous stuff, only for it to be revealed that a mysterious clown was behind it all, each kid shares his or her hidden fear. Richie nervously looks around at all the costumed street performers practicing for Derry's July 4th parade, pushes up his glasses, and admits his fear...is clowns. With this simple admission, IT suggests that there is almost a mythological relationship between himself and Pennywise -- that Richie is, in essence, the leader. Seldom do conflicts remain surface level in films of this sort: the kids aren't just fighting a clown, they're rebelling against the fears and perils of childhood and are rejecting adulthood in general. Richie's admission suggests he's going to be the one to single-handedly battle the clown head-on, subjugating his fear in the same way the other kids are subjugating their own. Why this particular bit was given to Richie, instead of Bill, who is for all intents and purposes the leader of the Losers Club, seems very wrong. (Or perhaps I'm just being overly analytical about a horror flick with a kid-eating, sewer-dwelling clown.)

Speaking of Richie, Wolfhard as the smart-mouthed amateur impressionist likely walks away with the showiest part, as his character is there to constantly make off-color jokes and keep things light, which he does, and the actor is great, although there are a couple instances where he robs the scene of its intended emotion. (A problem with the script -- not the actor.) For the most part, the film handles the use of humor well, but it seems to struggle with how to hold and maintain scenes of high drama or fear without letting the audience off the hook by giving them a moment of levity.

 

The musical score by Benjamin Wallfisch isn’t particularly memorable, except when it takes a page out of the movie's book and tries to extra-scare the audience by utilizing a creepy child chorus to sing creepy child songs, one of which includes the lyric "chop off your dead." Additionally, some of the soundtrack selections are jarring and tonally at odds with what’s going on in the scene. (The Cure’s “Six Different Ways” plays over the scene where the kids clean up Bev’s bloody bathroom -- a moment that played as somber and ominous in the novel and miniseries -- which completely lets the air out of the drama and neutralizes its nasty implications. The New Kids on the Block poster gag, also, is far too jarring -- an example of the movie itself trying to be funny instead of its kid characters.)

And as for the changes made from the book, I could go on and on, but no one ever wants to see the book purist complain. In fact, some of the changes actually pair really well with the mainstays from the novel. That Bev's sink drain vomits blood all over her bathroom only after she's begun menstruating offers Pennywise a truly sadistic sense of humor, and updating the kids' era from the '50s to the '80s easily benefits from modern pop culture's new love for everything from the magical decade of hairspray and cocaine. Overall, what’s important is that IT remains faithful to King’s original story: good vs. evil; the power of friendship, faith, loss, etc. If you’ve read King’s massive tome or seen the miniseries and still remember much of its content, you’ll have fun spotting the subtle nods throughout. Bully Patrick Hockstetter licking his lips as the kids pass by him in school hints at the sexual depravity his character exerts in the book (and which could never appear in a mainstream film); the handful of references to or appearances of a turtle refer to the more mystical elements from the novel that are meant to represent the power of light that guides the kids through their fight against Derry’s evil; and the appearance of a clown doll that closely mirrors the Pennywise design from the miniseries was a very nice, loving touch.

As far as King adaptations go, there hasn’t been one this great since 2007’s The Mist, which is a relief to say, being that IT seemed like a huge gamble from the beginning. IT: Chapter Two is filming now, so there’s still a way to go before we get to see the adult Losers Club return to Derry for one more go-around with Pennywise the Dancing Clown.


May 8, 2013

I PEED A LITTLE


There's not much to it, and it's clearly Ronald McDonald, but still...something about it...