The best horror movies rely on subtlety to scare the shenanigans out of you. The worst bombard you with CGI galore, and the fiendish monster’s arrival is often heralded by ear-shattering, high-decibel blasts of either music or sound effects. “Mama” director Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 bestseller “It” (** OUT OF ****) qualifies as half-baked hokum with its mischievous but demonic clown and all the standard-issue shivers that ensue. Muschietti goes for the gullet every time he wants audiences to scream like bloody maniacs in this tiresome, overwrought, 135-minute marathon. Indeed, the movie bristles with heavy-handed homages to 80’s movies, including earlier King adaptations, such as “Stand by Me” and “The Shining,” when it isn’t reminiscent of Richard Donner’s “The Goonies” (1985). The blood, gore, and violence is enough to justify its tame R-rating, but “It” never repels you with offensive sights that would generate nightmares. Interestingly, “Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) appeared two years before King’s bestseller was published. The “Nightmare” influence on King is obvious, and the ghoulish clown Pennywise behaves like Freddie Kruger with his razor-tipped gloves. Freddie preyed on his victims while they slept and sabotaged their dreams, while Pennywise preys on them while they are fully awake. The problem is that only children can see Pennywise and the horror that he unleashes. Meantime, a collection of youngsters, nicknamed ‘The Losers Club,’ who constitute an ensemble protagonist, is the best thing about “It.” Although they are adolescent, they are not only believable but also charismatic in their aim to destroy Pennywise. Each kid differs from the other so they are a miscellaneous group. Furthermore, the predicaments that they plunge themselves into are exciting until the cretinous clown rears his ugly head. The actors and actress that portray this motley crew deliver credible performances. Indeed, this youthful group hurl themselves heart and soul into tracking down the wicked clown who has been killing children.
“It” unfolds during a thunderous storm in October 1988 as an older brother, Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher of “Aloha”), fashions a boat out of paper and wax paste for his younger sibling Georgie (newcomer Jackson Robert Scott) to sail in the gutter. Georgie is having the time of his life when his boat flounders in a storm drain. Miraculously, a guy dressed as a clown, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård of “Atomic Blonde”) catches the boat. Georgie reaches out to retrieve it, but the clown tears off his forearm and then hauls him into the sewer. Georgie’s mysterious vanishing act fuels rumors about a serial killer who slays kids. Bill and his playmates: motor-mouthed Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard of Netflix’s “Stranger Things”), germophobic hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer of “Tales of Halloween”), Jewish-raised Stanley Iris (Wyatt Oleff of “Guardians of the Galaxy”) befriend a chubby kid, Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor of “Ant-Man”), who has spent his summer investigating a recurring serial killer in Derry, Maine, that strikes every twenty-seven years. Bill, Richie, Eddie, and Stanley meet Ben after he escapes from the clutches of a trio of bullies led by a sadistic, switchblade-wielding Henry Bowers (Nicolas Hamilton of “Captain Fantastic”) who carves the letter H into Ben’s soft, flabby belly. Ben becomes fast friends with Eddie and company, and later they rescue Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs of “Cops and Robbers”) from Henry and his hooligans. Each kid suffers from a ghastly encounter with Pennywise the Clown. The guys accept Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”) into their group, and they set out to destroy the horrific Pennywise.
Inevitably, Muschietti and scenarists Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauterman have taken liberties with King’s thousand page-plus epic novel. For the record, Fukunaga wrote the film “Beast of No Nations” about child soldiers fighting a war in an anonymous African nation, while Dauberman penned the infinitely superior horror prequel “Annabelle Creation.” Whittling the characters down strictly to kids confronting their fears instead of kids as well as adults qualifies as their first editorial decision. The film’s stellar box office success has guaranteed a sequel which had been hinted at from the start. If you stick around for the closing credits, you’ll see that the film’s title has been modified to “It—Chapter One.’’ Comparatively, the flashback-riddled 1990 television miniseries chronicled ‘The Losers Club’ as both adolescents and adults. Muschietti and his writers have cut the adult counterparts of Eddie and company. Second, they have altered the setting from the 1950s in both the novel and miniseries to the late 1980s. Third, they have swapped around two characters. Instead of Mike Hanlon, Ben has become the group historian who spends his summer in the Derry Library learning about the town’s tragic history. In both the novel and the miniseries, Mike Hanlon handled that task. Moreover, Mike was a grown-up when he delved into Derry’s past. Fifth, King’s novel loosened a monster mash of evil fiends. Not only did Pennywise the Dancing Clown frighten the kids, but also The Mummy, a Werewolf, a “Creature from the Black Lagoon” gill-man, and Frankenstein’s creation got in on the fun. For the sake of simplicity, Muschietti has focused primarily on Pennywise and dropped the other monsters. Furthermore, the kids don’t launch silver slugs from slingshots to vanquish their foe in the film. Instead, Mike packs a bolt gun designed to kill animals at his grandfather’s farm. Those who have read the novel know that after the Losers Club defeated Pennywise, they got themselves hopelessly lost in the sewer. Beverly decided in the best interests of the group to have an orgy so the guys could come to grips with their hysteria and find their way out of the underground network of sewer lines. Clearly, this scene was left out for obvious reasons. Indeed, “It” received an R-rating, but the orgy that Beverly orchestrated in the novel was taboo. Altogether, if you want to scream your lungs out every time that Pennywise makes a startling entrance, “It” is your dish of mindless gobbledygook.