Remembering Tobe Hooper – Cult Following Episode #67

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In this episode of Cult Following, the crew looks back at some of their favorite films by director Tobe Hooper. We chat about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1 and 2, Lifeforce, Funhouse, Poltergeist, Invaders from Mars and many, many more. We also chat about some recent films we’ve been watching like the new Netflix Death Note film and more!

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Review: “It” (2017)

IT (2017)

Directed by Andres Muschetti

www.itthemovie.com

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It’s safe to say that “IT” has earned a fevered anticipation (including a record breaking teaser trailer) not felt in the horror genre for many years; while nostalgia is a potent reason for the excitement, a whole new generation has the opportunity to face its fear…but will they enjoy it like fresh popcorn at the circus or is it a stale recycling of a beloved property?

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Imperfect in many ways but overall, very satisfying not solely due to the long, 27year cinematic hibernation for “It” to awaken again but because Andy Muschietti’s (“Mama”) vision is both an excellent short form adaptation of the Stephen King source material but because of the rabid fan base of the film and book, carves his own niche that offers brand new material and reinvention of well-known characters and their dealings with the unearthly Pennywise and the darkness cast over the small town of Derry, Maine, this time updated to the summer of 1989 and with more than few surprises in this magic show.

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For fans of both the original book and 1990 television miniseries from director Tommy Lee Wallace (“Halloween III: Season of the Witch”) are well aware of the story and know that’s 1,138 page breadth present a massive undertaking and especially in regards to the former, some portions had to be excised for clarity, flow and development while in respect to the latter, budget limitations and network censorship were in full effect. Thankfully, “IT” had a healthy payroll, a proper and awesome hard “R” rating and enough energy that old fans and new converts will find something to enliven their appreciation and eagerly awaiting the second chapter.

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Of course, we can’t start anywhere but with Bill Skarsgard, whose performance as Pennywise The Dancing Clown brings his own unique and marvelous twist to the character. When first revealed, many mocked the design but the lanky frame of Skarsgard and his mix of mischief and malevolence, it fits perfectly. There have been many debates about the demeanor of Pennywise in his literary essence and he harbors many of the hallmarks made famous by Tim Curry’s gleefully grotesque performance but Skarsgard elects to be less talkative and humorous; he prefers to intimidate, bully, delighting in the bevy of fear he can create in so many forms. His hunger is quite literal; drool drips lecherous from his lips, his eyes widen and trademark teeth grow to a bite that in lesser hands (or mouths) may have been cartoonish but here is genuinely unsettling. This is embodied fully with Pennywise spending very little time enticing his prey as he much prefers to go for the kill but like any pitiless predator, he loves to play with his food just enough that flesh is tender and the fear an ample seasoning. It’s not as delightfully vaudevillian as Curry’s work but it much more in line with the hunter this eternal being is and will have you believe that Skarsgard not only can pull his own weight and ruffles but really is the eater of worlds and of children, without question or mercy.

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While Pennywise is the centerpiece and the beloved face of the franchise, you can’t count out “The Losers Club” the champions of the downtrodden, protectors of the weak, the sons and daughter of Derry and a crew many continue to sympathize and identify with over the last 30 years since the novels publication. The cast is really the strongest suit, the very heart of chapter one of this saga and while some of the actors are more adept than others, all performances deserve immense praise.

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Finn Wolfhard (probably the most metal name ever) a beloved part of “Stranger Things” which this film obviously apes in parts is the real standout here making “Trashmouth” Tozier live up to his name and persona and steals the show almost singlehandedly though it couldn’t have succeeded as much without the banter between his character and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie Kaspbrak.

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The sensitivity and stoicism of Bill Denbrough is communicated well by Jaeden Lieberher but this is one where I feel the late Jonathan Brandis set the bar a bit out of reach with his incredible performance though the denouement of the film and his peace with Georgie’s death are genuine and heartbreaking.

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Sophia Lillis is simply fantastic as Beverly Marsh – tough, smart, funny while also being the dream tomboy next door; she really has it all. Bev’s poverty is about equally stated in the miniseries but sexual promiscuity rumours were not as commonplace and pervasive in the late 50’s at least in open discussion but here in the later years of the first Bush administration, we see the damage done to Bev. It comes both by the extreme female bullying the plagues so many young girls but also the unnatural gaze and intentions of her father which are more far implicitly stated and played out with harrowing results.

Jeremy Ray Taylor has Ben Hanscom much more shy and reserved, less believable as the romantic in the miniseries and in the traditional sense but he’s genuinely irresistible and a total gem in the role; he definitely has “the right stuff” (part of a recurring joke that had the theater erupt with laughter) and Ben’s fear with a newly introduced scare involving the Derry Ironworks explosion during the Easter Egg Hunt is fresh, fun and frightening.

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I feel that Wyatt Olaf’s portrayl of Stan Uris and Chosen Jacobs’ of Mike Hanlon were underused, though I liked Stan’s impression of “IT” as it was unique to the property and very original; Mike’s fear was the definition of close to home but didn’t work out as well as there was a lack of build up and the scares too short. I was also extremely disappointed that Henry Bowers (and by default, Butch Bowers) overt racism and anti-Semitism being completely absent from the film. This is so important to both of these characters and their development and how even amidst the Loser’s Club, they still feel the burden of being outcasts.

Bowers, as a whole is arguably the most terrifying threat in “IT” (whichever the source or incarnation) and while Nicholas Hamilton adds some additional dimensions that are enjoyable with the onscreen mayhem, it’s just not as unnvering as the miniseries effort of Jarred Blancard. Without giving any spoilers, I am also struggling to figure out how Bowers will appear in the second chapter given his fate in this first portion of the story.

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It’s difficult to offer a comprehensive and honest review with touching on some missed opportunities from the book that could integrated, some more easily than others but most possible, though I want to gush about how great it was to finally see Eddie’s encounter with the leper on screen. Not quite a dream come true but certainly a perfect nightmare.

As they elected to adopt the updated 80s setting, it is unfortunate they did not include the prologue with Adrian Mellon is not only timely but absolutely terrifying and while to some it may have lessened the impact of Georgie’s first encounter with Pennywise, the bumper that opened the miniseries didn’t detract and actually amplified the menace of the Dancing Clown without a word but many a scream.

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With the aforementioned teaser trailer, I was elated to see Patrick Hockstetter on a missing person poster and while he is included in the film played by Owen Teague, his full potential is wasted, especially in relation to his demise which is beyond unnerving and likely could have been added sans a large preface (like the original text) and without feeling shoehorned. His end here feels cheap and cheesy; the only thing missing here was the mark.

While I can understand why Eddie Cocohran (who is discussed in the film by name) and his belated brother Dorsey (not mentioned) was too bloated of a segue to adapt, his inclusion is a plus and a nod worthy of mention.

Finally, having Beverly’s father Alan Marsh actually be sexually abusive felt compelling and while original scripts apparently called for an on screen onslaught, I feel it conflicts too deeply with his character in the both the book and miniseries where he is a controlling father with a puritanical, patriarchal bent, the unnatural, illegal and perverse desires that manifest themselves with Pennywise are more accurate and unfortunately don’t appear here with the miniseries excising the sexual content but delivering one hell of a punch with Ms. Kersh. With this incarnation, Marsh is easy to abhor but the relationship between father and daughter in the text is far more frightening.

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Score is so important to the franchise and while Benjamin Wallfisch (“A Cure For Wellness,” “Lights Out”) has immense talent and ability to blend dark, classic motifs that ratchet up to the tension while also providing warm floral tones that capture the magic of youth. This combines well with 80s favorites that will have many smiling and singing along but still pales in comparison to Richard Belis work on the 1990 miniseries which ranks among my personal top ten of all time for the genre and the television foray had the spirit of the late 50s with great oldies that were a perfect fit. Wallfisch still has a winner here; it’s simply a different battleground and is a diminished victory in respect to the war.

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Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography is stand out especially in respect to the various appearances of Pennywise, gleefully playing with the shadows to make his entrances, exits and especially with the terrifying encounter with Georgie extraordinarily effective. Also of note is the incredible set design, especially when it comes to It’s lair deep in drainage catacombombs and the House on Neibolt Street, a funhouse of untold fear.

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“IT” is not a particularly “scary” film but that doesn’t mean it lacks intensity, unease or harrowing horror as it is rife with all of those qualities and many more; it simply plays more like a very dark fantasy, a coming of age film where hormones, harassment and matters of the heart are overwhelmed by an eternal evil. It’s an ageless premise and with such a fresh cast and a well worn balance between adult horror and youthful hilarity, “IT” deserves the hype it’s attained and the respect it’s due; we all float down here…

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Review: ‘It’ (2017) – Even the Losers Get Lucky Sometimes

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The newest adaptation of Stephen King’s seminal 1986 novel ‘It’ is a remarkable achievement. This film never forgets what makes this story special: the loveable losers at its center. It is joyful and laugh-out-loud funny and never becomes too dour.

Set in the King-invented town of Derry, Maine in the summer of 1989 this is a coming of age story masked as horror film. The premise is simple, something awful is lurking under Derry. It is evil. It feeds on fear. It is killing children. And a group of charismatic misfits are the only ones trying to stop it. In the novel, Derry is one of Stephen King’s most malevolent creations. One of the most common and effective ways that the master of horror managed to take hold of the imaginations of readers in his early career was by taking common things and making them evil. In ‘Christine’ your car wanted to kill you, in ‘Cujo’ it was the family dog, in ‘Pet Semetary’ it was the family cat. With ‘The Shining’ he made you afraid of hotels. He has even had a killer washing machine. Derry on the other hand is an evil town. This is not like his most famous imaginary Maine town: Castle Rock. Castle Rock is a place where bad things happen, but Derry was born bad.

Now this is the point I should probably talk about my personal relationship with the material. As a child I was a voracious reader. I happily devoured everything Stephen King released. I am willing to bet that I, like many people of my age and demographic, had a Stephen King childhood. And what do I mean by demographic? Well suffice to say that being the eternally new kid in school with a love for reading 1,200 page books I wasn’t at the top of the popularity pyramid. King clearly was in the same position or he would not understand that experience to write these characters so well. I was an outcast reading books about outcasts. While I didn’t have any killer clowns to fight, I had my share of Eddie Bowers. Derry was an evil town but for any schoolyard pariah, the whole world is full of villains. The only path of redemption for people like us is in the companionship of fellow freaks. It is in this powerful fellowship that we find the strength to face a cruel world, and it is in this power that the group of friends finds the ability to take on the entity Pennywise. They are prepared for this fight because they have been fighting it every day of their lives. As Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) says as he is about to face his fears and enter a terrifying house “I would rather go in there than go home.”

One of the effective changes in this adaptation is moving the story from the 1950s to the 1980s. After all, that is one of our biggest current nostalgias. For me, I’m smack dab in the middle of it. I was the exact age in 1989 that The Losers Club were. You can see a movie theater marquee frequently in the background advertising ‘Batman.’ I remember being 12 years old in 1989. I remember the life-changing event of seeing ‘Batman’ as a 12 year-old in 1989. I remember the music and the feeling of that time and this film nails it. This is also emblematic of one of the many things ‘It’ does right. ‘It’ not only draws from the wildly popular ‘Stranger Things’ but there is a real ‘Goonies’ and ‘Monster Squad’ vibe here. These are kids who swear and are vulgar. The smart decision to make this film rated R cannot be understated. It gives the movie a real edge. This is something that could have gone so wrong by watering things down to get a PG-13 rating. But that would have taken away so much of the realness and the stakes. This is ostensibly a kids movie and is the only film I can think of with a cast of 12 year olds that is this brutal and has a much-earned R rating. The fact that this film was released in this state is a miracle on its own and the project is better for it.

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The film is not without its flaws. While Bill Skarsgard is effective as Pennywise, he is unfortunate to stand in the shadow of the luminous original portrayal in the television miniseries by Tim Curry. Tim Curry owned Pennywise in a way that almost seems unfair to any actor trying to play the role after. He was funny and malicious and charismatic in a way that Skarsgard does not come close to. I am willing to forgive that however. Those are some big clown shoes to fill and Skarsgard makes the smart decision to play Pennywise the Dancing Clown in a completely different way. While he flirts with the overtly evil clown trope that can seem silly in a post-Insane-Clown-Posse world, mostly his performance is drooling, unhinged and perfectly bizarre. The film also relies far too much on computer generated effects in a way that will likely age very badly.

Despite these flaws, director Andy Muschietti has delivered something truly special. Much like Muschietti’s previous film ‘Mama,’ this not so much a horror film as a dark fantasy. It has some scares but I wouldn’t call it scary. It’s more like a good-spirited funhouse that is more interested in having you jump out of your seat than creating a building sensation of dread. For this reason and the delightful chemistry of the main cast, I could see this film being a modern day classic. I know that it will be in my regular rotation.

The film is also stunningly shot by cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, a frequent collaborator of Chan-wook Park. This is the same man who shot ‘Oldboy.’ So if you’re wondering why it looks so darn pretty, now you know.

Also of note is the sweeping musical score by relative newcomer Benjamin Wallfisch (‘A Cure For Wellness’, ‘Hidden Figures’) which adds so much of the magic in the film. The soundscape eschews typical creepy music in exchange for something full of hope and youthful wonder that would feel at home in a Harry Potter film but serves to keep ‘It’ from feeling over-serious.

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Once again, the greatest success in ‘It’ is the perfect cast. It says something when my favorite scene in a horror film is a sun-soaked moment of the kids swimming in the quarry. It also must be reiterated how funny this film is. My audience was consistently laughing throughout. There are some truly iconic moments, one involving sunbathing that had the audience knowingly giggling and a few jokes involving New Kids on the Block that were more clever than they had any right to be. Standouts among the excellent cast were Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh who has the unenviable task of being the only girl in the Losers Club and handles it with wit and cool confidence. She truly embodies the Bev of the book, she is a smart aleck, damaged and good-hearted and is easily believable as the girl who everyone has a crush on. If she doesn’t become a star, I’ll eat my hat. Finn Wolfhard is also incredibly funny as Richie Tozier. He has some of the best lines in the script and applies his experience working as part of a ensemble cast as a transport from ‘Stranger Things’ to bring appreciated levity in some of the film’s darkest moments.

I look forward to how Chapter Two will build on this terrific start. The second film will find 40 year-old versions of these characters leaving their lives as successful adults to return to Derry and fight the resurgent evil of Pennywise. With the right execution the second part could be just as enthralling as the first and I can’t wait.

Halloween has come early this year and ‘It’ is beautiful.

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Review: Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D (2017)

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James Cameron’ definitive version of the classic 1991 Arnold Schwarzenegger science fiction vehicle returns to theaters on the 20th anniversary of the film’s doomsday countdown date in a 3D enhanced re-release that reminds us why the film is an essential classic.

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Cult Following Reviews 1997’s SPAWN! It’s the SPAWNCAST! – Cult Following Episode #66

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Cult Following beams back to the year 1997 for a Retro Review of Mark A.Z. Dippe’s comic book action fest SPAWN! Marvel as we discuss the film adaptation of Todd McFarlane’s 1990’s action hero! Does it stand up to 1997’s BATMAN & ROBIN!? What do we think of its electronica meets nu-metal soundtrack? And the secret connection it has to Power Rangers! All here in this all-new, all-different episode of Cult Following!

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