A new feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at the coulrophobia of the Stephen King adaptation of “Itr” and some of the biggest and best movies at TIFF.
Clowns are creepy. Their grotesque shiny red lips, baggy suits and weirdly coloured tufts of hair really disturb some people. While most of us see Ronald McDonald as a nice corporate symbol, the eight per cent of the population that suffers from clown-ophobia — more properly called coulrophobia — views him as evil incarnate.
The mere mention of the Insane Clown Posse — a mix of gangsta rap and grease paint — is enough to inspire nightmares in the clown challenged.
Silent screen horror legend Lon Chaney Sr. tried to explain the fear.
“A clown is funny in the circus ring,” he said. “But what would be the reaction to opening a door at midnight and finding the same clown standing there?”
Among the movie standouts in the sub-sub-subgenre of “clown horror” are The Clown at Midnight, wherein a number of attractive youngsters get hacked to death by a psycho in a Bozo costume, and the escaped convicts of Clownhouse, who murder circus clowns, steal their identities and their costumes for a wild killing spree.
Then there’s the self-explanatory Killer Klowns From Outer Space. “They’re not clowns, they’re some sort of animal from another world that look just like our clowns. Maybe their ancients came to our planet centuries ago and our idea of clowns comes from them!”
This weekend a new version of the terrifying Pennywise the Dancing Clown comes to screens. In 1990 Tim Curry brought the glistening-lipped, child-eating creature to life in the TV miniseries It. His performance was so disturbingly realistic that on the DVD commentary his co-stars note they avoided him during the filming.
This weekend Pennywise returns in the big screen adaptation of It. Played by Bill Skarsgård, he is a makeup-clad manifestation of all your fears. He’s is the stuff of nightmares, a shape-shifter who adapts to the insecurities and anxieties of his victims. He taunts the kids — for instance he appears to Eddie the hypochondriac as, “a leper and walking infection” — repelling and luring them with the things that terrify them most. It’s creepy enough to make you rethink your next trip to the circus.
Bozo the Clown he ain’t.
Unlike Curry’s co-stars, the kids of the new It weren’t intimidated by Pennywise— off-screen, at least.
“They tried to keep us apart but when we met him we already knew this guy is just an actor,” said Vancouver-born Finn Wolfhard. “We’re not really freaked out by him. We are in the movie but he’s a really good dude in real life. We love him.”
In fact, most of the cast said clowns were not high on their list of terrifying things.
“I never really got the point of clowns,” said Sophia Lillis. “No offense, clowns. Maybe when I was really young I was afraid of them because they have all this makeup and baggy clothes and give candy to children. It’s a little off-putting.”
Wolfhard agrees. “It is a little off-putting. Maybe it’s because they’re always happy.”
Chosen Jacobs thinks It will trigger a new wave of coulrophobia.
“Our generation lacked a horror film that brought the fear back to clowns. I think now that It is coming out this generation and the next generation will regain that fear. At least we can say we changed the world! That’s our contribution.”
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Of course that’s the line made famous by Franklin D. Roosevelt but it is also the sentiment at the dark heart of “It.”
It’s 1988 in Derry, Maine. To a soundtrack of creepy kid’s choral music, brothers and best friends Bill and Georgie Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher and Jackson Robert Scott) have carefully folded a paper boat and shellacked it with wax so it will float. When little Georgie takes the boat into the street during a rainstorm it gets away from him, ending up in a storm sewer and in the gnarled hands of Pennywise The Dancing Clown a.k.a. It (Bill Skarsgård). Bozo the Clown he ain’t.
Suffice to say, Georgie doesn’t make it back home.
Bill, missing his brother, goes to elaborate lengths to figure out what happened. He builds a replica of the sewer system in hopes of discovering where Georgie may have ended up. He even recruits his “Loser’s Club” pals—New Kids on the Block fan Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the fast talking Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and their newest member Beverly (Sophia Lillis)—to give up there summer holiday to search underground sewer pipes for clues. “It’s the summer! We’re supposed to have fun,” Stan complains. “This isn’t fun. It’s scary and disgusting.”
As other kids go missing it is revealed that weird things have always happened in Derry. People die or disappear there at six times the national average and not just the adults. The numbers are worse for kids and as Bill’s schoolmates start to go missing he feels an urgent need to find out what’s going on, not just for Georgie but for everyone.
“It” is essentially “Stranger Things” with killer clowns. (Or should that be the other way around?) It harkens back to the era of kid lead action horror films like “Goonies” and “Monster Squad,” where preteens swear like sailors as they lose their innocence on screen. It’s a tried and true formula, one ripe with danger, humour, wrapped up with a nostalgic red ribbon. “It” gets it right, balancing an appealing cast of kids with a hint of old-school vulgarity to give the movie a scary edge.
It’s a story about overcoming fears, the power of loyalty and how, even in the most dire of circumstances, love can conquer all—even nasty clowns with glistening lips and rows of sharp teeth. Wedged in between those sentiments are at least one evil clogged drain scene that will make you wish Roto-Rooter got there first, some jump scares and a psychopathic town bully.
Most of all there is the clown, a manifestation of all your fears. Pennywise is the stuff of nightmares, a shape-shifter who adapts to the insecurities and anxieties of his victims. He taunts the kids—for instance he appears to Eddie, the hypochondriac as, “a leper and walking infection”—repelling and luring them with the things that terrify them most. It’s creepy enough to make you rethink your next trip to the circus.
“It” is a tad too long but makes up for its indulgent length with handsome production design and solid performances from the kids, especially Lieberher and Lillis.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All atmosphere and no urgency make “Strangerland” a dull film.
Catherine and Matthew (Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes) and teenaged kids Tommy and Lily (Nicholas Hamilton and Maddison Brown) are struggling to survive in the remote (and fictional) outback desert town of Nathgari. Dad, the town pharmacist, is less than enthusiastic at living in Strangerland despite his wife’s attempts to fit in. Fifteen-year-old Tommy is an insomniac who goes for late night walks while his older sister has caught the eye of the local boys.
One morning, on the eve of an immense dust storm it’s discovered the kids didn’t sleep in their beds. Or show up at school. By nightfall a search has begun, led by policeman David Rae (Hugo Weaving). As the weather intensifies so does the hunt as Catherine and Matthew struggle to cope with their grief and sense of loss.
“Strangerland” wallows in the grimness of its story. The undeniable splendour of the cinematography—the landscape and the dust storm are spectacular in their rugged, terrible beauty—plays in stark contrast to Kidman’s hysterical performance and the anxiety inducing score by “True Detective’s” Keefus Ciancia. This could have been a welcome addition to other Australian lost-in-the-wilderness flicks like “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and “Walkabout” but lacks the spark to keep the story interesting.