“The Goonies” meets “Stranger Things” with a dash of “Killer Clowns from Outer Space”…

I really enjoyed the IT movie.

I just wasn’t very scared.

Now, you could take that as me saying the whole movie was bad, and that theater goers should save their money. You’d be wrong. I actually think it’s a great movie for fans of Stephen King, and good storytelling, to go see this weekend. It’s a quality film- it just isn’t a very good horror picture.

Then again, maybe it wasn’t trying to be?

For anyone who is familiar with the Stephen King novel, and also the mini-series of the same name starring Tim Curry, you’d be familiar with the themes of the story.  A small town where children and adults alike go missing and/or dead every 25 or so years. The town itself has a dark history, while Pennywise, the infamous clown, has been an evil staple there since the town’s inception in various way. Similar to its horror counterparts, like Freddy Krueger, the adults don’t talk about the obvious evil. Thus leaving the children to fend for themselves.

Throughout the movie there are many scary moments, and Bill Skarsgard does a great job as the new incarnation of Pennywise the dancing (and horrific) clown. The first scene with the character Georgie and Pennywise is perhaps the creepiest scene in the film. It had a sense of mystery, foreboding, and darkness. You didn’t really know what was going to happen, until it happened. From there the main characters are plagued by Pennywise, (as he takes on the forms of their various fears), and the increasingly insane town bully named Henry.

This film could have gone one of two ways. It could have been a film that had the overarching terror and horror in the center and forefront, with the childhood friendships and coming of age tales interwoven. Or, it could have been a film about a group of friends, their own interpersonal issues, with the danger of supernatural evil spurring the story forward, but that evil not being exactly at the center.

The film went with the latter.

And therein lies the issue with IT being touted as the scariest horror picture in years. It just…wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong. The young actors were all very good. Especially Sophia Lillis as the young Beverly Marsh. Yet, the film felt like a darker version of The Goonies rather than a true adaptation of IT. There were adventures, foes, young love, and raised stakes- just like The Goonies (if you haven’t seen that classic film you’re missing out)- but the terror was lacking.

Even with the occasional missing limbs and blood, the metaphorical teeth of the story was missing.

In the original novel, and even in the the tv mini-series, there are some SERIOUS topics being dealt with. Those topics including racism, child abuse, mental illness and poverty.

One of the main characters, a young Black boy named Mike, had to deal with racism head on, having been called the “n” word in the previous adaptation and novel. The previous adaptation, and the original novel, put it right in your face. It was blunt, and drove home the ugliness of racism to the audience, and the isolation Mike felt before he found his best friends in the Losers (what the group of young protagonists called themselves). The new adaptation doesn’t do this ugliness justice, but rather tones it down for some reason. The film does a good job highlighting the abuse Beverly endures, and her strength, but doesn’t really address her poverty.

The sadistic nature of the town bully Henry falls short as well. There was something about the previous adaptation that made him a lot more infuriating. The audience was made to understand that he was a sociopath. In this film he was angry and hateful, sure, but the audience was all too quickly made to have some sympathy for him, taking away the edge of it all.

Then there were the moments of CGI. It wasn’t completely overdone, but there were plenty of times when it just wasn’t needed. One of the key elements of quality horror is allowing the audience to be terrified of what may or may not be in the dark. What may or may not be around the corner. What they may or may not actually see. I could have enjoyed a lot more of Skarsgard’s Pennywise without the CGI morphing moments. His eerie acting and eyes alone, that was showcased brilliantly in the opening scene, were enough for me. The film showed it’s hand too quickly. So building up to the suspense was almost gone.

Then there were the comedic moments. To be blunt- there were too many. Finn Wolfhard was funny in his role of the wisecracking Richie, but there were times when the film allowed the character’s jokes to dominate, when they should have taken a backseat. A comedic break in horror is always welcomed, but it should be paced so that the moments of fear and seriousness are allowed to land. All too often in this film Richie had a joke to tell when it would have been best to allow the character to take in the fear like the other kids. Yes, joking is a coping mechanism for fear in some people, and was clearly Richie’s mechanism, but it was obvious the filmmakers weren’t doing it as the character, but rather using the character to make humor. The jokes were funny, but often misplaced for the atmosphere.

Then again, I’m also aware that the film had a lot to try to put into a film, when the mini series had ten plus hours to get it right.

I’m looking forward to part two. It was a solid start.  IT felt like The Goonies meets Stranger Things with a dash of Killer Clowns from Outer Space, and that’s not a bad thing. I’m hoping the second film will be a bit more adult, and the scares will land just as heavy.  Also crossing my fingers that since it will be happening in the 2000’s there won’t be some sort of cheesy moments of Pennywise haunting someone’s Facebook or Instagram.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie- but I’ve seen scarier.


A group of young orphan girls move into a home of a couple that lost their daughter years ago. Throughout the film we see the development of their bonds and relationships, as the couple and the girls, learn to love again and find out true family can come in many forms… That is the heart of Annabelle: Creation.

OK, no, I’m lying.

Aside from the initial exposition, of a married couple opening up their home to a group of young orphan girls, the similarities to what could have been a modern day Annie ends there. There’s no musical numbers, but there is vintage music playing on old record players in the background, as a demonic doll attempts to steal the souls of the young orphan girls. This brings a whole lot of classic horror fun for viewers who enjoy good quality scares.

Annabelle Creation is a prequel to 2014’s Annabelle, and the fourth film in The Conjuring film series. For fans of The Conjuring you’ll recognize the creepy doll Annabelle from those films. Annabelle Creation shows us how Annabelle came to be. The story begins as town dollmaker Samuel Mullins and his wife Esther open their home to Sister Charlotte, a nun, and a small group of girls from an orphanage that has been closed. What seems like a blessing to Sister Charlotte, turns into a nightmare, as the dark secret of the Mullins’ comes to light in the form of a demonic doll living in the house.

Some may call the film formalistic and predictable. They may say that the scares are seen a mile away, and the characters all fit the similar horror tropes.

My question to those critics is: So what?

I don’t know about anyone else, but ever since the days of Scream and all it’s copycats, the so-called horror genre had become more of a slasher and gore genre. Nothing wrong with quality slasher films like Scream, and gore like the first SAW, but despite those innovative ways to tell the story of dreadful humans preying on other humans- NOTHING beats a good ghost story or monster flick. In a time when social media and technology has desensitized, or oversensitized, many to everyday tragedies, it’s nice to see films that still play into the mystery of the unknown, the great beyond, and what goes bump in the night.

It’s nice to watch a film that I’m pretty certain won’t find me in a similar situation as the characters in it (I say as I clutch my bible and say my prayers at night). Being able to watch a movie and get lost in the plot, and for a time, distracted from the real world, can be a nice mental vacation- even if I find myself screaming at the screen in momentary fear.

Annabelle: Creation starts off laying the groundwork for the scares, but wastes no more than 20 minutes before the horror gets underway. As I screamed and hollered with each moment in the theater, and the rest of the audience did as well, I was reminded of feeling like I was on a rollercoaster ride. It doesn’t last long, but it doesn’t need to, because the short thrill is well worth it.

The cast of characters are quality as well. The young orphan girls all had believable portrayals, while Talitha Bateman shines through as the one girl who Annabelle has taken a special interest in. There’s some moments of sisterhood and solidarity among the girls, that gives the film a bit of heart that can sometimes be missing in horror films. You actually come to care for some of them, which raises the stakes in wanting them to make it out of the house alive.

I give the film bonus points also for having the stellar actor Anthony LaPaglia, of Without a Trace fame, playing the tragic doll maker. I also give the film additional bonus points for having a slightly diverse cast, including Mexican American actress Stephanie Sigman as Sister Charlotte, and the young Black actress, Tayler Buck, as the orphan girl Kate. Annabelle: Creation takes place in the 1950s/1960s, but the filmmakers don’t use that as some sort of misplaced cop out in order to make the film completely devoid of people of color.

The special effects are subtle, as they should be. The CGI isn’t overdone. The scare factor in Annabelle: Creation is owed a large chunk to what the audience can’t see, but only anticipate appearing. It’s a return to fearing what’s in the dark, as oppose to having it all laid out in front of us. Annabelle is no Chucky. You may find that to be a good or bad thing depending on how you like your killer dolls, but I thought the understated, and silent, presence of the creepy looking doll was enough for me.

What New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures has been able to do with The Conjuring film series is bring back good classic horror and monster tale fun. With future spinoff films, The Nun and The Crooked Man, set to come out soon, it’s clear the producers know they’ve got a good thing going.

Is Annabelle: Creation on the level of Shakespeare in writing and character development?

Perhaps not.

Yet, it doesn’t need to be. it is still unique, even if it’s a return to formalistic scary fun. It’s something perhaps we didn’t know we needed in this day and age, until it was presented to us, and I for one, can’t get enough.

Annabelle: Creation opens nationwide August 11.