Pre-Christmas horrors: ‘It,’ ‘Ready or Not’

By Tom Von Malder | Dec 17, 2019
Photo by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Bill Skarsgard again plays the evil Pennywise in "It Chapter Two."

Owls Head — It Chapter Two (Warner Bros., 2 Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 169 min.). There are plenty of scares and more wonderful casting, but, like the running joke that the ending of character Bill’s novels and screenplays, are bad, so too is the ending of this film bad or at least very confusing as it suddenly goes all mystical as director Andy Muschietti completes his adaptation of Stephen King’s classic horror novel about the evil clown called Pennywise who steals children every 27 years in Derry, Maine.

As the ending of the first film (2017) promised, the seven members of the Losers Club, now no longer children, have to return to Derry to once again face Pennywise, with the hope this time of vanquishing him forever. One of the seven, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa of TV’s “Shadowhunters”), actually has never left Derry, so his memories of the Losers Club’s efforts are more intact – it seems those memories fade the farther one gets from Derry. So, it is up to Mike to call the other six to return and finish what they started. Mike also believes he has found an ancient Indian ritual that can be used to destroy Pennywise.

The other six are novelist-screenwriter Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy of the X-Men films, HBO’s “His Dark Materials”); Richie Tozier (Bill Hader of “Trainwreck,” HBO’s “Barry”), a standup comedian; Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan of the CW’s “Beauty & the Beast”), who has gone from chubby to model good-looking and is a big-shot architect; Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain of “Molly’s Game,” “Interstellar”), who is in an abusive marriage; Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransome of the “Sinister” films), an insurance company risk assessor; and Stanley Uris (Andy Bean of Starz’ “Power,” HBO’s “Here and Now”). Stanley is the only one who does not make it back to Derry.

What Muschietti does very well is integrate both scenes from the fist film and newly-shot scenes with the first film’s young cast that help fill in narrative gaps with the characters’ older versions. It helps build the film’s emotional content and impact, which is one of its main strengths. The other main strength is some of the far-too-gruesome, very adult scares that pop up every so often, with Bill Skarsgard again excellent as Pennywise. Among the latter are bugs that come out of fortune cookies, a Paul Bunyan station coming to life, the violence of Pennywise’s attacks and a creepy multiple of hands.

Most disturbing overall – for both the level of violence and the fact that it was even included – is the opening murder of a gay man off a bridge, a clear reference to the 1984 death of Charlie Howard, who was beaten and then thrown off a bridge in Bangor, Maine. King also used the death in his novel, but there it was more a part of the overall themes. Here, it is just isolated and distasteful.

While the same camaraderie exists in the older characters that made their younger versions so worthy of rooting for in the first film – their reunion at a Chinese restaurant is a highlight -- the plot separates them for long stretches as each must find an “artifact” from their past. By the way, “long” is a key word here, as the movie is almost three hours in length.

Other then the opening bridge murder, I generally enjoyed the movie up until the showdown with Pennywise, which dabbles into too much mystical nonsense. As in Bill’s novels and screenplays, the ending was bad.

The film comes with audio commentary by the director. The Blu-ray edition also comes with a whole second disc of extras, including a two-part documentary, loaded with cast interviews, audition tapes and behind-the-scenes footage (75 min.); a look at Skarsgard and his transformation into Pennywise (9:55); a look at the young and older versions of the core characters and the actors who play them (8:12); and an interview with King himself (6:18). Grade: film and extras 3 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Ready or Not (20th Century Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 95 min.). For those who like their horror filled with dark – very dark – humor, this film is a wonderful find. It is Grace’s (Samara Weaving of the upcoming “Bill & Ted Face the Music”) wedding day. The love of her life is Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien of “Arrival,” Showtime’s “City on a Hill”), part of an eccentric, very wealthy family that made its fortune through board games and, possibly, a pact with the devil, as represented by game inventor Le Beil, back in the Civil War era.

What Alex has failed to tell his bride is that the family has a tradition of having a new member to the family play a game, which is determined by drawing a card from a box passed down by Le Beil. Usually, those games are harmless, like chess or Old Maid. Unfortunately, Grace pulls the one bad card, Hide and Seek, whose rules are that the family must hunt and kill her before dawn or they all will be eradicated. It is only the second time this bad card has been drawn in the lifetimes of the current family members.

Those family members, by the way, include Alex’s brother Daniel (Adam Brody of TV’s “The O.C.”), an alcoholic wastrel; their mother Becky (Andie MacDowell of “Groundhog Day”), who somewhat approves of Grace:; sister Emilie (Melanie Scrofano), who arrives after the wedding; their father Tony (Henry Czerny of “Mission: Impossible,” “Clear and Present Danger”), who dislikes that Grace is from a poor family; Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni), whose disapproval results in outright hostility; and Fitch Bradley (Kristian Bruun), husband of Emilie and father to their two young sons.

Grace hides in a dumb waiter as the “game” commences, so she fails to see the family arm up, everything from a rifle to a crossbow. However, when she exits the dumb waiter after becoming impatient, she sees Emilie accidentally kill one of the family’s three maids.; things do not go well for the servants in the film. The film has a lot of gore, including one scene involving a nail that made me wince, but often those scenes are played for horror and laughs simultaneously. Czerny and Weaving get the most out of their roles, while O’Brien’s Alex has wishy-washy motivation.

Extras include a fun, three-part making-of feature (42:28) with lots of behind-the-scenes and production information; a gag reel that is mostly the actors breaking-up and laughing (4:05); two photo galleries; and audio commentary by directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (aka Radio Silence) and actress Weaving. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3 stars

Trick (RJLE, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 100 min.). The film, from co-writer-director Patrick Lusier (“My Bloody Valentine,” which he also co-wrote with Todd Farmer) tries to mix film noir with horror. It succeeds much better with the horror as it tries to create a new horror icon in Trick. Trick is short for Patrick “Trick” Weaver, an enigmatic high school senior who suddenly killed five fellow students at a Halloween party in 2015.

Despite being shot five times by Det. Mike Denver (Omar Epps of TV’s “House” and “Shooter”) and Sheriff Lisa Jayne (Ellen Adair of TV’s “Homeland,” “The Sinner,” “Billions”), falling out a two-story window and falling into a 32-degree river, Denver believes it is Trick who has come back each Halloween since to kill more, including two FBI agents in 2018, which led top Denver’s being fired. Now, in 2019, it appears Trick is aiming for revenge at those who hurt him back in 2015. At one point, Denver comes to believe Trick might even be supernatural.

The deaths scenes are filled with blood and other body bits and more than one head literally rolls – so the film is effective there. There also is the nice touch of casting horror icons Jamie Kennedy (the “Scream” franchise) as a doctor and Tom Atkins (“My Bloody Valentine,” “Night of the Creeps,” “The Fog”) as Talbott, a local who runs a Halloween maze and movie marathon.

Where the film goes wrong is in the last-act explanation, which is like totally out of nowhere – except that I did see a couple of hints. Shockingly, but not unexpectedly, the very ending begs for a sequel, which it hopefully will not get.

The only extra is a making-of featurette that covers the casting, which includes co-writer Farmer as Deputy Wan (14:48). Grade: film 2.25 stars; extra 1.25 stars

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