Pennywise slays again in a bloody, bloated Stephen King fun house

Dir: Andy Muschietti. Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Bill Skarsgård, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Isaiah Mustafa, Sophia Lillis, Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard, Jaeden Lieberher, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Chosen Jacobs, Xavier Dolan, Stephen King, Nicholas Hamilton. 15 cert, 169 min

Stephen King has a jolly cameo in It: Chapter Two as the cantankerous owner of a musty antiques shop, with a boy’s beloved bike, Silver, standing in the window. It’s a mischievous performance: he’s selling nostalgia, and sees you coming when you’re, say, James McAvoy’s Bill, who used to ride this thing around the streets of Derry, King’s habitual stand-in for his hometown of Bangor in Maine.

The bike was abandoned 27 years back, when the evil clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) rose up for his once-per-generation terror spree, preying on Bill, his unfortunate younger brother Georgie, and their now-scattered contemporaries. There’s a sense, especially thanks to King’s own appearance, of the story coming full circle: the book, one of King’s most strenuously epic, was first published in 1986, and the well-known miniseries came out in 1990.

It’s also our tip-off for a certain kind of fan service, which this new two-part adaptation is happy to serve up – a wallowing in King’s world and themes. King’s own role is winkingly similar to Leland Gaunt, the villain of his 1991 book Needful Things. And visual allusions to more famous classics in the King Cinematic Universe abound, especially the blood-soaked reckonings of Carrie and The Shining.

First, though, a lot of game-board pieces must be shuffled into place, for victims to be avenged and the resurrection of Pennywise, who’s very much back in business, to be quashed for good. The elaborate rite needed is not unlike the teaming-up and stake through the heart that awaited Bram Stoker’s similarly shape-shifting, baby-devouring Dracula at the end of that book. 

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