Stephen King’s It (1990)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #624

Number of Views: Two
Release Date: November 18 – November 20, 1990
Sub-Genre: Mini-Series
Country of Origin: United States, Canada
Running Time: 192 Minutes
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Producers: Mark Basino, Allen S. Epstein, Jim Green
Screenplay: Lawrence D. Cohen, Tommy Lee Wallace
Based on It by Stephen King
Special Effects: Bart Mixon
Visual Effects: Gene Warren Jr.
Cinematography: Richard Leiterman
Score: Richard Bellis
Editing: David Blangsted, Robert F. Shugrue
Studios: Lorimar Productions, DawnField Entertainment, The Konigsberg & Sanitsky Company, Greeb & Epstein Productions
Distributor: Warner Bros. Television
Original network: ABC
Stars: Tim Curry, Harry Anderson, Seth Green, Dennis Christopher, Adam Faraizl, Richard Masur, Ben Heller, Annette O’Toole, Emily Perkins, Tim Reid, Marlon Taylor, John Ritter, Brandon Crane, Richard Thomas, Jonathan Brandis, Michael Cole, Jarred Blancard, Olivia Hussey, Gabe Khouth, Chris Eastman, Frank C. Turner, Terence Kelly, Tony Dakota

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Richard Bellis “Main Title”

[2] Richard Bellis “Something’s Coming”

[3] Richard Bellis “The Spider’s Web”

If I were to ask a hundred horror buffs which character in recent memory terrifies them the most effortlessly, then I’d hazard a guess that Pennywise The Clown would hold the majority stake. There’s something about this particular harrying harlequin that hits a nerve with so many, whether or not they suffer from a deep-rooted fear of clowns and I can sum it up in two words – Tim Curry.

The English actor and entertainer may be just a sweet transvestite, from Transsexual Transylvania, but he’s also the very last person you’d wish to purchase wilderness cookies from. Indeed, when Ridley Scott was looking for a suitable candidate to play the prince of darkness himself in his flawed but fantastical 1985 dark fantasy, Legend, there was only one man with the requisite swagger to slip those devil horns on and make ’em sexy.

Regardless of the fact that Tommy Lee Wallace’s adaptation of Stephen King’s hugely popular novel, It, was designed as a two-part miniseries, word soon traveled about the unspeakable Pennywise and it went on to flourish on video rental. Moreover, it is still spoken about to this very day and that is in no small part due to Curry’s extraordinarily creepy performance. Indeed, Andres Muschietti’s remake is currently gearing up for release in September and just today the teaser trailer landed.

Considering Curry is now in his early seventies, any hopes of him donning the clown shoes a second time were pie in the sky to say the very least. The burning question was whether another man on earth could do the role justice, and while Muschietti has wisely refrained from revealing too much at this point, the answer just might be a resounding yes you know. At any rate, one thing crystal clear on this evidence is that the Argentine director has nailed the tone, and in case you haven’t yet had the dubious pleasure, here is said trailer just to get those saliva glands gushing.

Looking good right? Time will tell of course but I’ll be the first to buy my ticket when the big top comes to town. Anyhoots, with Pennywise currently the hot topic all over again, it seems like the ideal time to venture back into time and give the original episodic a dust down. Wallace could already do little wrong in my eyes after gifting us the frightfully good and horrendously rough-handled Halloween III: Season of The Witch in 1982 and, by and large, he did a fairly stand-up job of translating King’s fable to the small screen.

I can’t speak for how faithful it was to the source fiction as I don’t do the lottery because there’s too much reading involved. But I can give it props for telling a tale and shoehorning in sufficient terror to make that shit memorable. Needless to say, Curry deserves the lion’s share of credit for tapping into those childhood traumas like he knew us personally. But there was plenty more to commend aside from his towering turn.

Set in the sleepy town of Derry, Maine, 1960, It centres around the exploits of a seven strong group of outcast kids – Bill (Jonathan Brandis), Ben (Brandon Crane), Eddie (Adam Faraizl), Beverly (Emily Perkins), Richie (Seth Green), Stan (Ben Heller), and Mike (Marlon Taylor) – who call themselves the Losers Club. So far, so Stand By Me right? If only school bullies and stowaway leeches on their ballsacks weren’t the very least of their concerns.

You see, these affable also-rans have unwittingly attracted the attention of a certain circus cast-off named Pennywise (Curry), and while his balloons are simply to die for, the entry fees to his particularly cruel carnival are extortionate. In short, Pennywise has a space in his belly designed to accommodate seven pint-sized under-achievers and The Losers Club just so happen to fit the bill rather snugly.

“Let go. Be afraid. You all taste so much better when you’re afraid”

What is truly unnerving are the sheer wealth of tricks this smiling assassin has stashed away up those lengthy sleeves. You see, Pennywise is aware of every last one of their fears and phobias, and knows precisely what buttons to press in order to scare them shitless. However, the thing that sets this particular collective apart from all the others, is the camaraderie they share and their “each man and woman for each other” mentality serves them decidedly well. That is not to say that Pennywise can’t haunt their every waking nightmare, but united they stand and divided they’d simply float. Apparently they all do. As if puberty wasn’t already enough of a mindfield, they must now beware the sound of incoming tricycles and stay well away from storm drains at all costs.

Fast forward thirty years and The Losers Club is still going strong. Bill (Richard Thomas) is now a successful horror author, Ben (John Ritter) a well-to-do architect, Eddie (Dennis Christopher) a limo company owner, Beverly (Annette O’Toole) a fashion designer, Richie (Harry Anderson) a stand-up comic, Stan (Richard Masur) a real estate hot-shot, and Mike (Tim Reid) … ahem … a librarian. The important thing is that they’re still together, or at least, when Mike summons the old gang back to Derry to come good on their solemn oath. This will mean facing up to their greatest childhood trauma head on as Pennywise is very much aware of their planned reunion and has already started inflating balloons.

It’s interesting to observe the grown-ups, now encumbered with the everyday worries of adult life, attempting to peel back the years and enter into their second youths. However, despite an accomplished ensemble that boasts the likes of Masur, Ritter and O’Toole, the best performances here aside from the plainly obvious actually come from their youthful counterparts. This is largely due to the fact that the first half of It effortlessly dwarves the second with regards to fearsome spectacle and our undivided attention. Who better than King to delve into the darkest recesses of childhood and produce something genuinely unsettling? Given that this is a made-for-cable production, and often shows it, the fact that the opening act of two could easily pass as a standalone movie is all the more incredible. Regrettably, the wheels begin to come off the wagon as we hurtle towards a conclusion that could never hope to live up to its billing and also showcases any budgetary deficiencies.

Now clowns are just scary – period. 75 ft alien arachnids, on the other hand, are just too preposterous to entertain. Let’s not tangle the balloon strings here, I certainly wouldn’t wish to be ensnared in its gossamer. But Tim Curry in clown shoes is still a darn sight scarier. As a result, It is an uneven affair and would need to have been significantly streamlined to stand a chance of being considered a classic. Yet strangely enough it now is and that speaks volumes for Wallace’s dicey endeavors. In a few short months, we’ll finally know whether Muschietti has the respectful vision to do the original justice. One thing’s for double damn sure – should the unthinkable happen and the carnival fall flat, we’ll always have Curry. Never before has a smile been so sinistrous, a pair of eyes so utterly dead, a set of teeth so gnarled, and a storm drain so off-limits. Here’s hoping Muschietti nails it, and the thing about hope, is that it floats.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: There’s deep red paint in every last balloon and enough of it splashed around to remind us we’re not watching The Waltons. Alas, by the tail-end of our adventure, with funds all but dried up, we’re left with some fairly unconvincing creature effects to take away with us and less really would have been more in this instance.

Read Pet Sematary Appraisal
Read Children of The Corn Appraisal
Read Horns Appraisal
Read A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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  1. I was the same age as the kids, that were terrorized by Pennywise, when It first aired on television. I was scared senseless. To this day, clowns give me the creeps and I give storm drains a weary glance and a wide berth. I watched the trailer today and felt some of that old terror creep in as my heart was racing by its finish. The same just happened to me as I read your piece.

  2. I am really odd I guess because I didn’t care for this adaptation. Tim Curry made it worthwhile. My problem was with the casting. I had just finished reading It, prior to the miniseries and really had visions of it being a cinematic feature. Then when I found out it was on television and who was playing the parts, my heart sank. It was as if they just grabbed prime time stars that might garner ratings and threw them together hoping it would stick.
    Curry was the only inspired bit of casting. Maybe that is why I don’t consider It 2017 to be a remake. I consider a fresh new film. Hopefully, it will not dash my hopes. If it is anything like the trailer, we are in for some good scares.
    Terrific review, Rich.

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