The Scoop: 1990 TV, drected by Tommy Lee Wallace and starring Tim Curry, John Ritter, and Harry Anderson.
Tagline: The Master of Horror unleashes everything you were ever afraid of.
Summary Capsule: A shapeshifting monster preys on the inhabitants of Derry in the past and the future.
Justin’s Rating: M-O-O-N, that spells “clown”
Justin’s Review: It was the first, and still the most horrifying, novel I ever read by Stephen King. As a teenager, just the thought of a malevolent silent clown holding a group of still balloons in the background was enough to send my imagination into a gibbering frenzy. But what really grabbed me about this book wasn’t necessarily its horror elements, but its human characters instead. Following a group of seven outcasts — in the past as kids and in the present as adults — they band together to fight mundane terrors like bullies and abusive parents as well as supernatural threats such as Pennywise the Clown. I grew to deeply love each and every one of them, rooting for them as they stood up to an evil that would shake the souls of most adults, and that sort of involvement with the protagonists is what made the threat of It real.
Whether the thought of an evil clown creeps you out or just has you tittering in high society bemusement — oh, how charming, will he honk his nose at you to death? — if you’re really honest, you have to acknowledge that Stephen King brought to the forefront a fact that we all harbor. Clowns, no matter how friendly the people underneath the makeup, are suspicious-looking and reek of hiding a dark secret. Even Ronald McDonald… my mind doesn’t have to go far to picture him as a sinister overlord in a torture factory where he imprisons captive people to use in his meatgrinders to make those addicting “chicken” nuggets.
Getting past the book, the short (3+ hour) miniseries of It is a let-down to everyone, whether you read the story or not. It’s not that this wasn’t a good novel to translate to the miniseries format — it actually is an excellent candidate, unlike many of King’s other adaptations — but the director ham-handedly showboats the horror elements in such a cheesy fashion that what could easily be frightening is turned into “Dude, I want a Tim Curry of my own for my next birthday party!”
While the story of It isn’t too complicated, the details could quickly suck me in trying to cover it all. Using the patented MRFH Plot-Squisher, I can cram it up into this: seven kids in the 60’s face an evil threat that lives underneath the town of Derry, Maine, a presence that surfaces only every few decades and preys solely on children while adults are largely blind to it. The book and the miniseries also jump forward to the future, where this group of friends re-assembles as It returns once again to Derry, and the final battle between the dark evil in the sewer and the power of friendship commences. While the main form that It takes is the skin-crawling Pennywise the Clown, It also appears as whatever fear each one of the kid is scared of the most — mummy, werewolf, network execs, what have you. And all it wants to do is to pull them down into the wet tunnels, where “we all float down here.” Hooray for children’s programming!
The miniseries does appear to have some money behind it and a couple of B-list big names: Curry (as Pennywise), Night Court‘s Harry Anderson, Annette O’Toole, John Ritter, a very young Seth Green (Austin Powers) and a young Emily Perkins (Ginger Snaps). It’s very much Tim Curry’s show, though; he chews through Pennywise’s deliciously wicked dialogue with relish and manages to actually nail the jovial evil that the clown should have.
But, really, it’s all in vain. It’s one of those cases where frustration on behalf of the viewer is inevitable, because we’re expecting it to be far creepier than it manages to be, and even us armchair directors can identify how scenes and acting cues are mismanaged to the point where the horror is taken away on a gurney and a sort of pathetic pity is ushered into the room.
Aside from brief moments here and there, none of the acting is very good, and it even stinks of amateur stage acting at points. Characters overact their horror with grotesquely funny faces, and the “scare scream” (where a woman crunches up her face and then shrieks in typical 1930’s cinema fashion) is in vogue. I’d have to say that the kid actors probably top their adult versions, though that’s probably because we don’t expect as much from them in comparison.
Most of the blame goes to the director, who just doesn’t seem to get why the novel was so scary and why throwing wads of cash on second-rate special effects doesn’t compare to small, subtle moments of uneasy fright. He’s not totally off-base; It does start to approach genuine moments of tension — such as when a kid’s dead father appears standing on swamp water and asking his son to join him in the sewer — but every time the miniseries gets close to achieving real horror, the cheesiness begins. The director over-relies on time-tested failed tactics such as doing a zoom into a scary/scared face and blurring the screen, ponderous voice-over narration, and flinching when the scene calls for true gore. By the time the kids are confronting It in the sewer — which looks like a cheap water set with a fog machine and one large pipe — we’re not in a position to be fearful because the place is so lit up that this sewer must double as a rave location on the weekends. Quite sad.
As a mini-series, The Stand was much better (not perfect, but much, much better). As a tale dealing with young kids in the past, Stand By Me is more of a touching and fun tale than what we get here. And as for scares… shoot, I’d like to introduce Pennywise to Pinhead from Hellraiser and see who’d walk out of the room after that. We need more of those horror match-up films, methinks. Chucky vs. The Puppet Master! C.H.U.D. vs. The Ghoulies! Michael Myers vs. Mike Myers! My mind is a scary place.
- Seth Green? Really?
- The horrible up-close and blurry camera shots
- The cheesy phone call reactions
- Bill is the author of a horror novel titled “The Glowing”. This may refer to Stephen King’s “The Shining”.
- The night guard in the asylum is called Koontz, named after Stephen King’s rival author Dean Koontz.
- The movie the children are watching when they drop drinks and popcorn on the bullies is “I was a Teenage Werewolf”.
- Young Bill has a dimple in his chin that old Bill doesn’t have.
- On the DVD commentary track, the actors note that Tim Curry’s characterization of Pennywise was so creepy and realistic that everyone avoided him during the filming.
- Jonathan Brandis was on SeaQuest, where Seth Green made a few guest appearances. Seth Green’s nickname was ‘Wolfman.’
- In the miniseries The Stand, a man in the CDC center grabs Stu’s legs and says Pennywise’s words about eating chicken in the dark and floating down there.
Bill: Kill It, Bev!
It: Kill! [laughs] Me? I am immortal, child. I am the eater of worlds, and of children. And you are next.
It: I’m every nightmare you’ve ever had. I’m your worst dream come true. I’m everything you ever were afraid of.
Richie: What are you saying, Eddie? You’re still a virgin?
Richie: Well I can’t help you there, pal.
Ben Hanscom: [reading a piece of paper] “He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.” That’s all it says, over and over.
Bill Denbrough: [stuttering heavily] My m-m-m-other g-gave that to me to h-h-help with my st-st-st-stutter.
Richie Tozier: Well, no offense man… but it ain’t helpin.
Pennywise: BEEP BEEP Richie! They ALL float down here. When your down here with us, you’ll float too!
Young Bill: Swear to me. Swear to me that if it isn’t dead, we’ll all come back.
Young Bev: I swear.
Young Ben: Swear.
Young Mike: I swear it.
Young Richie: I swear.
Young Eddie: I swear, too.
Young Stan: Swear.
If You Liked This Movie, Try These:
- The Stand
- The Shining
- Stand By Me