From the director who brought you Halloween III (you know, the one without Michael Myers)…
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Studios: Warner Bros. Television
Starring: Tim Curry, Tim Reid, Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Annette O’Toole, Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Jonathan Brandis, Brandon Crane, Emily Perkins, Adam Faraizl, Seth Green, Marlon Taylor, Ben Heller
Tagline: The Master of Horror unleashes everything you were ever afraid of.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA
Genre: TV, horror, thriller, mystery, drama, alien
Scare score: D/D+
Plot overview: A group of misfit children are terrorized by an evil being that appears as to be a cruel, knee-slapping clown (Curry) that can also manifest itself into their biggest fears. After thinking they have destroyed It, each of the children moves on to live a privileged, successful life. But when they are called back 30 years later when It returns, will the ‘Lucky 7’ be strong enough to defeat It once and for all?
Who doesn’t know the image of the clawed clown with razor sharp teeth and bloodshot eyes? Unlike most children, Horror Buff always liked clowns, although Stephen King and the creative team behind this two-part miniseries clearly played on one of the most common fears or dislikes in American society. Yet It is so much more than Pennywise the Dancing Clown, It is everything you were ever afraid of; It is your worst fear… a concept that works much better in writing than in film, I’m afraid to say. Regardless, that doesn’t mean that this slamming ’90s adaptation weakens the entertainment or creepiness behind King’s novel, just that the scare factor itself isn’t really there.
This movie boasts great acting all around, babies and grownups alike. Starring Bastian Bux (Brandis), Hollywood’s sweetheart of the late ’80s, Seth Green already showing off his natural humor, and a pretty fantastic Emily Perkins and Brandon Crane, we are introduced to the plight of the children of Derry. The flashbacks in the movie feel a whole lot like Stand By Me (which you should go watch), which is also based off of a work of King, giving us an idyllic, ’50s-americana undertone that is contrasted by the rapidly increasing creepiness.
Then we have the action taking place in 1990, which is the time period that maybe the majority of the film takes place in. While the second half is less popular with fans and critics, there is still some good acting and an occasional scare; admittedly, the adult half of this film depends much more on emotions and relations than the kid half. Starring in this half we have some smooth jobs by Tim Reid, Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Annette O’Toole, Harry Anderson, and Dennis Christopher.
Something fun that each actor had to work with was his or her distinct character. In both time periods, we have Bill Denbrough (Brandis/ Thomas), a suave yet geeky boy who has lost his brother and subsequently endures a difficult home life (aka Gordie from Stand By Me). Then there’s Ben Hanscom (Crane/ Ritter), a big boy with an even bigger heart dealing with his father’s death in the war. The resident female, Beverly Marsh (Perkins/ O’Toole) is a bright and beautiful young woman with an abusive, alcoholic father. Eddie Kaspbrak (Faraizl/ Christopher) is a momma’s boy and debatably asthmatic hypochondriac, but when the time comes, he finds his courage. One of my favorite characters, Richie Tozier (Green/ Anderson) is a red-head and natural comedian who makes dorky look cool. To draw on racial tensions from the ’50s and ’60s, although I imagine they’re stronger in the book than they are in this miniseries, we have Mike Hanlon (Taylor/ Reid)- the only one of the Lucky 7 that doesn’t get out of Derry in his adult years. Finally, to round out the group, we have devout Jewish boy scout and obsessive empirical cataloger Stanley Uris (Heller/ Richard Masur). This cast of distinct, colorful characters – topped off with Tim Curry as a lasting Pennywise – make for a film that, while not the scariest, has depth and heart.
What’s good about this movie: everything Tim Curry. The scary horror isn’t there, but the creepiness is. The hard contrast between his slapstick humor (and incredible physical acting) and the fact that he is a psychopathic killer is so satisfying. His yellowed teeth, his red and dry eyes with their continuous shifty glances, his voice, and, of course, his strange exclamation that ‘down here, they all float’ make for a memorable and actually scary nemesis. And no, this isn’t Michael Myers or Leatherface scary, it’s a more subtle, creepy terror that stays with you after watching. It’s ability to manifest itself into It’s victims biggest fears also adds color to the movie (werewolves, clowns, mummies, etc). I also like the dual nature of the film, with major action taking place both in 1960 and in 1990. One of my absolutely favorite details in this movie is the balloons filled with blood. I love the scenes where the seemingly unaware people are showered in blood. The fact that Pennywise can appear to terrorize his victims and no one else can see leads for some fantastic scenes: older Richie in the library, young Beverly in her bathroom. It’s fantastic.
What’s bad about this movie: single-handedly, Richard Thomas’ mole and ponytail ruin the movie for me. Horror Buff isn’t afraid of too many things, but men with ponytails is high on that short list. Just can’t handle ’em. That being said, from the time we’re introduced to older Bill, the whole thing is just unsettling. Did Stephen King ever have a ponytail? As we see when showed Bill’s book titles, Bill is certainly a sort of fictional version of King. The fact that it was made as a two-part TV movie also results in a lengthy final product, so if you’re watching it all at once you’ll need 192 minutes to do so. Then, finally, the general feeling of a ’90s made-for-TV-movie does inevitably leak into the feeling of the film – we’re talking mushy background music, excessive fade-outs, the works.
The concept of a timeless, dimension-less, shape-shifting, omniscient foe is great and scary. In writing. That being said, sometimes the true terror of It is difficult to convey on screen. Ultimately, and this is just my opinion (but hey, it’s just my blog), the idea that It is an alien, topped with the whole concept of ‘dead lights’ is just not my favorite resolution. I like that if somebody doesn’t let It scare them that they can then imagine ways to hurt it (“this is battery acid, slime!”) because then they’re playing It’s game. However, in the scene that It reveals it is a devourer of worlds … and of children- yeah, that is just kind of dumb to me. Why children? The final battle scenes in the caves underneath Derry (lol) have bad effects, and the spider/alien monster doesn’t deliver. It is much creepier in his other forms.
Final critique: This is a fun, enjoyable movie. I think the true reason that It has remained so relevant and entertaining – aside from it being an invention of Stephen King who we love and adore – is Tim Curry, 100 percent. His Pennywise character and admirable acting skills make for a ride that is simultaneously funny and creepy. There are a lot of little scares in this movie, but nothing should shake you too much except for Pennywise’s general sadism mixed with a corny sense of humor. Still, I wouldn’t recommend this movie for audiences that scare too easily or that don’t like the general concept of a multitude of terrors materializing in order to eat children.