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John’s Horror Corner: Stephen King’s It (1990), reflecting on the TV-PG original before seeing the R-rated 2017 remake.

September 4, 2017

MY CALL:  More interesting than scary, this is a horror movie for young beginners still very green to the genre. Hard to recommend outside of nostalgia or just for the sake of witnessing Curry’s own Pennywise.  MORE MOVIES LIKE ItFor more movie adaptations based on Stephen King’s books and other work, try Creepshow (1982), Cujo (1983), Needful Things (1993), The Night Flier (1997) or Pet Sematary (1989), to name a few. If it’s evil clowns you desire then there is only one absolute: Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988). If you simply enjoyed the band of young misfits facing evil, try the Netflix Original series Stranger Things. And, for those who like creepy hauntings of our inner demons, try the very dark Flatliners (1990; which also has a 2017 remake).

In 1960, a group of pre-teen friends face an evil demon posing as a clown only to reunite 30 years later when It returns to their hometown. Mixing flashbacks with present day, these kids lose loved ones, are haunted by those they’ve lost, and are taunted by an evil that senses their worst fears.

The cast includes Jonathan Brandis (The NeverEnding Story II, Stepfather II), John Ritter (Bride of Chucky, Stay Tuned), Seth Green (Idle Hands, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Annette O’Toole (Smallville, Cat People). They all do about as well as they can with the scripts they were given, and deliver some dry lines with much passion.  At times it’s a bit exhausting, other times redeeming.

Pennywise the clown (Tim Curry; Legend, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Congo) is the strongest suit of the film. With his raspy villainous voice, Curry brings a Billy Goats Gruff menace with his emphatic eyes warning of foul machinations. Most alarming is that we understand how young Georgie was fooled by his façade however clearly evil It may have been to adult eyes.

The blood splatters, creature effects and supernatural horrors aren’t really scary.  Outside of Pennywise (i.e., Curry’s performance), the horror elements are very weak although numerous. I find them more like Are You Afraid of the Dark (1990-2000); a young adult-esque creep factor.  But what the film lacks in horror, it compensates with youthful drama in such a manner that I would consider this a good horror movie for beginners—younger beginners.  Of course, this was made for TV. But that is no excuse for the often hokey and not infrequently soap operatic dialogue guiding us through heavy-handed exposition and naïve melodrama.  Although, I’ve got to give credit where it’s due.  The “surprise kiss” scene was really eerie, the “Georgie-Pennywise sewer drain” scene remains iconic, and I enjoyed the historical snippets that piece together Pennywise’s local history.

You’ll find mild influences from Stand By Me (1986) and some film stylings from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise (1984-1988).  There’s even a bit of a Goonies-like comradery among our protagonists as they encounter one bizarre event after another.

The randomness of the special effects-driven scenes feels a bit haphazard (e.g., the fortune cookie scene, the battle in the sewer, the balloons in the bookstore, the Pennywise dog attack), and then crescendos in a lackluster finale when—BIG SPOILER HERE—our protagonists fight a giant spider monster (combination of stop-motion and animatronics)—END BIG SPOILER.  Our heroes put faith in slingshots and magical inhalers and, well, I found it all silly…maybe even just plain dumb.  Meh.

Director Tommy Lee Wallace (Fright Night Part II, Halloween III: Season of the Witch) delivered It in a three-hour two-part TV mini-series whose elements span all manner of quality.  I felt the first 80-90 minutes (part 1 if you have the old VHS set) was far superior to the second half, but not without its aforementioned faults.

There are basically two reasons to watch the original It: 1) you want to compare the remake’s Pennywise to Tim Curry’s original; or 2) pure nostalgia. I fear its “TV-ness” and young adult style (which is quite immature by today’s YA standards) is just too pervasively flawed to recommend to horror fans who didn’t grow up with it.  But still, this isn’t a bad adaptation overall.  It just caters to a younger, less horrorsperienced crowd.  Almost like a horror movie for “family movie night.”

 

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2017 8:28 pm

    To be fair, the ending of the book isn’t that great either. It’s a tough line to walk trying to deliver on expectations without becoming silly with this one. Unfortunately, it sounds like they crossed that line a few times.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      September 4, 2017 8:58 pm

      Well, being a 1990 TV mini-series, budget was obviously a major limitation…but it seemed much more the execution that sucked than the budget with that finale. King doesn’t get the best movie adaptations–they’re hit or miss. They can’t all be Pet Sematary or Cujo. lol

Trackbacks

  1. John’s Horror Corner: Stephen King’s It (2017), a worthy re-adaptation and R-rated remake of 1990’s TV-PG Pennywise. | Movies, Films & Flix
  2. John’s Horror Corner INDEX: a list of all my horror reviews by movie release date | Movies, Films & Flix

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