A new adaptation of Stephen King’s notorious It will hit theatres roughly a year from now, early September 2017. The novel features a brilliant horror premise with flawed development, but no one can deny It‘s1 success and influence.

This weekend’s review flashes back to 1990, when the first adaptation hit the small screen.

Title: It

Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace
Written by Tommy Lee Wallace and Lawrence D. Cohen, from the novel by Stephen King.

Cast

Tim Curry as Pennywise
Richard Thomas as Bill Denbrough
Jonathan Brandis as Bill Denbrough (age 12)
Harry Anderson as Richie Tozier
Seth Green as Richie Tozier (age 12)
John Ritter as Ben Hanscom
Brandon Crane Ben Hanscom (age 12)
Dennis Christopher as Eddie Kaspbrak
Adam Faraizl as Eddie Kaspbrak (age 12)
Annette O’Toole as Beverly Marsh
Emily Perkins as Beverly Marsh (age 12)
Tim Reid as Mike Hanlon
Marlon Taylor as Mike Hanlon (age 12)
Richard Masur as Stanley Uris
Ben Heller as Stanley Uris (age 12)
Michael Cole as Henry Bowers
Jarred Blancard as Henry Bowers (age 14)
Tony Dakota as Georgie Denbrough
Olivia Hussey as Audra Denbrough
Chelan Simmons as Laurie Anne Winterbarger
Gabe Khouth as Victor Criss
Sheila Moore as Mrs. Kaspbrak
Florence Paterson as Mrs. Kersh
Chris Eastman as Belch
Michael Ryan as Tom Rogan
Charles Siegel as Nat
Frank C. Turner as Al Marsh

Available from Amazon and Amazon Instant Video.

Premise:

In 1960, a group of children put a premature stop to an otherworldly creature that stalks their small town, devouring children at thirty-year intervals. Thirty years later, the creature returns, and the now middle-aged monster hunters gather once more to see if they can stop It permanently.

They’ve forgotten, for years, what happened, and their town refuses to acknowledge the monster in their midst. It, like nostalgia, has the ability to make us overlook the things about our individual childhoods and our culture’s past that give the lie to our notions of the Good Old Days.

High Point:

Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown / It set a standard that the talented Bill Skarsgård will be hard-pressed to meet in the forthcoming version. Curry almost passes as an ordinary clown, before veering into full-fanged demonic. I am convinced that people who remember this film as classic horror base the memory principally on Curry’s clown.

Low Point:

It runs more than 1000 pages and, while King seriously needed a judicious editor at that point in his career, It contains much that works– and could not be carried into the adaptation. It’s not just that the supernatural frights and small-town scandal have been stifled for period television. Two larger issues present problems:

King’s central casting tends towards stereotype. He relies on his considerable gifts as a writer to make the characters real in ways that don’t translate into this screenplay. The TV versions feel too much like stock.

King has received praise for his ability to make places into characters, and few of his novels succeed in this area like It. Derry has a plausible geography and a developed, creepy history, and these things contribute significantly to the effect of the novel. These element are almost entirely absent from the mini-series, resulting in a fairly conventional and frequently cheesy horror-story.2

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6

Effects: 4/6 The quality of the effects varies quite a bit. The horror make-up is genuinely creepy. The skeletal figure works, especially for an era in television that never imagined The Walking Dead would one day be appearing regularly on the small screen. The stop-motion, however, looks cheesy. In the fortune cookie scene, the main cast appears to be under attack by a mail-order novelty company.

Acting: 5/6 I’ve already discussed Curry’s standout performance, which elevates an uneven, though certainly, interesting cast. TV miniseries of the time tended to include well-known TV actors. This one features such small-screen luminaries as John Ritter, Harry Anderson, and Richard Thomas, all of whom had hit shows in the 70s and 80s. Ritter does the best at making us forget his roots, and developing his character into someone entirely unlike Jack Tripper. Richard Thomas, alas, cannot live down the ghost of John-boy Walton. In Battle Beyond the Stars, it felt like John-boy had gone into space. Here, Mr. Walton has become a horror writer with a tortured past.

The kids put in credible performances; Brandon Crane is the strongest, though Emily Perkins, whose future credits would include a central character in the Ginger Snaps films, a handful of Supernatural episodes, and the demented receptionist in Juno, does very well as young Beverly. Future star Seth Green plays little Richie Tozier.

Production: 5/6 Production is fine, so I’ll put in a trivial note. The film takes place in small-town Maine, but was mainly filmed in British Columbia. In the scene where the adult Beverly leaves her dilapidated childhood home, a Canada Post box can be seen in the background.

Story: 4/6

Emotional Response: 4/6 Curry aside, the film just isn’t that scary. YMMV.

Overall: 4/6

In total, It receives 28/42

1. Shout out to Grammar Nazis: In this one instance, the correct form for the possessive is It’s.

2. Of course, the miniseries also cuts many aspects of the source that probably should have been left out of the book. There was no way, for example, the bizarre and oft-discussed underage sex scene would appear in any form in the 1990 adaptation and, while many people have proffered artistic and thematic reasons for why that scene appears in the novel, many more have shaken their heads, and cited King’s 1980s substance abuse issues as a possible explanation.