Stephen King’s It (1990) – 31 Days of Horror: Oct 30

by Jovial Jay

As we near the end of the month, I have a surprise for you! I’ve invited a pair of clowns to visit 31 Days of Horror. First up is the 1990 version of Pennywise. Tomorrow we’ll be visited by the 2017 version!

Stephen King’s It was a television movie/two part mini-series that originally aired on ABC in 1990.

Before Viewing

The premise from the trailer appears that 7 kids, who call themselves the “Loser’s Club” are tormented by a scary (demonic?) clown. It has killed one of their brothers and they vow to hunt it down in the sewers. They also have to deal with this clown later after they have all grown up. It’s probably been 28 years since I saw this movie when it originally aired on ABC. Pennywise the clown looks not much unlike a normal party clown, but the film does things with him on television that were probably more terrifying than if he was in an R-rated movie. Check out the trailer and then meet me inside for the full story of this horrific clown!

Presented below is the Trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

After Viewing

Stephen King’s It presents itself in two parts, blending the storylines of the children in Derry, Maine from 1960 with the present day storyline (1990) of them returning home.

Part 1

In the present, a young girl goes missing in Derry which prompts Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid/Marlon Taylor) to start calling his friends to reunite, believing that It has returned. Each part of the story focuses on one of Mike’s friends in present day, with remembrances of the events from 30 years ago.

The first call is to Bill Denbrough (Richard Thomas/Jonathan Brandis) who is a horror writer in living in England. Mike’s call prompts him to remember his brother Georgie’s death. As a young boy, Bill felt somewhat responsible for his brother’s death.

The next call is to Ben Hanscom (John Ritter/Brandon Crane), who is a successful single architect in New York City. He recalls getting bullied by The Bowers Gang, seeing his dead father near the sewer entrance, which turns out to be Pennywise (Tim Curry) in disguise and the first meeting with his soon-to-be friends.

Mike’s call to Beverly Marsh (Annette O’Toole/Emily Perkins), a Fashion designer with an abusive boyfriend, goes unanswered. When they finally connect she recalls getting a poem from Ben, which she thinks originally it’s from Bill. Her home life is unhappy because her dad abuses her. She also recall her encounter with Pennywise in the form of blood spurting from her  bathroom sink.

Eddie Kaspbrak (Dennis Christopher/Adam Faraizl) runs a limo service and still lives with mom. Mike’s call reminds him of his Mom being overbearing and telling him he doesn’t need friends. His pharmacist tells him he’s not really asthmatic, it’s just a ploy for his mother to control him. And he too recalls meeting Pennywise when he was attacked in the showers one day.

Richie Tozier (Harry Anderson/Seth Green) who is a TV comedian recalls being a  goofball with the group, and spilling soda on Henry Bowers when they were watching I Was A Teenage Werewolf. He later sees a werewolf in school basement while looking for the janitor.

Mike, too, recalls moving into town later, where he shows off pictures of historic Derry to the class. He gets chased by the Bowers gang and meets up with the “Losers club,” who defends him.

Finally Stanley Uris (Richard Masur/ Ben Heller), a non believer, is finally shocked when looking through Mike’s book and Pennywise comes to life. The “Losers Club” all go into sewer to defeat It. The Bowers Gang follows, but It kills all of the gang, except Henry whose hair turns white. The kids manage damage It when it attacks and tries to kill Stan. They all promise to return if It ever comes back.

In the present, Stan’s wife finds him dead in tub, having written IT on the wall in his own blood.

Part 2

Bill shows up in town and catches up with Mike while working on his old bike, Silver. Ritchie gets spooked by Pennywise in the library. Ben visits the river, remembering being chased by Henry Bowers and Bev stops by her old house – which is abandoned and has a brief encounter with Pennywise. Eddie stops at the local druggist, also receiving a warning to leave. The 6 friends have dinner at a local Chinese restaurant, trying to decide what they should do. Pennywise sends them all a message to leave.

At the local library they find out that Stan is dead and get attacked by Pennywise again. An older Henry Bowers escapes from the mental institution, guided by Pennywise to hunt the kids down. He discovers where they’re staying and stabs Mike, but Ben and Eddie intervene and Henry stabs himself. The remaining 5 head down to the sewers to defeat It. Eddie is killed by It, and Ben, Bill, Beverly and Ritchie manage to rip it’s heart out save Bill’s wife Audra, who had come looking for him, and a number of other townsfolk.

The film ends with Ben and Beverly getting married and moving away. Mike finally feels like he can leave town, Richie goes on to star in a movie with someone that looks a lot like Eddie. And Bill saves Audra from a comatose state by taking her for a ride on his old bike.

I’m every nightmare you’ve ever had. I’m your worst dream come true. I’m everything you ever were afraid of.” – Pennywise

Stephen King’s It may be one of the better made TV adaptation of King’s work. It’s still regarded well for Tim Curry’s creepy portrayal of Pennywise, as well as the all around creepiness. This film holds up better than expected and even though the ending is a little rough, I think the themes addressed during the film hold it together.

The best part of this adaptation has to be the performances. Having already mentioned Tim Curry’s role as Pennywise, which continues to elicit fear and revulsion, I’ll give strong kudos to the youth cast. These seven young actors all do phenomenal work in carrying the first part of the adaptation. So much so, that the second part of the film cannot hold up to the precedent set by the kids. That’s no small feat, since the adult actors are all TV and film veterans, that also do a really good job.

Another strong element for this story, that comes through in this version, are the themes of friendship. Getting large casts to play good friends can be challenging, but it seems obvious that the child actors all really enjoy each others company. The characters seem willing to do what they need to do to protect their friends, and the film portrays this loyalty again and again, both with the children and with the characters as adults. There’s also a strong theme for nostalgia, which is used as a story element especially in the first part. Having left Derry, the adults have all forgotten the horrors of their youth, but a phone call from their friend reminding them of their promise, brings those memories flooding back. While some might argue that looking back can be an unhealthy state, King’s story of children returning to their hometown to destroy a monstrous evil portrays nostalgia as a powerful weapon. It’s only through these memories and the re-kindling of their friendship that the adults can have the strength necessary to defeat Pennywise.

The only things that detract from the overall film are the ending and the creature effects. Up until the last half hour, the scares and horror come from small elements: a performance, editing and music. But when the adults have to confront the giant spider that Pennywise turns into, it ruins the momentum and energy that have been built previously.

Having seen the film upon release, in 1990, as a 20-year old, and watching it again this year as a 40-something, definitely changes the way I view the film. I can understand the adults disconnection with their past, and their hesitance to re-open old wounds, and confront this terror. As a made-for-television film, Stephen King’s It is a strong entry in his pantheon of horror adaptations.

Assorted Musings

  • Takes place at a 30 year intervals instead of 27 like in the novel.
  • Emily Perkins would go on to star in the werewolf film Ginger Snaps.
  • Seth Green would go on to play Oz the werewolf in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV series.

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