IT (1990) REVIEW

IT (1990) REVIEW

0 comments 📅08 September 2017, 18:04

The new movie version of It hits screens this weekend. But, much like Pennywise, this is not the first time the story has been unleashed…
Back in 1990, a TV mini-series version of the story was aired. Against all odds, it did a surprisingly great job of squeezing a thousand page book into four hours. The cast included future genre notables like Richard Thomas, the late Jonathan Brandis, Annette O’Toole, Seth Green and Tim Curry in one of his three best roles.

So, 27 years after it was first released, does this version still hold up? Actually? Yeah.

There are problems, of course and they’re exactly what you’d expect. Tommy Lee Wallace’s direction is stilted pretty much all the way through and that means a lot of the scares fall dangerously flat. Worse, Curry’s Pennywise seems to have been continually asked to go the extra mile and then go it again just to be sure. Time and again you see Curry absolutely nail a line, only for another three to be added on the end. It’s the acting equivalent of underlining a word over and over and it pushes Pennywise into dark comedy pretty much straight away. That’s a real shame as Curry’s great and the flashes of alien malice we see here are haunting. Unfortunately they’re usually buried beneath something which plays half like the Clown in Spawn and half like Krusty before his third bottle of the day.

That’s not the only problem. The female characters are either jump scares, terrified mothers, so non-existent they may as well be cardboard cutouts or Bev. Bev, played by Annette O’Toole is GREAT. The only woman in the Loser’s Club, Bev is tough, determined, no one’s victim and plays a vital role in the fight against Pennywise. Of course, this being mid-career King she’s also part of an ill-advised love triangle sub plot and has an off-the-shelf abusive past but the rest just barely makes up for that. Likewise Tim Reid (adult) and Marlon Taylor (child) are great and get almost nothing to do as sole person of colour in the group Mike Hanlon.

But if you can shove all those problems aside there’s some great stuff here. Curry is amazing, as are Richard Thomas and the late Jonathan Brandis as both versions of Bill. Best of all though, an amazingly young Seth Green is fantastic as the motormouth Richie Tozier and shows early signs of the great work that he’d grow into.
Most of all though, this works because it’s weirdly sweet. The Losers remain some of King’s best characters, each defined but not constrained by their weaknesses. Bev’s borderline abusive father. Eddie’s ‘illness’, Bill’s stammer. Each one of them has something to overcome and each one of them makes what they were part of who they become. It’s a little overwrought (and we could have done with way less of Ben’s ‘I’m successful because I’m not fat now!’ sub plot) but when it works it’s absolutely genuine. And even when it doesn’t the love these characters have for one another shines through. Bill and Mike’s friendship in particular, what we get of it, is great. The two stoics, the two who stand on the wall and face down the monsters, united by their weary terror and dedication.
All of this builds to an ending that looks suspiciously like it was shot on a Star Trek: The Next Generation sound stage. And while the adult adventures don’t come close to the joy of their younger selves, the ending still has a surprising punch to it. Better still the epilogue combines King’s love of Americana and myth with a genuine punch the air moment.
Is It cheesy and a little outdated? Absolutely. But it is still an engrossing, often very successful adaptation of the book. Watch it with the lights on, don’t touch any red balloons and you’ll be fine.

Writer: Lawrence D. Cohen and Tommy Lee Wallace
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace

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