I’ve put off reviewing this for a while, for a few reasons. One, it’s arguably King’s most well known adaptation, and I wasn’t going to play that card so early into the feature, and two, I had every intention of reading the book before seeing this again. Well now that I’m 11 reviews into King’s Corner and I finished all 1,200 pages of the novel, I believe it’s a good time as any to share my thoughts on one of the most ambitious King projects ever by writing one of my most ambitious reviews ever.
First published in 1986, IT is the story of seven friends growing up in the fictional town of Derry, Maine and their encounters with an inter-dimensional life form that exploits the fears and phobias of its victims in order to disguise itself while hunting its prey. For the most part, it appears to the children as a clown named Pennywise (real name ‘Bob Gray’), but it takes other forms that are specific to each of their fears when It gets them alone. After initially injuring It as children, they all, except one, move on with their lives and eventually re-locate to other cities. But when a large number of children are found brutally slain, the friends, now middle aged, must return to their hometown to defeat the evil once and for all. It was adapted for the screen in 1990 as a TV miniseries, split into two parts with a total run time of 195 minutes.
The leader of the pack. He’s riddled with guilt over the death of his younger brother Georgie, who was killed by It after he took a paper boat that Bill had made for him out into the street. After leaving Derry, he became a bestselling horror writer, and was working on a movie with his wife, Audra, when he received the call asking him to return to Derry. He also suffers from a terrible stutter, which got worse after the death of Georgie.
Mike Hanlon (middle age: Tim Reid. Child: Marlon Taylor)
The only member of ‘The Losers Club’ to stay in Derry his entire life. He met the others as a 12 year old after being chased by the notorious school bullies, led by Henry Bowers, into the quarry where the rest of the group were armed with rocks. He is the narrator of the story, so to speak, and is the one who monitored the activity of It over a number of years. Because of his decision to remain in the town, he was not blessed with the financial fortune that the others enjoyed.
Beverly Marsh (middle age: Annette O’Toole. Child: Emily Perkins)
The only girl of the group, she lives in the poorest part of Derry with her abusive father. She is instantly attracted to Bill, but there are hints that all the others have feelings for her. When practicing with a slingshot, she is the only one who seems to have skill, and is entrusted with the task of shooting It when they first go into the sewers. She became a successful fashion designer, but also ended up dating a man that abused her, just like her father did.
Ben Hanscom (middle aged: John Ritter. Child: Brandon Crane)
Obese as a child, Ben Hanscom lost all his weight and become a world renowned architect. Out of all the others, he was the one who seemed to be most infatuated with Beverly, even writing her a haiku but sending it anonymously. His skills come in handy when molding the silver slugs, although that is not explored in the TV movie.
Eddie Kaspbrak (middle age: Dennis Christoper. Child: Adam Farazial)
A severe hypochondriac who has been led to believe he is asthmatic, Eddie is the weakest (at least physically) in the group. He is also the most altered character from the book, as many key events that happen to or with him are either edited or omitted completely in the TV movie. His fortune came from owning a limousine business.
Richie Tozier (middle age: Harry Anderson. Child: Seth Green)
The joker of the pack, Richie constantly jokes, or does ‘Voices’, a talent that he developed in later life to earn him a lot of money. Due to his frequent comedic nature, he comes across as unperturbed by the events, but more often than not it’s merely a front for his fear of the clown.
Stanley Uris (middle age: Richard Masur. Child: Ben Heller)
Without a doubt the most skeptical about Pennywise/It, it’s not until an encounter whilst bird watching that becomes all too real for Stan. As an adult, he becomes a partner in a law firm, but is the most traumatized out of the lot, possibly due to him remembering the most. Upon receiving the phone call, he commits suicide in the bath by slicing his wrists, and scrawls “IT” in blood on the wall.
Pennywise the Dancing Clown (played by Tim Curry)
The most common form of It, as a clown is believed to be an approachable character to children. It often carries balloons, and occasionally makes bad jokes. It’s real form isn’t revealed until the end, and even then It only shows itself in a way that humans can comprehend. It’s a being that has been around for hundreds of years, and awakens every 30 to feed.
Henry Bowers (middle age: Michael Cole… not that one. Child: Jarred Blanchard)
The crazed bully who terrorizes The Losers Club on an almost daily basis. After the first maiming of It, he is found in the sewers where he confesses to all the killings, and is sent to an insane asylum. He is called upon by It in later life to kill the grown up Losers Club.
Part 1 focuses more on the time when the group were 12 years old, and is by far the better of the two halves. Cohen captures a sense of nostalgia that manages to seep into a lot of King’s work involving children, especially Stand By Me, and it’s most apparent when It isnt involved: the quarry rock fight, at the cinema, etc. Part 1 is also successful in exhibiting just how close the friends are, but due to its time constraints it doesn’t quite manage to pack in all the events that made readers believe that the group were brought together by a force larger than coincidence. Part 2 doesn’t even come close in conveying friendship, and the relationships between characters (especially Bill and Bev) might as well be non-existent. The whole core of the story is based upon the power of friendship, and yet they seem to forget about Stan in an instant. Of course though, it’s unfair to base It’s score on whether it’s faithful to the source material, because it’s physically impossible to include everything. But to ignore that it misses out vital points that could have been used in place of other,less successful, plot points that were used would be naive.
First off, the book explains where It came from. I’m not going to spoil it for those who haven’t read the book (and if you intend to, set aside a good 4 months for it. Seriously) but I will say it’s a pretty amazing origin story that could have been used to open the film instead of the tame ‘killing’ we got. Furthermore, the novel gives a great insight into the history of Derry through Mike’s journal, and every one of them makes for a riveting read. Speaking of Mike, we are never really shown his encounter with It, which is a shame because it’s the second greatest of the book. Needless to say, the greatest is also sacrificed for TV and is completely ignored altogether: Eddie’s encounter with a leper. The list goes on for vital events that were missed: the house on Neibolt Street, the Paul Bunyon Statue, and so forth. Also, the character of It is so much more than a clown; as I said, it shape-shifts into the characters deepest, darkest fear, but it just seems to be a clown for the most part. And the character of Henry Bowers comes across as just a slight irritation for the kids, whereas in the book I always thought he was as criminally psychotic; that menacing attitude just didn’t transfer to screen very well. In fact, the more I think of it, the more I dislike how much this adaptation missed out, but like I said, it would be pointless to simply compare. The ending, however, is one of the most disappointing climaxes to ever be committed to celluloid.
It was made for TV so had a tiny budget, I get that, but what in the name of all things arachnid was that thing they faced?! Yes, it takes the form of a spider because it’s the closest representation of Earth, but it looks like the producers set aside 55p for the special effects that makes up the abomination in question and the rest went on white make up for Pennywise. Thoroughly disappointing, especially after we have invested so much time into the film. The whole of Part 2 pales in comparison to its predecessor though, and even at over 90 minutes in length, it feels like it’s rushing to a conclusion: there’s no atmosphere of “this thing haunted our childhood, let’s kill it once and for all”. It’s more like “looks like we’re back again, friends. Let’s make this quick, I’ve got places to be.” As for how the ending plays out, well, it’s certainly more coherent than the novels ending; I still don’t fully understand what the hell went on down in those sewers, or in King’s mind when he was writing it.
Whenever I ask anyone “Have you seen It?” they almost always respond with “is that the one with the creepy clown?” and rightly so; yes, it’s the ‘creepy clown’ film, but that clown and Tim Curry’s portrayal of it is the only real memorable thing about It. I’d even go as far to say as it’s career defining and unforgettable; he does for clowns what Jaws did for sharks. The manical laughter will cause many a-sleepless night, and his snarling fangs will haunt your nightmares on the nights that you do manage to sleep. A genuinely classic horror villain that is cruelly kept on a short leash due to TV content guidelines; it’s a good job his presence alone sends shivers down the spine, because he never actually kills anyone on screen, it’s just implied by a twisting close up of his open mouth that fades to black.
It is an enigma in the Stephen King movie collection. It’s not all that memorable, but at the same time it’s known by so many; I’d bet my house that it’s because of Tim Curry and his terrifying Pennywise performance. There’s nothing scary about it, and tension is never built. The town of Derry is a narratively unexplored goldmine, and I’d love to see a miniseries based on the stories from that town that lead up to the Losers club forming; I found them more interesting to read at times than the actual story of IT. The younger actors outshine their elders, and plot wise it just about manages to cover enough to justify its “based on” tag. Anyway, It isn’t an essential watch, and I’d highly recommend you read the book, even if you’ve already seen the film.
And if anyone can explain to me what The Turtle is, I’d greatly appreciate it. Answers on a postcard.
Have you seen IT? What’s your thoughts on the film? Let us know below.