It’s even creepier when you realize that Dr. Frank-N-Furter and Nigel Thornberry might’ve just been different incarnations of IT. Today I’m gonna be talking about the 1990 Stephen King adaptation: [IT]. All of my reviews include a breakdown of the pros and cons, my rating, and some tailored film recommendations, so be sure to watch through to the end of this video for all of that extra content. [IT] stars Tim Curry, John Ritter, and Tim Reid and was directed by Tommy Lee Wallace.
It’s an adaptation of Stephen King’s lengthy 1986 novel of the same name and actually aired as a two-part miniseries on ABC. It tells the story of a group of kids who encounter a murderous clown named Pennywise, played unsettlingly by Tim Curry, who’s been terrorizing the children of Derry, Maine for hundreds of years. Our protagonists endeavor to kill Pennywise and we see their journey both as kids and adults. IT was the fourth Stephen King novel I ever read.
I became a fan of his while I was in junior high and plowed through Cujo, Christine, Pet Sematary, IT, The Shining, and Misery in only a few months. Of those first few King novels I read, IT was the most enveloping. Its length was a bit intimidating at first, but the world of IT and Derry were incredibly enthralling. There’s just so much depth to the novel, providing for memorable characterization and many side stories that enhance the history of the fictional town. That depth is perfect for a novel, but makes it near impossible to create an equally enthralling cinematic adaptation. I first saw this miniseries version of IT a year or so after I read the book, so I was already a teenager. To be honest. I wasn’t super impressed at the time, but I found it a decent enough watch. It’s been about fifteen years since I read the novel, so I can’t compare this to the source material very well anymore, but that’s probably for the best. Even with a three hour long adaptation, there’s no way to satisfyingly replicate the story and atmosphere of the immense novel.
That being said, this version of IT settles right in the middle-ground. There are some aspects of the story that it handles remarkably well like the kids and character set-ups and others that are downright terrible like the adults and the finale. I also don’t understand the decision to round the 27 year cycle to 30 years. As everybody is likely already aware, the first chapter of this miniseries is much better than the second. The young Losers Club actually do a very good job, hitting both the right emotional and story notes. It’s typical for child actors to be the poorer aspect of a film, but it’s the adult Losers Club actors that are fairly cringe-worthy here. And don’t even get me started on that damn ponytail. The first chapter is infused with creepiness. much of which is due to Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise. This movie doesn’t have quite the same chilling effect as the novel, but at least it partially succeeds at setting the atmosphere.
The introduction and characterization of all of the kids might be the most successful part of this adaptation and this effectively pulls the audience into the story and invests you in their plight against IT. The nonlinear narrative that cross-cuts between the young Losers Club and their adult versions stays true to the book and is done fairly well, but the adults drag things down quite a bit with terrible acting and cheesiness, especially during the second chapter. Rewatching this film now is interesting to me on a number of levels. I now live and work near Derry… I mean Bangor, Maine. So, there are locations and homages that I pick up on and can relate to their real-life counterparts, which introduces a new element of reality to it all for me. Additionally, after having watched the remake of IT, I feel I have a slightly different perspective on this version now. The remake is certainly superior and I have no real nostalgic tie to this miniseries, but there’s just something about this version that’s endearing.
Maybe it’s the fact that the chronology stays pretty true to the book here (kids in the 60s, adults in the late 80s), but this one just seems more representative of the characters. Oh well – beep beep, Richie. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one is definitely the kids. They don’t provide world-class performances or anything, so maybe they only stand out by comparison to their adult counterparts, but they’re always the most enjoyable part of the movie for me. They’ve got good chemistry together and just feel very believable, not only as kids, but as a ragtag group of friends too. The scene where they’re all building the dam together in the Barrens always jumps out at me cause they just seem like a real group of kids playing in the woods. The second pro is Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise.
He’s equal parts unsettling and menacing. He gives the type of performance where his mere presence on screen is enough to make your hair stand on end. Add that to the voice and the circumstances in which he appears and it’s no surprise that he made an entire generation afraid of clowns. As far as cons go, by far the biggest issue has gotta be the adult performances. They’re honestly really hard to watch. You’d think the child actors would be the roughest part of this movie, but it’s truly difficult to overstate just how unnatural and stilted the adult Loser’s Club is. The chemistry that the kids had together is completely gone here and really the only performance that’s remotely reasonable is Tim Reid as adult Mike Hanlon. Con number two stems from the first con and is really just the whole second chapter (or half) of this miniseries. It exclusively focuses on the Losers Club adults, so that certainly had a hand in its subpar quality. but there’s even something cheesy and off beyond the acting.
I guess I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the made-for-tv quality really shines throughout so the finale isn’t nearly as satisfying or exciting as you’d hope. I’m gonna give IT 3 out of 5 paws. Tim Curry’s creepy, the kids do a pretty good job, and Stephen King’s source material’s great, but without a nostalgic connection to this miniseries, even Pennywise can’t keep it afloat. I would recommend IT to fans of Stephen King or people who have a nostalgic connection to the miniseries. Obviously, if you like Stephen King’s writing, then you probably love the source material for this one too.
It does change a number of things from the book, but manages to capture some elements fairly well too. If you’re somebody who watched this as a kid and was terrified by Pennywise, definitely give it another watch. It probably won’t be as scary as you remember, but the nostalgia will help you out. If you liked IT, I definitely recommend the 2017 remake of [IT], or probably more accurately now: It: Chapter One. It’s the same basic story, of course, but I think nearly every element has been improved. It does solely focus on the young Losers Club though.
If you liked the 80s/90s cheesiness to the horror, make sure you check out the original [Pet Sematary] movie. It was another Stephen King adaptation from the same era and certainly has a similar feel. And, sticking with Stephen King, if you liked the camaraderie among the kids, I suggest you give [Stand By Me] a watch. It’s not horror, but is a really good coming-of-age movie. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen IT? And number two: Are you afraid of clowns? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.