It (1990)

I had mixed feelings when I heard this was coming out.  It is one of my favorite Stephen King novels, and it has a lot in it.  There are giant pterodactyl-like birds, bloody killings, many scenes that are difficult to reproduce on film and, of course, some controversial parts involving underage sexual activity.  I never expect the latter to be in any adaptation, but it wasn't something that changed the story in any way when left out.  In 1990 an adaptation of the novel for theatrical release would have been a massive expense, so my main concern was that it was being adapted into a television mini-series.

Even though it was on television that didn't mean it would be terrible.  Salem's Lot was a worthwhile adaptation, and within the span of 11 years much had changed in what could be shown on television.  Then there was the fact that Tim Curry was to play Pennywise, one of the most well-known horror villains, and he was almost certain to get it right.  This was most important because the portrayal of Pennywise, done wrong, could turn the whole thing into bad comedy and undercut the rest of the film.  Thankfully, Curry nailed it and, like Salem's Lot, an actual feature film director, Tommy Lee Wallace, was brought in.  It turned out to be a solid telling of the story, albeit within the confines of television budgets and censorship of the time. 

In 1990 in the town of Derry, Maine a number of child killings similar to ones that happened 30 years prior are rocking the town.  Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid), the town librarian, realizes that an evil force he and his friends had fought in 1960 has returned.  He is the only one who remembers as he remained in Derry to keep watch, but the others begin to recall the events as he contacts them.  This includes writer Bill Denbrough (Richard Thomas), comedian Richard Tozier (Harry Anderson), architect Ben Hanscom (John Ritter), limo fleet owner Eddie Kasparak (Dennis Christopher), fashion designer Beverly Marsh (Annette O'Toole) and businessman Stanley Uras (Richard Masur).  Reluctantly, all but Stanley agree to return to Derry, with Uras choosing a different path. 

In 1960 Bill's (Jonathan Brandis) brother Georgie (Tony Dakota) is murdered, one of a number of children found mutilated or gone missing.  Bill hangs out with Eddie (Adam Faraizi) and soon meets Ben Hanscom (Brandon Crane) after the latter has a run-in with local bully Henry Bowers (Jarred Blancard) and his gang.  Soon their problems with Bowers, as well as their visions of Pennywise, bring Richie (Seth Green), Stanley (Ben Heller) and Beverly (Emily Perkins) into their group, with Mike (Marlon Taylor) coming on board after the rest rescue him from Bowers.  Working together they discover where Pennywise lives and they go to defeat him, with a temporary victory.  Now older and full of doubts they must once again repeat their journey in hopes of putting an end to Derry's curse for good. 

I had not seen this version of It since it aired, so I didn't know what to expect.  After 34 years one might as well be watching for the first time.  What I did like was the way the different characters were introduced in the beginning, piecing together what happened in 1960.  This, like the recent adaptation, means the first half of the film is much more interesting.  We are introduced to Pennywise and what he can do, we get some in-depth information on our characters and we get to know them quite well.  Wallace didn't read the novel before working with Lawrence D. Cohen on the script, and admits that he fell short of the book, but what remains consistent in every version so far is that the kids remain the more interesting part of the story.  There is that sense of isolation from adults and having to face people like Bowers that is universal.

Naturally, the portion with the adults seems more like a necessity to wrap things up than anything as immediate as the first.  I think all the child casting is spot-on, but I find Harry Anderson, despite being a comedian, not fitting in the role of adult Richie.  I also find the end, with Bill and his wife Audra (Olivia Hussey), out of place with the rest of what happened.  I know for budgetary reasons the destruction of Derry as the adults confront Pennywise in its true form could not happen, but it seems like Wallace had a hard time coming up with a satisfying ending to make up for it.

For a television version this has decent makeup and special effects.  I have heard complaints about the reveal of the true physical form of the creature, but it is a decent stop-motion model.  There are some issues with it blending in with the set, but the creature doesn't look like the low-rent puppet I was afraid it would be.  There are some other good stop-motion scenes throughout, and Wallace pushes things as far as he can within the confines of network TV. 

I would have to say I enjoyed this version of It over the two-part movie version, in part because the second half of this version, despite Wallace's disappointment, was handled better than It Chapter Two, which seemed more concerned with showing off CGI effects than telling the story.  I doubt a true version of the story will ever make it to the screen, despite the more controversial parts being easily left out, because there is just so much spread over the novel itself.  This omits a lot, and there are a number of problems due to the constraints put on it, but it is the closest in spirit to the novel. 

It (1990)
Time: 187 minutes
Starring: Richard Thomas, Tim Reid, Annette O'Toole, Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, John Ritter, Jonathan Brandis, Brandon Crane, Adam Faraizi, Seth Green, Ben Heller, Emily Perkins, Marlon Taylor, Jarred Blancard, Tim Curry
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace



  1. I haven't watched that since it came out though I liked it back then. I haven't read the novel or watched the newer movies either so I guess I wouldn't have much to compare it to.


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