Cast: Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, Annette O’Toole, Tim Reid, John Ritter, Richard Thomas, Jonathan Brandis, Brandon Crane, Adam Faraizl, Seth Green, Ben Heller, Emily Perkins, Marlon Taylor, Jarred Blancard, Tim Curry
As suspicious murders restart in Derry, after twenty seven years, seven friends must make good on a childhood oath to confront a demon from their past to prevent IT from continuing its cycle of death.
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The first time I saw this television miniseries was at the age of ten and nothing has ever scared me more. I remember after watching the first part (I was too scared to watch part two) I was terrified to be alone because IT could be anywhere, as anything. I had to quickly jump into bed at night in case IT was underneath and tried to reach out to grab me and pull me under. Naturally, I’ve grown up a little since then and have managed to sit through part two but that series still gives me the jitters and has also given me a lifelong aversion to clowns thanks to Pennywise.
From bestselling author Stephen King we are presented with a thing that feeds off of your worst fears and nightmares. A monster that is one minute a werewolf, then a mummy, a skeleton and a unbelievably creepy clown. Whatever manifestation IT takes, don’t go running to your parents or the authorities because they’re all oblivious to what’s happening in Derry leaving IT to pick off his prey, children, feeding mightily before going into hibernation for another twenty seven years.
Set in King’s hometown of Maine, Bangor, as is most of his work, the film focuses on seven school friends who band together as a group of outcasts targeted by bully and psychopath Henry Bowers (Jarred Blancard). Time passes and they grow older, one by one leaving Derry, except for Mike (Tim Reid). After a child is brutally murdered and Pennywise gives Mike a calling card he realises IT is back, a horror from their past they thought they’d destroyed. Mike rings his old friends for the first time since they all left as, when they were kids, they’d promised to return if IT was ever to come back and kill IT. One by one he calls his former friends, who have made successful lives for themselves and have blanked their horrific childhoods from memory. On hearing Mike’s voice the fears and memories begin to surface. Each one recalling individual encounters with Pennywise and how their fear forged a bond and friendship that gave them the courage to fight back. They all instantly drop their lives in order to hurry back to Derry, bound by a promise. However, not all of them can cope with returning to Derry and the first part ends sombrely as their circle of friendship is broken. The second part sees their return to Derry as adults where Pennywise and Henry are waiting for them.
For those who have read the book, an achievement in itself, it’s a long read, will be fairly satisfied with its conversion to screen. Of course, even in its one hundred and eighty seven minute running time it is difficult to condense an entire novel of one thousand, one hundred and sixteen pages. Some of the separate, isolated killings are cut, as thorough and detailed, if somewhat overlong, King’s picture painting is. However, these sections are indeed isolated and as such do not quell the flow of the story. Another section only briefly mentioned is Mike’s investigation into the history of Derry, which chronicles IT’s prolonged existence. For me, these entries in the novel add great depth to the story and are genuinely interesting but for the sheer enormity of the task of presenting the different periods in Derry’s history on an early 1990s TV budget it is understandable why they were left out. Furthermore, the finale of the novel is quite fantastically, if a little bewilderingly, surreal, a climax only possible in literature. The screen version is a lot more simplistic as even with the budget of a blockbuster Hollywood movie it would be hard-pushed to do it justice. Overall, the book is well addressed on screen especially in part one in which we are introduced to the characters and their elapsed memories.
Where the screen version excels is in Tim Curry’s excellent performance as Pennywise the dancing clown. To begin with he looks simply terrifying with his white, wrinkly painted face, bloodshot eyes, blood-red hair and nose and razor sharp teeth. He wears an oversized, yellow all-in-one suit with big orange pom-poms and a white tunic. His voice is gruff and fierce as he playfully terrorises the children, appearing from the sewers, in the gutters and up plugholes, telling them that like his balloons, when they’re with him they’ll “float”. So terrifying was Curry’s performance the actors and crew were scared to go near him on set. His scenes are accompanied by devilishly eerie carnival music with the crashing of circus drums and the pumping organ sounds that slowly descends into discordance.
As a made for TV miniseries Stephen King’s IT takes courageous steps in pushing forward television horror. The film is full of genuinely frightening moments mixed with some gruesome set pieces. For example, when Georgie (Tony Dakota) meets Pennywise in the drain or when Ben (Brandon Crane) hears his deceased father call to him only to find him stood on the surface of the water, when pom-poms emerge on his army uniform, his voice alter and behold, Pennywise stands holding a handful of balloons. Or when photo winks at Bill (Jonathan Brandis) and blood spills the photo album. Stephen King’s IT was awarded the title of scariest television programme in a panel by UK magazines The Radio Times in 2004 ahead of the notoriously unsettling Twin Peaks and part one of the miniseries was voted the third scariest episode in TV history by tv.com. Personally, I watch this film with a certain level of nostalgia, thinking back to the moments that really terrified me as a child, and there were plenty of them. If you can forgive the poor ending and a few weak moments you’ll really enjoy “floating” with Pennywise the dancing clown.