STEPHEN KING WEEK: Stephen King’s It (1990)

Tommy Lee Wallace has made many lasting contributions to genre filmmaking, first on John Carpenter’s Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13 before appearing as The Shape/Michael Myers in the original Halloween, writing Amityville 2: The Possession, co-writing and directing the original Fright Night Part II and acting and being part of the effects team for The Fog. But this film cements his legacy, with a great build and plenty of scares within the limitations of television.

Originally airing from November 18 to 20, 1990, screenwriter Lawrence Cohen turned 1,138 pages of King into a two-part, three-hour TV movie. Wallace — and others — have commented that the first night is near perfect story-wise, but it falls apart on night two.

The story concerns The Lucky Seven, or The Losers Club, a group of outcasts who learn that the shapeshifting creature named  Pennywise has taking and killing children in their hometown of Derry, Maine. They first battle him in 1960 as teenagers before coming back to battle him again in 1990.

This might sound like a broken record when it comes to King movies, George Romero had originally been signed on to direct the project when ABC had planned for an eight-to-ten-hour series that would play over four nights. He left the project due to scheduling conflicts, but he would finally direct a King adaptation, The Dark Half. This is considered one of the most faithful treatments of the author’s work.

That said, we’re here to talk about It, which begins with Georgie Denbrough playing with the paper sailboat that his brother Bill (Becca fave Jonathan Brandis) has made for him. As it sails down the sewer, he encounters Pennywise (Tim Curry, whose work in this movie led to thousands of nightmares of 90’s kids), who gnaws his arm off and leaves him to die.

The Losers Club comes together when Bill and Eddie Kaspbrak welcome the new kid, overweight Ben Hanscom. They’re soon joined by Beverly Marsh (Emily Perkins from the Ginger Snaps series of films), Richie Tozier (Seth Green), Stan Uris and Mike Hanlon. They all have two things in common: they’re bullied by Henry Bowers’ gang and they’re all encountered the evil of Pennywise. They soon learn that every thirty years, the shapeshifter comes back to town to claim the lives of children.

When Stan is ambushed by the gang, Pennywise (or It) emerges and kills two of the gang members. Henry is left traumatized and left with white hair. He eventually confesses to all of the murders, although he didn’t commit them. Stanley and the rest of the Losers learn how to use their imagination to stop the creature and drive it into the sewers before making a vow to come back to Derry if it ever comes back.

Thirty years later, Mike (Tim Reid from TV’s WKRP in Cincinnati) is the only member of the Losers Club to stay in Derry. When It returns and begins killing again, he brings everyone back together. Bill (Richard Thomas, Battle Beyond the Stars) is now a famous horror writer married to Audra, a gorgeous British actress (Olivia Hussey, Black Christmas). Ben (John Ritter) is an architect. Beverly (Annette O’Toole) has grown up to be a fashion designer but has transitioned from being abused by her father to being beaten by her husband. Richie (the late, great Harry Anderson) is a comedian. Eddie (Dennis Christopher, Fade to Black) runs a limo service. And Stan is a real estate broker who decides to kill himself rather than come back home to face It.

Meanwhile, Henry has escaped from the mental institution with the help of It. His goal? Kill the rest of the Losers. The shapeshifting monster also draws Bill’s wife to town.

Mike is hospitalized after being stabbed by Henry and the five remaining Losers head to the sewer for a final battle. That’s when the movie falls apart, as the monster can never live up to King’s words. If you ask nearly anyone, they always bring this up. That’s because it’s true.

All of the Losers but Eddie make it out, with Beverly and Ben reconnecting and Bill saving his wife. But at this point, most people have been scorned by the spider that Pennywise becomes.

That’s because it’s hard to beat just how scary Tim Curry is in this movie. Supposedly, he unnerved the cast so much that many avoided him during the production.

The movie eliminates some of the problematic parts of the book for me, such as Beverly taking the virginity of all the male characters in the sewer, but retains Audra becoming a victim who needs to be rescued. Tommy Lee Wallace has noted that he doesn’t think that it works dramatically in the movie or novel.

Of course, It was remade in 2017, with a second part coming soon. But the first night of this miniseries more than holds up. Understandably, the budget issues and unfilmable nature of the second night’s big reveal hurt this film, but that doesn’t mean that it’s bad. I’m a big fan of Wallace as a director and feel that he brought a ton of talent to this adaption.

After years of being hard to find, you can now get the blu-ray of this miniseries in Wal-Mart discount bins for a great price. Or you can turn to Shudder, which has added this movie as part of the King of Horror May promotion.

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