Stephen King’s IT from 1990 is an amazing example of how nostalgia impacts our perceptions of things. So many people talk about how they are scared of clowns, and that Tim Curry’s portrayal of the demon clown Pennywise is the reason why. This is the movie that did for clowns what Jaws did for water. One problem is that it really isn’t a movie, in a true sense. Though many people seem to have forgotten, IT was a two part mini-series that aired on ABC for two consecutive Sundays in 1990. It lasted a total of 4 hours (with commercials) and ultimately is not what people likely remember. This “film” is the horror equivalent of a kids bop song. Nostalgia makes this one feel like more than what it ever was or will be. IT (2017) will put this in it’s proper place. Forgotten.
The cast first and foremost is one of the biggest problems with this “movie.” The flaw with 90s TV, especially their TV movies, is the fact that they use TV actors for them. While it does have a few standouts, John Ritter and Annette O’Toole (these may be tainted by my own personal soft spot for these actors, which helps prove the point that nostalgic memories make for a slippery slope), most everyone else is in full on TV acting mode. Yes, this does include the forever loved Tim Curry. He is more menacing as the hotel worker in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York than he is in this movie. Curry has half his normal charisma and is only “scary” because of some of the visuals in his scenes. Nothing he does with his face, voice, or movements are actually scary. This could be because it watered down the source material more than an HBO show in syndication on a cable channel. Maybe if his hands weren’t tied behind his back the entire time, Curry would have actually elevated his part. He was never able to go any further than calling someone fat or declaring he was going to get them. Everyone else is a bland mix of who’s who 90s tv and small film actors. Seth Green is among them and it isn’t a slight against him so much as it is the 90s, so his later success makes sense. However, in this movie he was a non factor. It is also worth mentioning that the character of Bill (played by Richard Thomas) should have been bald as an adult based on the source material, so of course he has the worst hair that has ever been committed to film with his ridiculously long, horrid and cringeworthy pulled-back ponytail.
The story does a good job of carrying itself beyond its network TV limitations. It has already been established that they had to hold back on a lot of the elements of the story, but with what they could work with, they did an admirable job. The gore, language, and sexual themes were mostly taken out and replaced with just weird and barely disturbing imagery. Since this is done across the board it actually helps the whole thing feel more cohesive. While it does certainly push the limits of blood on network TV in 1990, it never quite feels like enough to shock you to the degree it was going for. (It is hard to remember if that would have been shocking for the time period or not, but it is easy to say it definitely does not hold up well for the movie.) One thing that is truly jarring is the weird bike riding montage between Bill and Mike. Maybe it was trying to restore the feeling of childhood that these adults had lost due to their horrific ordeals, but it actually comes across as adults acting like children while never actually being children themselves. Aliens, pretending to be adults, pretending to be children.
The effects, whether they were good for the time or not, feel almost comical now. While some of the practical effects still hold up to a slight degree, everything else is hokey. Whether it is the light effect of Pennywise getting hit with the piece of silver or the “spider” final form, you’re more likely to laugh than be scared. Once again, the budget constraints of this being made for TV hurt it even more.
Stephen King’s 90s version of IT could not rise above it’s TV production values and sensibilities. While TV now has improved leaps and bounds above this, this “movie” is riddled with ridiculousness that ultimately, even with its heart being in the right place, couldn’t be over come. The Mandela Effect is in full force on this one. It’s hard to see anyone actually being terrified by this movie in any way, shape, or form, especially considering it isn’t really a movie. The constant fades to black that accompany the advertising really ruin any sort of pacing it tried to get going. This would have been made worse a thousand times over if there were actually commercials. Nostalgia is that terrible friend that always makes you think things were better “back in the day” when they rarely ever actually are, and this proves it.
12 kids awkwardly folding in half to fit in a pipe out of 25. (48%)