“Do they float?”
What’s there to do after you’ve just read one of your favourite books of all time? Well, watch the movie adaptation, of course! And then be terribly disappointed 90% of the time…and that’s the case with the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘IT’, a made for TV effort released in 1990. When I saw it as a young lad, I thought it was terrifying. Well, the first half and Pennywise The Dancing Clown. However, even back then the ending looked ropey, and the second half bored me. Now, with more mature eyes (I hope…I certainly can’t see as well as I could back then!), the flaws in the adaptation are even more glaring.
The film was originally a TV series of two episodes, and it’s definitely a tale of two halves. The plot is basically this: seven eleven years old kids defeat a terrible evil that feeds on people’s worst fears. Twenty-odd years later, the evil comes back and they reunite to defeat him once and for all. Oh yeah, the terrible evil usually manifests itself as a clown. That’s probably why you are afraid of clowns! The first episode follows the seven kids in flashback form, and the second follows the adults as they attempt to defeat the evil clown. If you get past the laughable flashback fade outs and questionable acting from the adults, there’s a decent horror movie to be found in the first episode…
“You’ll die if you try…”
Part of the menace surrounding the first episode is that its kids that are in danger. The seven kids each face Pennywise (or ‘IT’) in one form another, and at the beginning we see two kids taken/attacked by Pennywise. The second murder, as Pennywise lures a young kid (who turns out to be the younger brother of one of the main characters, Bill Denbrough), is one creepy scene! Pennywise’s change from friendly clown to child killer is convincing and unsettling. Bill later flicks through a photo album only to see his younger brother wink in a picture. It’s chilling and yet again unsettling. The music is in perfect time with the tone. It accentuates the horror. Not only that, but the child actors are laudable in their efforts. The only big name is Seth Green. But they all show their terror and anxiety wonderfully (well, apart from the kid who plays Stan Uris. He’s terrible!).
However, there are other instances where the horror doesn’t hit home. Take, for example, the shower scene. Eddie Kasprak is in the school shower, and the shower head protrude out and…well, wet him even more than he was before! Pennywise shows up, but that puts a question mark on the whole scene. Is it supposed to be scary? Is showering Eddie’s worst fear? I hate to do this, but it’s a case of not translating the book very well. In the book, Pennywise appears to Eddie as a homeless guy, asking for a blowjob. Yes, it’s disgusting, but still unsettling. That’s happen often in this movie: it substitutes a completely different scene for one in the book, one that is usually less horrifying and more laughable. Of course, some things are always lost in translation, and some things don’t work as well in films as they do in books. But even the superior first episode of ‘IT’ is marred by lack of horror.
“I’m every nightmare you’ve ever had, I’m your worst dream come true, I’m everything you ever were afraid of”
As for the second episode/half…most of the adult actors can’t act! The kid who plays Bill Denbrough pulls off a stutter like a natural; the adult actor goes into an unpersuasive spasm. They are ticks that the child and adult actors share (Ben Hanscom bites his thumb, for example), but it looks more natural for the kids than it does the adults. There are a few scares to be had, but most of them revolve around Pennywise. It plunges into 1980s bad melodrama for most of its running time. The plot barely gets moving, and the characters interactions are mostly dull. And the ‘real’ form of ‘IT’, a massive fake-looking spider, is ridiculous. It’s true to the book, in a way, but it translates absurdly on film. It looks like something one of the kids made! Things that were mentioned, such as the deadlights, aren’t explained fully. Why do the silver earrings hurt the monster? Because IT once manifested itself as a werewolf? The final resolution is not an effective resolution at all. To condense a hefty book into a three hour TV movie needs a lot of precision, a lot of cutting and splicing things together. This adaptation gets that balance and precision completely wrong (and let’s not forget the awful dialogue, that includes the line “Why does it hate? Why is it so mean?”).
However, the saving grace of this movie is Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown. I’d rate it above his work as Dr Frank N Furter. Yes, it’s that good! He plays the ‘clown’ with ease, but his flashes of anger and menace are terrifying. He steals the show, like a similar clown would in a later superhero film. Curry turns what could have been an embarrassing failure into an unmitigated triumph. He’s the main reason why people remember the film. He haunting, hilarious and downright scary from one second to the next. His unpredictability is enthralling yet chilling. Bill Skarsgard will have to do something special to even match the brilliance of Curry!
“I don’t believe in you”
When the movie works as a highlight version of King’s book, it works relatively well. However, that’s mixed up with scenes invented out of thin air that mesh badly with the source material. There’s a remake due out next year, which will again be split in to two parts. I think the same mistakes will be made again. An epic book like ‘IT’ needs a full TV series to do it justice. Anything else will give the same results as this TV movie: an movie that dips into insipidity more than it does into horror. Yes, the first half is significantly better than the second half, but even that is flawed. Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown makes and own the movie. Without him I can’t imagine how terrible it would be…
VERDICT: 4/10. A poor adaptation of King’s greatest novel (in my humble opinion, of course!). It’s very difficult to adapt into a film, but this adaptation excises much of what makes ‘IT’ brilliant and descends into a laughable mess towards the end. Thank God for Tim Curry as Pennywise The Dancing Clown. He delivers a performance that you’ll never forget (and will terrify you!).
What did you think of the film adaptation of Stephen King’s IT? Leave your thoughts/comments below!
Click here for my review of Stephen King’s ‘IT’, the book!
Click here for my review of Stephen King’s IT (2017)