For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that seeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.
Yes, it’s time for another King adaptation on this Spooktober, and no, it’s not the newest adaptation of his popular novel, It. Nor, if I’m being completely frank, will it probably be the last (still think this deserves a larger, limited series platform). Is it the best? No! Most well-acted or conceived? Umm, no. But, was it influential and impactful for not just my horror history, but most my age? Hell yes. There is a lot wrong, packed full of that 90s TV movie feel inherent throughout, but it still has some golden moments of unease that make for a reasonable argument for why this movie/miniseries is worthy of viewing by any Stephen King fan.
It genuinely ruined sewer grates for me, for forever (because they were so important to begin with). Kids are impressionable, and many in my age range were scarred by this TV movie nugget, me- though? It kind of made me the freak I am. Even when I was irked, I was also intrigued, and appreciative of this experience that had me looking at clowns, and potentially what they could be in all their forms, more intuitively. What was It? Good question.
They all float
If you don’t know It, the story follows a group of friends “the losers club” who fight off an ancient evil that returns every 27 years to the small town of Derry, feeding off fear and murdering children. The miniseries doesn’t split the time-periods like the newer remake does, instead it often pivots from their childlike selves to adult, forcing harsh memories to flood back, as they reunite once more to fight evil. Or rather, Pennywise the clown, in one of Its many forms.
Yes, this miniseries leans heavily on the side of cheesy, and is often playing it safe but it doesn’t change the fact that King’s voice echoes through, loud and active. Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace this two- part series, only begins to scrape the barrel of King’s novel.
I’ve done video essays on the comparable factors from novel to adaptations on my other site, Film Inquiry, as well as diving into King’s many visions in film (and you can bet there will be one another mentioned here before this month is over). I chose this one in particular because it marries the youth in me with the person I am now. I don’t know that I would be who I am without It. This is an intimate part of my history. Film lovers know what I’m talking about. It is in our DNA. It’s like this undeniable focal point, with each movie, that inspires and influences who we become.
Yes, I recognize all of the issues with this miniseries. There are many, sometimes blindingly so. There are a lot of talented actors here, but sometimes the dialogue comes across as hokey, and it seems overacted. I find myself giggling at many moments, but then I think about how this was on network TV in 1990, and I consider how -despite all of this- it is still creepy at times. Honestly, a lot should be owed to Tim Curry. He’s so good at Pennywise, zany and disturbing. The makeup, costumes, and practical effects (at least in the first half) still stand. When I watch now I even still feel diminutive in particular scenes, in a mental fetal position, as I unwrap all that is happening here.
More than anything It falters in the tone and pacing, which wants to be terrifying (and still is at times) but ends up being a deflated balloon of inconsistency. Still, there’s a partnership of charm and an eerie semblance that makes Derry a place I have frequented over the years.
What do I love about It? It’s all about fear. It’s the basis, the starting point that allows our imaginations to run wild, into murky unspeakable places. It can be anything, as we have our own personal horrors. What’s more potent than that? It is the epitome of the genre. In many ways It is what inspired my podcast (Go On, Scare Me) because it ruminates on just that.
I am always struck by King’s genius here. It seems so obvious, borderline simplistic, in a way that can’t be duplicated. A story of fighting our personal fears and the enduring power of friendship, It is more than just a scary story, it’s a vestibule into our psyche, and maybe, a little, into our hearts.