“In 1960, seven pre-teen outcasts fight an evil demon who poses as a child-killing clown. Thirty years later, they reunite to stop the demon once and for all when it returns to their hometown.”

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Writers: Stephen King , Tommy Lee Wallace, Lawrence D. Cohen
Staring: Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, Annette O’Toole, Tim Curry, Tim Reid, John Ritter, Richard Thomas, Marion Taylor, Emily Perkins, Benn Heller, Seth Green, Adam Faraizi, Brandon Crane, Jonathan Brandis
Release Date: November 1990

I have seen two Stephen King novels translated into television movies, and both suffer from the same problem. They start off strong, but fizzle at the end trying to wrap their heads around King’s endings and overwrought run time. The two movies I am talking about: Salem’s Lot (1979) and It (1990).

I love the Andy Muschietti’s It (2017), and I appreciate his vision and patience even more so now watching Tommy Lee Wallace’s rendition. Yes, the Stephen King book flips back and forth between the past and the present in Derry, Maine. But just because that is the way the literary story unfolds does not mean it is the best way to translate the story to the screen. In It, the 1990s version, the terrors of Pennywise (Tim Curry) is flexed out years apart in the story. We immediately get to see how the Losers Club grows up and how they handle fear as kids compared to adults.

The issue is that there are not many scares. I heard about Tim Curry and his scary portrayal of the tormenting clown every time I heard or read anything about this 1990s rendition. I am sad to report that those recollections of his excellence are greatly exaggerated. Sorry, but the Pennywise that Bill Skarsgård brings to the table absolutely mops the floor with Curry’s. The eeriness, the voice, the smile and the stunts. All of which lean toward the more modern version. I can hear the argument that the time of the movie was made and the medium it was made for. But that doesn’t mean I have to agree with them.

It itself is not unenjoyable. There are aspects of it that demand praise. I think that John Ritter as old Ben Hanscom is excellent, and I really liked Bill Denrough as the elder version of Richard Thomas. Seth Green plays the young Ricihie Tozier, and that is the biggest generation connector for viewers now to the audience then.

In terms of scenes from It that stand out. I liked the sequence in the tunnels when Henry Bowers bullying attack is interrupted by a light show in the sewer tunnels. Also the shower attack is something that I would have liked to see in the It or It: Chapter 2 (2019). 

I think that It has plenty of perfectly fine assets, but they are behind what the Muschetti follow-ups have done. Quickly. Bill Hader is a much better Richie Tozier than Harry Anderson. Hader is much better at the self-doubt and over-eagerness than Anderson, who was overacting. The character of Beverly is not great in either parts of the TV movie; in particular the elder characters. You understand her importance when they Losers Club are kids, but forget she is in the movie when everyone is grown up.

When comparing It from 1990 to those made this century, the biggest gap in quality comes in the ancillary characters. (I know it is not fair to compare new to old when grading someone on its own…but *RASPBERRY SOUND*).

Henry Bowers is not scary at all in the TV movie. The over-oiled hair and Clark Kent hair drop bully is not notable or differential in any major way from other 1980s and 90s bullies. The same lack of interest continues to when he is brought back into the story when he attacks the club after leaving the looney bin. No sense of menace. You compare that to Nicholas Hamilton in the 2017 version and it is day and night. I wouldn’t want to run into the 2017 Bowers in a dark alley. And while the crazed adult version of Bowers is not expertly brought into It: Chapter 2, the maniac nature of his evil re-awakening was at least something to be considered.

Then there are the parents. Credit to Lee Wallace, for in 1990 he did a good with the creepiness of Beverly’s dad. Just a terrible guy. Bad person. However, that one relationship is not the same of Muschetti framing all parents as assholes. Watching It in 2017, you know that Pennywise is scary as hell, but you also see how the parents are secondary evils that have tangible effects on the kids relationships. This isn’t just for the Losers Club either. Henry Bowers dad is mentioned in the 1990s version, but never is his overbearingness shown as matter-a-factly than in 2017. 

I am glad that I saw this version of It. Am I ever going to watch it again? Probably not. But if I do, then I am for sure going to split it into two nights to give myself some grace for more patience and acceptance. 

The one big take-away from watching this version of It, and the Muschetti version, is that trying to wrap you arms around this Stephen King book is an impossible task. The book is bonkers. Off the rails. Both versions of this story pick and choose what aspects to highlight, but none can capture the entire story. There are numerous reasons (because who the hell wants to know the zaniness of the turtle), including but not limited to time and content. No one can ever make the full adaption in movie form. 

A tried-and-true ten-part limited series with the symbolic story telling and dreading terror skills of Mike Flanagan? Well, count me in for that.

STANKO RATING: C+ (2.5/5 Stars)


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