Film reviews and more since 2009

Stephen King’s It (1990) review

Dir. Tommy Lee Wallace

By: Steve Pulaski

Part 1: ★★★½
Part 2: ★★½
Overall Rating: ★★★

Stephen King’s It is probably the scariest film no one has ever seen. So many people like to call it “the scariest film ever,” but many don’t provide justification for that statement. Much like people who have never seen The Exorcist dub it “the scariest film of all time.” Most people I know haven’t sat through the three hour miniseries that is Stephen King’s It, and have only heard of it as “the killer clown movie.” The DVD cover by itself could give anyone the impression that this is a silly, overly-long horror film. It’s actually a well done psychological thriller, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start with part one. It is probably one of the most incredible acts in any TV movie/mini-series I have yet to see. It is well-shot, well acted, since many of the child actors know how to handle the heavy material, as well as being darkly sadistic, eerie, campy, and aware of the innocence of youth. The kids are stuttering Bill (Brandis), asthmatic momma’s boy Eddie (Faraizl), comedian Richie (Green), dream girl Beverly (Perkins), knowledgeable and energetic Mike (Taylor), pudgy Ben (Crane), and Jewish, know-it-all Stan (Heller). Together, they are the local misfits, or “The Losers Club” as they name themselves. They all have one thing in common besides being the main target for emotional abuse; they all are able to see a clown creature who packs in an eerie voice and always tempers with their subconsciousness. This is no other than Pennywise The Dancing Clown, played extremely well by Tim Curry, who leaps about as far away from Dr. Frank N. Furter as possible.

The first half focuses on the kids’ youth in Derry, Maine in 1960 in a non-linear format. Adult Bill gets a call from Mike saying “It’s back,” while at the sight of a recent child murder, and then proceeds to call everyone else in the “Losers Club.” After calling every person, they each descend into their own separate flashback of what they experienced as a kid. The idea seems tediously concocted, but it works very well and we begin to adapt to the film’s unique narrative style.

This half possesses events of what I can only compare to Reiner’s amazing Stand By Me. Not only is the innocence of childhood perfectly replicated, but it also captures the dark-side of youth. Beverly’s father is a physically and verbally abusive janitor who is overprotective of her daughter and disapproves of her involvement with the six other boys. Bill must cope with the loss of his younger brother, Georgie, who was victim to Pennywise on a rainy day. Besides being misfits, the children are also targets of the local bully, Henry Bowers (Blancard). Man, as if the killer clown seemed like enough baggage.

The kids chemistry is electric, and their acting pitch-perfect. For a TV film, however, it does feel a bit limited. The dialog seems a little slanted, and seems a tiny bit neutered. That’s the problem many TV films can’t shy away from, especially horror TV movies, which are either scarcely made or horrifically awful. I remember CBS produced a couple around 2005 like Locusts! and the shameless Jaws clone Spring Break, Shark Attack. It is rather clear why no network puts up the money to create anymore horror TV movies, as the genre slowly spirals down to the goal of mediocrity.

After an absolutely stellar first act, we are greeted with a sort of inferior second half, equal in length (ninety-three minutes). Now, it’s thirty years later (aka the present). Everyone but Mike has left Derry, Maine, and as we already know, Pennywise is still on the loose. All of the gang returns to the town to try and stop the seemingly unstoppable.

At this point, the film becomes a bit tiresome. While some of the dialog between the friends is interesting, some of it seems routine, stiff, and jaded. The good news is we get quite a bit of scenes involving Tim Curry’s Pennywise character which are creepy, stunning, and utterly infectious with fear (my favorite being the library sequence). I dare not spoil any of them, but I will not doubt you have heard them quoted numerous times.

One disappointing aspect of the second half is not many of our questions who are extensively answered, like we’d expect. I walked out with one question still looming heavily; what is the significance of the balloons and why upon our arrival down there would “we float too?”

While It is fun for the first half, and while being undoubtedly creepy, it suffers from a Stephen King cliche I can only sum up by quoting Doug Walker, also known as “The Nostalgia Critic.” King’s stories are plagued by “interesting setups, but disappointing payoffs.” We’ve come so far with these characters to genuinely care about them, only to be met with a cliche creature ripped straight out of a 1950’s monster movie like one shown on Svengoolie. It’s underwhelming, but not wholly maddening.

And that concludes Stephen King’s It, a well-played, if a bit lengthy, mini-series with a lovable cast of child actors, yet an inferior cast of adults. The dialog exchanged between the kids is wonderfully delivered, but the dialog between the adults seems a tad tacked-on and rushed. Tim Curry’s performance is extremely over the top and shamelessly creepy, but he does seem underused. You could call It a mixed bag, with atmosphere and characters to die for, but an ending to forget and frown upon. That would definitely be an accurate summary, but looking back, it just doesn’t seem worthy of one like that.

NOTE: As of this writing, Stephen King’s It is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+.

My review of It: Chapter One (2017)
My review of It: Chapter Two (2019)

Starring: Tim Curry, Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, Annette O’Toole, Tim Reid, John Ritter, Richard Thomas, Seth Green, Marlon Taylor, Emily Perkins, Adam Faraizl, Ben Heller, Brandon Crane, Jonathan Brandis, and Jarred Blancard. Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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