I was never the type who was afraid of clowns. That didn’t stop me from enjoying Stephen King’s novel It, which was a massive (over 1000 pages long) book that could also be used for home protection just by flinging it at a burglar. The central villain in King’s epic book was a clown named Pennywise who stalked and tormented a group of children in the summer of 1960. The book took an interesting slant by actually being two separate stories: the first battle against Pennywise by the kids in the summer of 1960, and the second battle, occurring thirty years later, when the now-grown children reunite to battle Pennywise one last time when he comes back to stalk children in the dingy Maine town of Derry.
Stephen King’s It was produced into a two part mini-series that aired on TV back in November of 1990, and this fall of 2015 is the 25th anniversary of the TV version. I wish I could say that it was a superb mini-series. But even while I enjoyed the novel, I always considered It to be one of King’s lesser books, anyway. It was still vastly entertaining, but I was never really scared at any point in the novel. And I have the same problem with the mini-series overall: it’s uneven and just not very scary. But the miniseries has two saving graces: The first half, with the children back in 1960 is riveting, thanks to the superb performances of the kids, who’re led by Jonathan Brandis (SeaQuest: DSV). The other saving grace is the actor who they hired to play Pennywise, Tim Curry.
Yes, Doctor Frank ‘N’ Footer from The Rocky Horror Picture show was cast as the central villain here, and his performance is one of the best things about this film. Curry, with his large, bulbous eyes, is visually striking as Pennywise the Clown, but he also employs a darkly comic savage streak in the character that always livens up the dull surroundings. Curry is one of the main reasons to watch It, for his gleefully maniacal performance is very welcome–especially within the oddly listless and bland second half of the mini-series (and as good as Curry is in this, it’s ironic to note that, when first offered Pennywise, Curry turned it down, not wanting to deal with the make up process. It was only when the director, Tommy Lee Wallace, promised to simplify the make up that Curry signed on).
But despite solid actors like Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Harry Anderson, Tim Reid, and Annette O’Toole playing the adult cast, you never feel any real sense of them being in danger, which drags down the second half. When Curry terrorizes them, I enjoy these scenes more for Curry’s performance, and he easily steals every scene he’s in. But we’re ultimately denied a showdown with Pennywise, thanks to King’s rationale for the character, which is that he winds up being some weird, huge alien spider that uses the clown persona as a mask of sorts. So we’re reduced to watching the adult cast battle a giant alien spider puppet, which looks just as silly as it sounds.
Still, horror movie buffs, as well as Stephen King fans, may enjoy this version, as well as some interesting trivia. The director, Tommy Lee Wallace, worked with John Carpenter back in the day. Specifically, Wallace worked on Carpenter’s original Halloween, where he played the villain (he was uncredited). So what this basically means, my children, is that Stephen King’s It was directed by none other than Michael Meyers. Cue the Halloween music. –SF