Director – Tommy Lee Wallace
Cast – Richard Thomas, Tim Reid, John Ritter, Annette O’Toole, Harry Anderson, Tim Curry, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, Jonathan Brandis, Brandon Crane, Seth Green, Marlon Taylor, Emily Perkins, Adam Faraizl, Ben Heller, Jarred Blancard, Michael Cole, Olivia Hussey, Sheila Moore, Florence Paterson, Drum Garrett, Gabe Khouth, Ryan Michael, Frank C. Turner, Tony Dakota
Release Year – 1990
Reviewed by John of the Dead
This had to be one of my top five favorite horror films growing up, and to this day it is still a masterpiece of a horror film. It is no longer on my top five list, but that means nothing in regards to how awesome this film is. Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, It is a story-driven film that takes the viewer on a long emotional journey about the bonds of friendship, unity, and promise, and delivers some darn good horror as well in the form of one of my favorite horror antagonists…Pennywise The Clown. While being a TV movie, It proves that a great screenplay and proper execution can make a winner out of any film, and 20 years after its debut It remains a horror classic to all.
As children in the 1960s growing up in Derry, Maine, a group of social outcasts of various backgrounds deemed themselves “The Losers Club” and formed an unforgettable bond during the greatest summer of their lives. When a malevolent demon took the form of a child-killing clown named Pennywise and set his sights on The Losers Club after killing numerous children around town, the club took heroic action and subdued the beast. However, questions lingered as to whether or not the demon was gone for good, and the club made a pact to return to Derry in the event that “It” should come back. 30 years later a series of child-killings once again awakens the small town of Derry, and when evidence from 30 years ago is found at one of the crime scenes, the members of The Losers Club, each far from Derry and having since forgotten about the heinous events that one summer, receives a chilling phone call from one of the members stating “It’s back”. Faced with the same horror they saw first-hand decades ago, The Losers Club reunites for a final stand against “It” in a fight to the death 30 years in the making.
It had been a long time since I last saw this movie, definitely almost a decade ago, and I honestly felt that I could have written this review without having seen it for so long simply because I have seen this film dozens of times. I do have a code that I follow when reviewing a film, and it is that I will not review a film unless I have just watched it, even if I have seen it before, and I did just that with just the same enjoyable results that I expected.
The story for this film is fantastic, and that should be expected with most ideas that come from the mind of Stephen King and allow for the story to grow. The one added benefit that TV movies have over theatrical movies is that they can be quite long, and that was the case with It as it runs just a tad bit over three hours in length. This is beneficial because it allows the story to develop and not suffer many timing-related issues, and that allows for a less plot holes and good development. Originally the film ran as two segments on television, with the first half dealing mostly in development and the second half focusing on the group’s return to Derry as adults. The first half of the film is fantastic, and shows the great writing potential of writer Lawrence D. Cohen(Carrie), albeit this is an adaptation and not original material. His screenplay is tight and he takes his time developing each of our main characters, seven of them, each of whom come with great development and their own demons that Pennywise preys upon. It does not take long before the seven losers are forced to band together to fight off a trio(mostly) of Fonzie wannabes, thereby leading them to form The Losers Club. We do not get much horror in this first act, but the feel-good level is high and it makes for an enjoyable experience, especially when you just know that the horror is coming sooner or later. None of our characters are useless, and those who exhibit little screen time still add to the story in their own way, which is one of the added benefits of lesser time constraints on a film. Most of the first half is told in flashback fashion, explaining each character’s background as well as the events that are leading up to their eventual reuniting in Derry, and personally I found the flashback idea to be a genius one. I was pretty engaged throughout the entire film, but the first half’s developmental process was near-perfect and had me literally glued to the screen in giddy enjoyment. Once the horror kicks in things really get fun as the Losers bond over their experiences with Pennywise, and while somewhat silly at times I found the horror to be highly effective and downright scary of you let the film envelop you. Keep in mind you are dealing with a clown, and clowns will be clowns, so the silly horror in the film is justified and plays well with the story. Of course, things only get better when the Losers decide to fight back and lead a minimal but effective assault on his lair, which just happens to be a creepy sewer on the outskirts of town. This is when we are first exposed to the fact that Pennywise is much more than just a clown, but a spirit using a clown’s body to do its evil bidding, and while the film could have totally ended at the climax of this first segment I was darn happy to see that this genius idea from Stephen King was only halfway through with me.
The second half of the film comes written by not only Lawrence D. Cohen but director Tommy Lee Wallace, who made his entry into the horror genre with Halloween III: Season of the Witch, and both secured a solid final half to this fantastic TV horror movie. Our characters arrive in Derry soon after this segment begins, and much to my pleasure the horror thickens immediately upon their arrival. Each takes their own weird trip down memory lane, and Pennywise ensures that none of them are left with peaceful memories of Derry. Many creative elements from the novel are thrown into this segment, and all involve the characters in one way or another. I loved how all of those from The Losers Club that left Derry became very successful, with the only person who stayed living just a simple life with none of the luxuries the others have enjoyed. Also, none of the Losers have been able to conceive children, either on their own or by default of never finding someone to love them in return. There is not much development on these elements and we never find out exactly why things happened that way aside from the demon having something to do with them, as if the Losers were followed throughout their lives for the last 30 years, which in my mind is creepy enough for me not to require more background. The horror in this second half is stepped up a bit, especially in the humor(the library scene is classic), and I loved how our characters were forced to move from location to location to avoid Pennywise’s onslaught. You know that I love nowhere-to-run scenarios, however when everywhere you go is a danger to you I consider that to be a nowhere-to-run scenario as well, which only aided my already high level of enjoyment for this film. As expected, the final battle between the adult Losers and Pennywise takes place, and this is where the film has suffered its most criticism. I do not thing the final sequence was bad by any means, however some of the things that take place are downright odd and consist of things I never saw coming, but nonetheless it got the job done and left me with the rewarding feeling you get when you watch a horror film that you know you will love for decades to come.
There are many reasons behind why Pennywise the clown is so popular in horror lore, and it is mostly due to how simply awesome his character is. We do not get much background behind “what” he is, and nearly no background on “how” he became what he is, and frankly, I am not bothered by that. The mystery only adds to the enjoyment for me, however the most enjoyable traits Pennywise harbors involve his ability to strike fear in those he seeks. He is downright diabolical, neither child nor adult is safe from his wrath, and in most cases he has his own fun with the victim before bringing them to their death.
Director Tommy Lee Wallace did a great job executing this film and making this so much more than you usual TV horror film. We get little gore and witness almost no on-screen kills, but I honestly feel those “faults” are completely irrelevant given I did not even realize them until long after he film was over. From the get-go his atmosphere aids the superb screenplay but giving us the dark, gloomy scene of present day Derrie contrasted with the bright and tranquil imagery of Derry 30 years prior. His execution of the characters was fantastic as he brought happiness and feel-good feelings at all of the right times(mostly in the first half) and hard-hitting sadness and despair during the many applicable scenes that called for it. This came aided by great performances from all involved, which included a very young Seth Green as young “Richie” and a young Emily Perkins(Ginger Snaps series) as a young Beverly Marsh. The young actors gave cheezy-ish performances, but that was expected when you consider this is a TV movie, and in my opinion their cheeze made the film all-the-more fun. We get good performances from the actors portraying the adults, which include longtime TV actors John Ritter and Tim Reid the adult Ben Hanscom and Mike Hanlon. Of course, the true star of the film was none other than Pennywise himself, and he came expertly portrayed by Tim Curry in possibly the most iconic performance of his career. The look of It was fantastic, from his creepy receding red hairline to his baggy clothes and razor sharp teeth, however it was his mannerisms that really sold him as a truly awesome antagonist. I mentioned earlier that we get little gore and on-screen kills, and with a character like Pennywise portrayed with such expertise you really do not need any gore or kills as he is horror enough. I was glad to see that Wallace was able to incorporate lots of live-action effects over lame 90s-esque CGI, showing that he must have gotten fairly creative to make things happen, although for a TV movie this film had a formidable budget. Nonetheless, the end result is not only one of the genre’s most memorable films, but a TV movie that delivers more horror than most other fans can, and with much heavier restrictions, leaving this a true template of how to deliver a great horror experience with nothing more than good writing and solid direction.
Overall, It is one of the genre’s most memorable films for many darn good reasons. The story is fantastic and takes its time developing over three hours, coming with numerous twists and turns and constant reminders from Pennywise that he is never more than a moment away. Wallace’s direction is superb and great performances from all actors involved help him sell the story, although the horror this flick delivers is the true reason behind its everlasting success.