September 8, 2017

Blu-ray Review: Stephen King's IT (1990)

"A classic mini-series, anchored by Tim curry's brilliant performance."
(aka Tim Curry's Pennywise.)
Release Date: Nov 18th-20th, 1990.
Country: USA/Canada.
Rating: NR.
Written by: Tommy Lee Wallace, and Stephen King.
Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace.
Starring: Richard Thomas, Annette O'Toole, John Ritter, Jonathan Brandis, Emily Perkins, and Tim Curry as Pennywise.

As kids, the novel IT was one of our favorites. It was terrifying, it reinforced our belief that clowns were evil, and in the end, it was all about us. Most people have a creepy part of their town where "the monsters lived" when they were kids, and ours was a series of bike trails in the forest called "Sleepy Hollow" (original, I know), and as a kid, there was no way that you could convince me that something evil didn't live in the darkest parts of those woods.

With IT, Stephen King captured the essence of what it was like for us to go traipsing around in our own version of his fictional Barrens, and we instantly identified with it. He understood. He knew.

When the Mini-Series premiered on TV a few years later, it had us glued to our TV's, an we ate every last bit of it up. We were young and dumb, and had wildly overactive imaginations, so how could it not?

*This is a review that we did back in 2015, brought back for comparison's sake with the release of the theatrical remake. 

There's an evil in the town of Derry, Maine, an evil that comes out of the sewers every 30 years or so to feed on people (mainly children, because they're easy targets.) IT mostly appears in the creepy guise of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, but it also has the ability to transform itself into its victim's worst fears, because apparently they taste better when they're afraid.

In 1960, IT lures little Georgie Denbrough to a sewer drain with the promises of balloons and cotton candy, and then proceeds to tear his arm off, leaving him to bleed to death. This begins IT's regularly scheduled feeding binge in which it tries to feed on Derry's children. When a group of geeks, aptly named The Losers Club, get wise to what the evil clown is up to, they decide to fight it with a slingshot, and end its reign of terror... because killing an ancient evil is apparently easy like that. 

In 1990, a little girl is killed by some haunted laundry, and Mike Hanlon realizes that IT has returned. Having stayed behind to keep watch over Derry in case IT returns, Mike reaches out to the rest of The Losers Club and tells them to get home, because they have to go into the sewers and defeat it again, this time for good!

Will a magic turtle help The Losers Club defeat IT the right way this time? Will there be a creepy, impromptu gang-bang involving 12-year-olds in the sewer? Will Patrick Hockstetter finally get what he deserves? Far be it from us to spoil anything for you here, but suffice it to say that you'll have to read the book if you want to know what happens with all of that, because it's not in the movie.

If you put aside all of the things from the novel that never made it into the Mini-Series, and forgive it for its technical shortcomings, IT is an entertaining and creepy watch. We probably liked the part of the story set in 1960 the best, as that section of the movie had a sentimental and nostalgic feel about it that reminded us of our own childhood. Everything about it just felt dire and creepy.

The part of the movie set in 1990 with the adults was good too.

Tim Curry's brilliant portrayal as Pennywise is really what drives IT into must see territory though, as the evil, child-eating clown is one of the best movie villains ever, big screen or small. How they're ever going to get someone to recapture that same kind of terrifying magic in the upcoming remake, we don't know. We do know that no one is going to be able to top what he did here with Pennywise. He was that good.

The rest of the cast was just about as solid, if not quite as dynamic. The kids in the 1960 section were all great in their roles, and they included a young Seth Green and Emily Perkins amongst them. IT also features Jonathan Brandis in the lead role of Bill, and it's always a bit sad to watch him in this one knowing that he ended up taking his own life at the age of 21. The kid who played Henry Bowers made for a perfect 60's greaser thug as well.

The adult cast is full of great character actors from yesteryear, chief amongst them, John Ritter, Richard Thomas, Richard Masur, and Annette O'Toole. We still think Richard Belzer would have been perfect to play the adult version of Richie, but what can you do. It's also a bit sad to see John Ritter in this movie, as he too died suddenly, and way too young. Blah.

As good as IT is, the Mini-Series feels really dated in some ways, especially in the FX department; the giant puppet spider stands to day as one of the silliest things we've ever seen in any movie. The scenes where Pennywise appears from, or disappears into, pipes and other small openings, don't look all that great either.

IT was made 25 years ago, so it's almost pointless (and unfair) to rip on its sub-par special effects, but they're just distractingly bad at times.

Given that IT was made into a TV Mini-Series instead of a feature film, some of the best bits from the book were left out. We understand why so much of It couldn't be translated to TV, especially back in 1990 when things were far more puritanical on the airwaves, but a lot of great, and even important, stuff was left out. That sucked.

It's no shock at all that they left out the part where Bev's 12-year-old self let the other member of The Losers Club have group sex with her... I know that sounds really skeevy, but there was actually a point to that scene in the book, and the actual sex wasn't it. What they could have included though, and what will hopefully end up in the upcoming remake, are the scenes that involve Patrick Hockstetter, everything that happens on Neibolt Street, the bird, the Turtle, etc..  I guess we'll see.

IT is packed with all sorts of disturbing imagery, but none of it is very graphic. For a TV Mini-Series though, it was bloody enough in places, and more than suggestive in others.

You can't show nudity on Network TV, and back in 1990 I don't think you could even say the word "nudity" on-air without getting a fine from the FCC. Seriously though, some of the things they get away with on TV these days would have started a massive moral shistorm back then.

 "They all float down here."

Clowns are pure evil and they want to eat your children. Also, Maine may be the creepiest place to live in the entire U.S.

25 years later, IT definitely feels dated in a few different ways, but it's still one hell of a great Mini-Series. Tim Curry's sinister turn as Pennywise is the main reason that it's so great, but the whole thing has a nostalgic feel about it that makes it an entertaining watch, despite its faults.

If you like coming-of-age stories that involve murderous clowns, and who doesn't, then IT is a movie that you need to experience. Read the book too, or maybe even first, as it's far more epic in scope.


IT is available now on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD.

Everyone pretty much knows that Annette O'Toole and Emily Perkins played the older & younger versions of Beverly Marsh (respectively), but did you know that Chelan Simmons (Tucker and Dale vs Evil) played the little girl that Pennywise killed at the beginning? Or that Laura Harris (The Faculty) had a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo as a snotty school kid? Well now you do.