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In 2017, theatergoers will face down an evil that spans generations when Stephen King's behemoth of a 1986 novel IT is finally adapted for the big screen, after years of deflated previous attempts. Director Andrés Muschietti has been busy offering early sneak peeks to get audiences in the mood. (Not a mood people generally wish to wallow in, given the narrative, but excitement comes in all forms.) Comparisons to the 1990 ABC miniseries are impossible to avoid, either from others or one's own inner monologue, and I have to say I'm already tired of seeing people rag on the TV version, even if it's just passive Internet blathering.
As such, I'm drawing you all down here into the sewers of Derry to remind you of 5 things that IT's television debut got absolutely right. And for its more obvious faults, such as its weaker second half, the IT miniseries gets an inhaler full of bonus points for creating as many iconic moments as it did while using a 1990 made-for-TV budget to tackle one of the biggest tomes in modern fiction. It remains one of the best Stephen King adaptations put to film, and I'll defend it until my death. (Don't get any ideas about that, readers-who-may-be-werewolves.)
Pennywise, Pennywise, Pennywise
Easily the most effective part of IT, if not the entire horror genre during the 1990s, is Tim Curry's indelibly nightmarish performance as the titular antagonist while in his clown persona, Pennywise. And it is with Curry that the IT miniseries manages to eclipse the book's psyche-jarring effectiveness, heightening one of fiction's most perverse monsters with surprisingly simple, but nonetheless pants-shittingly frightening visuals. His smile never manages to wipe away the depth-less hell behind his eyes, but his grins are still worlds more comforting than when he goes into full-on beast mode, which is basically just fake fangs and colored contact lens. But Jesus Heebie Jeebie Christ, it's just as unsettling all these years later. Free hugs, no thank you.
Spot-On Casting Choices
The often excellent ensemble cast of IT is unmistakably from 1990, though many in the cast are still making waves in entertainment today. We've already gone over the standout Tim Curry, who could get another entry without any backtalk, but there were also some memorable turns from TV vets John Ritter, Tim Reid and Harry Anderson, all of whom were far more known for their comedic roles than anything genre-based. And who can hate on Richard Thomas and Annette O'Toole and the other adults? Plus, that was something of a star-making performance from young Jonathan Brandis, though we wouldn't get more familiar with Seth Green until some years later. (Beep beep, Seth.) And I'd go to bat for just about everyone else, too.
Making Childhood Fears Come Alive
IT wasn't just partly about a bunch of kids; it was about childhood itself, and the powers and limitations that come from that point in our lives. Having watched this movie as a child, this is perhaps more subjective than other points, but I know I'm not alone here. Stephen King has always been superb at bringing out his inner child, and the miniseries tackles those issues extremely well, even when it gets campy. We have bullies that are apparently willing to murder other kids, actual murdered kids, abusive parents, school showers, a killer clown, dead parents seemingly coming back to life, movie monsters and more. That's a Las Vegas buffet of nightmare scenarios for a young child, and that's not even counting shit like suicide and domestic abuse.
Creating Scares With Minimal Blood And Gore
It's easy to think some particularly graphic things happened during IT, but this was a particularly tame movie when it comes to stomach-churning special effects. As stated in a previous entry, turning Pennywise from a creep into eternal misery just took red eyes and a mouth full of fake teeth. And even when he kills people, he's just coming slowly at the camera. Other deaths are similar, such as when Douchebag Bully #2 floats up to the pipe and into the Deadlights; there's no blood or guts, but seeing that kid's slack-faced body get bent in half like that is worlds more discomforting. And even when there is blood, it's usually in service of scaring a character rather than exploiting someone's death. Less is definitely more, and director Tommy Lee Wallace (who also made the cult sequel Halloween III: Season of the Witch) should get awards for making balloons freakier than a giant bug creature.
No Child Orgy
In turning a bestselling novel into a visual story, there are going to be tons of conversations about what should and shouldn't make the jump from the page to the screen. And IT, which clocks in at over 1,100 pages, couldn't have all of its moments make the final script. While it would have been cool to see some of the excised stuff make it into the miniseries, there are no regrets that TV audiences weren't made to experience the primetime network version of the novel's under-age sex act that served as one of Stephen King's most controversial story points. There was no need to do it for the TV movie, and there was apparently no want, either, which is awesome. I know the movie is going to go far and beyond what ABC could do in terms of material, but here's hoping director Andrés Muschietti makes the right choice. Which is "no child origies in the movie," if that wasn't clear.
So yeah, I doubt anyone is ever going to say that IT worked better as a TV miniseries than as a page-turning book, but that doesn't take away from the many wonderful things that are still enjoyable about it. Will the upcoming feature(s) still be memorable 26 years after release?