Quick catch up if you missed the first installment of this series: I’m a guy who missed a lot of generation-defining movies from my youth (though I did not, as many readers apparently suspect, intentionally not watch them as some sort of devious scheme). Now I’m watching them as a 30-year-old in 2014 with no nostalgia for them. It doesn’t make my opinion any more or less valid, but hopefully it’s an interesting one. Or that’s the hope, anyway.
This week, I watched Stephen King’s IT. I’ve read the book, but not seen the movie. I think I might have seen a brief part of the original airing when I was six (I remembered seeing a black dog, and that was indeed in the movie), but my parents probably didn’t want me watching it because I had gotten freaked out by Pet Sematary not long before. (I’ve re-watched that one since and it was freaking ridiculous, but in fairness, I was afraid of the anthropomorphic M&Ms commercials when I was six.)
So now I’ve learned why the following image will probably make a good chunk of you crap your pants and close this tab.
Let’s start with the most obvious thing about the film: Tim Curry is freaking brilliant as Mr. Robert Gray, a.k.a. Pennywise the Dancing Clown. He exists in a zone that’s about 75% creepy and 25% hilarious. I call it creeplarious. There’s something about the pitch-black humor that he throws out that keeps the idea of a sadistic clown from being totally campy.
In fact, the entire cast is surprisingly good for a TV horror movie from the 90’s. Even the kids aren’t awful, and kids in a horror film are usually about as enjoyable as sticking your arm down a sewer grate occupied by a demon clown. There’s even a young Seth Green running around and isn’t he just adorable? You even catch brief snatches of voices he’d later show off in Robot Chicken.
What’s also striking is how well they cast the younger and older versions of the characters. It’s surprisingly believable that those kids grew up into those adults. Even Harry the Hat from Cheers playing the older Seth Green isn’t much of a stretch. (And younger, more serious John Ritter is a painful reminder of how good he used to be.)
But, casting aside, it is a 90’s made-for-TV horror film. It’s painfully long, even at only three hours sans commercials. It wouldn’t be so bad, but the switching between the youth and adult stories is super clunky. The story of the kids, which is supposed to take place over an entire summer, whizzes by. Meanwhile, the adult storyline, which takes place over two days, seems to drag (especially when Richie, the 90’s standup comedian archetype, begins complaining once again about how he wants to leave). It feels really poorly balanced. Since Cary Fukunaga, who directed the first season of True Detective (which perfectly interwove stories from two different timelines), is supposed to be helming the feature film adaptation, maybe we’ll see a better presentation of the story in the near future.
Okay, now let’s talk about the scares, which is the only reason most people remember this film nearly 25 years later. Some of them aren’t bad! Pennywise in the drain is iconic. The balloons full of blood bursting out of the bathroom sink and, later, all over the library is a pretty nice gag. Young Ben getting creeped out by his dad’s ghost outside the reservoir (and later a waterlogged skeleton with his dad’s voice when he’s an adult) is also a nice, creepy moment.
But, again, it’s a 90’s TV movie. The effects budget was probably nil, and so there’s a good chunk of moments that fall flat, especially when you compare it to the modern horror tastes of jump-a-minute scares, like those utilized by James Wan. (Not that I mind those, but that’s another article.) There is indeed some cornball stop-motion animation. There’s some over-the-top puppetry (namely the Pennywise spider that appears at the very end). There are scenes that could be scary if they didn’t go on too long, like the head in the mini-fridge sequence.
I think, collectively, we’ve all forgotten those rough parts (like the kids from Derry themselves) and culturally latched on to horrible, weird Tim Curry, who gave an entire generation of children coulrophobia (the fear of clowns, if you’re nasty), which is probably for the best. Warner Bros. is going to have a hell of a time replacing him.