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It (1990)

"I'm every nightmare you've ever had. I'm your worst dream come true. I'm everything you ever were afraid of." - Pennywise the Clown


 

Sorry about the delay on this one, Halloween had to be put on hold last week while I dealt with some other writing projects that had a printer’s deadline looming. But now the Christmas writing is done and it’s back to Samhain and a look at the epic It.

The more I think about it, the more I think that It is probably my favourite Stephen King book. It’s the one which in my eyes anyway, has practically everything. King throws all manner of monsters our way as the evil lurking in Derry stalks the victim children as a personification of what terrifies them the most.

It was a book that when it came to adapting it for the screen, I was hoping that it would be in the manner of a TV mini series rather than a feature film because, let’s face it - no WAY can a book like It be cut down to a ninety minute feature. Even the three hour length of the standard TV two parter meant that some of the fat had to be cut off. But even having said that - the TV adaptation is an absolute gem, with only one flaw - which I’ll get around to presently.

Adaptation can't have been easy because as I recall (and unfortunately it’s been an incredible 26 years since I read it - I need to be revisit this book soon) there’s a lot of flashing back and forth as events in the book, although thirty years apart coincide and mirror.

So, what’s it all about? (And now, I'm getting conscious about my overuse of the word "it" but can't help myself)

Basically and as expediently as I can, I’ll explain. In the town of Derry in Maine there is an evil. A tragedy or a series of unexplained deaths happens at thirty year intervals. Be it a series of child murder mutilations, or going back through the years an unexplained fire or even a bunch of settlers mysteriously disappearing. Every thirty years. And even in old wood cuttings, the same figure appears. An evil clown.

The evil presents itself in the form of Pennywise, the clown played by Tim Curry in a scene chewing role every bit as memorable and iconic as he had in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Pennywise will lure you to your death, appearing in a drain to drag you down, tearing your arm off as happened to little Georgie Denborough in 1960 when his paper boat was lost.
 

 

Georgie’s guilt ridden older brother Bill and his friends, a bunch of outcasts who call themselves the Losers Club (or Lucky Seven, depending on how optimistic they feel) are each visited by the demon. Bill sees Georgie’s photo wink at him and the photo album seep blood, unnoticed by his parents. Ben Hanscom sees his father who was killed in the Korean War appear to him and try to lure him to the sewer works, Richie Tozier sees a werewolf (odd as Seth Green plays Tozier and would later become Oz, the werewolf in Buffy the Vampire Slayer...and thanks to Steve for pointing that one out) Beverley Marsh hears voices of the dead children and sees blood splurt out of the taps in the bathroom, Eddie Kaspbrak sees Pennywise in the showers in the school gym, Stan Uris sees a mummy. It’s Mike Hanlon who seems to know what’s going on and how the adults in the town seem not to see the blood and the strange events. As if when growing up, you lose a certain sense or an ability to see certain things.

Ganging up, they confront the demon in the sewers and promise that if it ever rises again, they’ll come back and deal with it again.

So, part one is the flashback to the sixties as each member is contacted by Mike Hanlon who is now the town librarian. Each of the others has gone on to a successful career and all of them have forgotten what happened back in the day as if a clouding spell has been cast. As they begin to remember, they all head back to Derry for a final confrontation with the shape shifting demon.

As they arrive (except for Stan Uris who succumbs to suicide rather than face "it" again) Pennywise begins to appear to them, trying to dissuade them and frighten them off. Especially unnerving are the sudden appearance of a yellow balloon in Ben Hanscom’s cab. I never thought a yellow balloon would make me jump, but it sure as hell did back when I saw this for the first time, and I’ll never look at a fortune cookie quite the same way again after seen the ones served at the Losers Club reunion dinner when one had an eye in it, another sprouted claws and yet another grew spider legs. (I hate it when food does that.)

Now the bad part I mentioned earlier - the final confrontation is well staged, except for the demon which in its "real" non-Pennywise form is underwhelming. It’s a giant spider. Ho hum. Far better I think to leave the final form to the imagination of the viewer or just to show indistinct glimpses of parts of it than to deflate us with a cross eyed spider which doesn’t take long to dispatch once and for all..

But overlooking that one tiny flaw, it’s a masterful piece of television. It hits the same notes in many ways as Stand By Me. In fact, that’s it - it’s Stand By Me with monsters. It’s a good representation of a great book no doubt about that, but it’s like the Readers Digest version. For the full effect - you really need to read the book. This just gives highlights. (Or deadlights....?) However frightening Pennywise might be (and which clown ISN’T disturbing?) on reflection, I think that the scariest thing about the production is that it’s now 23 years old. (Twenty three years since I bought that ex rental tape from you, Gareth Hughes!!!)

Man, I’m getting old.

You can buy the DVD here.

Or you can REALLY treat yourself and buy the book here.

Next time, rev her up - she’s death on four wheels and she’s bad. Bad to the bone.
 

Copyright © 2010 - 2013 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.

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