It (1990)
It (1990)

Genre: Supernatural Horror Running Time: 3 hrs. 12 min.

Release Date: November 18th, 1990 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace Actors: Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, Annette O’Toole, Tim Reid, John Ritter, Richard Thomas, Tim Curry, Jonathan Brandis, Brandon Crane, Seth Green, Ben Heller, Emily Perkins, Marlon Taylor, Adam Faraizl, Olivia Hussey

 


 

L

ittle Laurie Ann Winterbarger (Chelan Simmons) spies a clown in her yard, hiding among the garments dangling from the clothesline. Oddly, she’s unafraid – until she’s attacked. She becomes the sixth child to die in the last couple of weeks, causing Michael Hanlon (Tim Reid) to recall tragic events from his own past. Meanwhile, Bill Denbrough (Richard Thomas) writes in England, perfecting his latest screenplay, as his wife Audra (Olivia Hussey) waits impatiently at the dinner table. When Hanlon calls Bill, all the way from his childhood hometown of Derry in Maine, the scribe is reminded of the horrifying experiences they both shared as youngsters – and the pact they made to return should their ancient nemesis rise again.

Decades ago, as a preteen (Jonathan Brandis), Bill is sick in bed, watching as his little brother Georgie (Tony Dakota) heads out into a rainstorm to play with his paper boat. After it falls into a gutter, the boy is shocked to discover a clown, calling himself Pennywise (Tim Curry), grasping the lightweight craft. When Georgie reaches for it, the clown’s teeth lunge for him, pulling his arm clean off like a wing from a fly; this brutal murder is the first of many unexplained, otherworldly slayings.

Ben Hanscom (John Ritter), now a successful architect in New York, similarly receives a phone call, reminding him of his involvement in catching Georgie’s killer. As a child, Ben (Brandon Crane) is overweight and bullied mercilessly by a punk named Henry Bowers, which leads him to team up with a group of other outcasts – or self-proclaimed losers. Eddie (Adam Faraizl), Richie (Seth Green), Stanley (Ben Heller), and Beverly (Emily Perkins) join Bill and 12-year-old Mike (Marlon Taylor) to complete a club of investigators who dig into the disappearances and deaths of several local children. And the culprit surely has something to do with the ghoulish clown.

All seven of the children have adult counterparts, as the story spans nearly 30 years. Rather than telling the tale in two pieces, firstly as kids when they encounter Pennywise, and secondly as adults when they re-team to do battle once again, “It” cuts back and forth between the two time periods. Thanks to astute editing (predominantly with flashbacks), it’s never confusing, especially as the corresponding actors share specific characteristics. But it nevertheless splits up the time between getting to know the players in their separate environments, and hinders audiences from fully grasping how petrifying their shared torment and misadventures are in identifying and thwarting the villainous clown-monster. Plus, the child actors and their plights – which contain intriguing origins – are far more interesting than the grown-ups.

Part of the problem comes from the individualistic, appalling visions that the youths endure. They’re creepy and traumatic, but really only work with the kids. As adults, the frightful recollections aren’t nearly as effective. And since so much of their childhood shapes their mature versions, it’s their adolescence that proves most entertaining. As it so happens, the adult actors, behaving more erratically and panicky (“Why is It so mean?”), are far less convincing than the 12-year-olds, who keep their composure surprisingly well. Clearly, the screentime would be better spent focusing on one set of the “loser’s club” before the other, so as to carefully broaden the scariness and the character development. Additionally, out of context, the adults’ interactions are unintentionally funny. “Damn it, Bev! Is that you in there or is that the clown?”

Since “It” was originally made for television (as a miniseries), its severity is moderate at best. The thrills are psychological rather than visually graphic, while the production value is limited. Sound effects tend to be more powerful than the music or cinematography. Even the blood effects and makeup aren’t exceptional. Curry as Pennywise, however, is amusing, considering that he’s both playful (or goofy) and menacing, even though his clown attire isn’t explicitly designed to be grotesque (exaggerated perhaps, but not extreme). Based on Stephen King’s massive novel, the running time is also overlong, despite the wealth of subplots and details. Still, there’s a lot of information that remains unexplained, including why the adults don’t remember such a mentally scarring childhood, what exactly Pennywise is capable of, why these seven people are the only ones who seem to have nightmarish hallucinations, and what exactly Pennywise and his “deadlights” are supposed to be. In this instance, the lack of facts does not make “It” more horrifying; the picture is ultimately just inartistically muddled.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10