‘STEPHEN KING’S IT’ (1990) – TV Review – “Is Your Refrigerator Running? Well You Better Go Catch It Before It Runs Away!”
Minor plot Spoilers for the TV Miniseries below……..
‘It’ is a TV miniseries that aired way back in 1990 and is adapted from the iconic Stephen King novel of the same name. The miniseries is split into two parts totalling 3 hours, the first part focuses predominantly on the Losers Club as kids going up against Pennywise and the second part follows the Losers Club 30 years later trying to end the threat once and for all. The series is very much a psychological horror with the majority of the scares not coming from jump-scares or even terrifying looking figures it’s the way Pennywise very creepily gets into characters heads and messes with them in a variety of creative ways. This method of horror transcends the characters and has a similar effect on the viewer. The performances in the series were very strong from the child actors and pretty decent from the adults making both parts interesting but the first part considerably better.
I will start with part 1 first because to me it is the more entertaining of the two….. it is scarier, it gets in your head more, and you are able to get behind and connect with the young characters more than in their adult counterparts. The way it introduces each member of the Losers Club is very unconventional yet it works insanely well. Nowadays you want every character introduced and established within the first 20 minutes but here you don’t get the full Losers Club until about an hour in. Via this approach you spend a lot of time with each member and you are able to achieve something quite rare in modern TV/Cinema….. you actually remember the names of every member. No-one is left out, you get behind these characters as individuals so when they all come together you buy their friendship and in a way want to be part of the Losers Club yourself.
The way these introductions are spliced together with their adult counterparts was a genius approach also. This way you are introduced to both the adult and child versions of the characters simultaneously so that for the rest of the series they are tied together and you don’t have to stop to think who that adult character is in the past. And the whole time it is introducing these characters the main plot surrounding the threat of Pennywise is very much a part of what is going on. You see how Pennywise is constantly on the prowl, always playing into these kids’ fears and getting into their heads, messing them up from the inside, but still playing second fiddle to the real focus which is the Losers Club. Pennywise is essentially the harbinger of his own demise as he is what brings all of these kids so close together, he gives them a shared experience that they can all use as bonding material to fight back with.
Pennywise the dancing clown is played incredibly by Tim Curry who despite a quite playful and innocent appearance turns this character into such a menacing force through his voice and expression alone. It is such an iconic portrayal of the character that regardless of what the 2017 film has to offer the first thing you think of when you hear ‘Pennywise’ will forever be Curry’s performance. He is just mesmerising in every damn scene and he straddles that line between evil, creepy, and comedic so perfectly that you are just extremely uneasy whenever he opens his mouth or gives off that horrifying smile. Where the evil character of Pennywise or the form behind the clown facade is revealed that is where the character loses any sense of horror. A clown with a creepy voice and creepy behaviour is much more terror inducing than a (well designed) creature with no personality….. but more on that in a bit.
Now you get to part 2 which is unfortunately not as strong as part 1 for a number of reasons. Within part 1 the introductions were done, we saw each of the characters as their adult counterparts but we now need to reintroduce them not to us, but to each other. And this sets a pace for part 2 that is definitely slower than part 1 and not nearly as engaging. I mean, the actors do a phenomenal job at really capturing the essence of the character built up by their younger counterparts to where even if you forgot their names just from their behaviour you have a very clear picture of who they were in part 1. But once Pennywise kicks back into action in part 2 you realise how much you miss having Pennywise interact with the child actors. It is just harder to get behind the characters as adults and so following their journey becomes less interesting. And where in part 1 there was an element of romance, it was very subtle and felt very natural, but in part 2 the romance that blossoms feels very forced onto the characters and takes up more time than it should have.
Part 2 also loses some of that daunting and creepy atmosphere mainly because the tone shifts slightly in a more campy or comedic direction. When compared to part 1 that tonal shift is very obvious and doesn’t work quite well. Part 2 also brings back a key character from part 1 which is fine but it was executed here so quickly and it is something that is used as more of an obstacle as oppose to a threat. Just one of the throwaway things that happens that could have been integrated better. The climax of this miniseries also suffers mainly due to being a fairly low budget miniseries and also just because of the technology available at the time. The final confrontation with Pennywise’s true form was not scary or terrifying whatsoever, it was very flat and i guess that’s partly unfair to say when the issue is almost out of the creators control but i can’t deny that it doesn’t work that well. But for me the climax does still sort of work when you look at it as a character focused moment. Seeing how this group has grown and come full circle in the last 30 years does make for a decent payoff.
So in the end, this miniseries will forever be an iconic one and Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise will always have a place in my heart. I first watched this as a kid and it was one of the most terrifying things i had ever seen, literally had nightmares for days, weeks even. And it’s good to see that even today the psychological horror aspect is still very effective and this holds up as a very entertaining watch. Part 1 is definitely the better half and would sit somewhere above a 9/10 but due to part two being not quite as good the overall rating will be somewhere in between.