Future Retroism: Stephen King’s 'IT' (1990)
George Plank | Staff Writer
“It” is one of those experiences that is so ingrained in popular culture that it seemed impossible someone decided it would be a good idea to remake it. Which they didn’t. Not exactly. The original from 1990 is actually a two-part, three-hour long, miniseries that aired on ABC. So, with that in mind, does it hold water and still float down here?
The story is divided into two parts; the summer of 1960, where a group of children are terrorized by an evil being that resembles a clown, and 1990, where the children have grown up and must return to defeat the evil once and for all. The childhood portion is facilitated through flashbacks, as each of the characters, in turn, must recall and come to terms with the horrors of childhood. They all had something that made them outcasts from the others in town. A debilitating stutter, childhood obesity, asthma, a poor father, social awkwardness, being too much a boy scout, and being black are all reasons why they called themselves the losers club.
The childhood portion is facilitated through flashbacks, as each of the characters, in turn, must recall and come to terms with the horrors of childhood. They all had something that made them outcasts from the others in town. A debilitating stutter, childhood obesity, asthma, a poor father, social awkwardness, being too much a boy scout, and being black are all reasons why they called themselves “The Losers Club.”
The perils of childhood, and a bully with a switchblade that makes constant death threats, are put aside when children start going missing. One by one they all start to be visited by an evil clown. The clown’s appearances vary; sometimes taking the form of someone’s father or even a movie werewolf. What remains consistent is the motif of balloons, and the phrase, “They all float.” Balloons can show up anytime and anywhere, as Bev learned when a balloon filled with blood bursts in her bathroom sink.
They summon their courage, venture into the sewer, and steel themselves to face IT head on. They bring along Richie’s mother’s silver earrings and decided that Bev is the right one to launch them at the clown. The clown appears defeated and flees down a nearby drain. Outside, they promise that if It ever comes back, so will they.
In the present day, their lives have moved on, but they are in many ways the same. They are forced to relive childhood trauma and overcome some of their hang-ups. When IT returns they are tortured by a series of disturbing images. They find eyeballs in their fortune cookies, skeletons in the lake, and they are assaulted with balloons. With one member dead, and another in the hospital, the remaining members must journey into the sewer to once again take on It, and It’s final form.
Being a miniseries means that “It” was severely limited in what it could and could not do. There was no way that it could take the risks that a feature film would be able to. Therefore, there is hardly any actual violence on screen. Whenever the clown kills someone there will be a lingering shot on the clown’s row of sharp, yellow, teeth, and a fade to black. Any gruesome act in relegated to merely be mentioned in dialogue.
The majority of the miniseries is a Stephen King coming of age tale, a la “Stand by Me.” Seven outcasts grow closer as a cohesive group while they learn how to better themselves, and sometimes a clown tries to murder them. The adult portion also falls into this trap as old friends reconnect and gain some closure. All of this is punctuated perfectly by no less than three musical montages in the miniseries.
That said, when the movie wants to be, it can be genuinely eerie. This is the film that a lot of people credit with giving them coulrophobia. And while the violence isn’t as apparent as “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” the visuals still leave a feeling of unease. Some scenes combine live action and stop motion animation, others still use mechanized props that jerk unnaturally. None of it ever feels too real, but that’s the absurd horror of the situation.
Of course, the star of the film is none other than Tim Curry, as this is one of his most recognizable roles. His vocal prowess is put to the test, and he delivers a voice that mimics the upbeat cadence of a normal clown, but at the same time sounds like it doesn’t come from anywhere in particular. The energy he brings to the role is unparalleled. Even when he is standing completely still, you get the impression that he could leap across the room and strangle you.
“It” is not without its faults, but overall it remains memorable. This is the type of movie that many people remember as scary or deeply unsettling, but probably haven’t seen it in a few years. If the length or quality of the storyline is an issue, the new film is only around two hours long, and only covers the portion that focuses on them as kids. If you do have three hours to burn and you’re curious about “It,” give it a try. You might find that it all floats after all.