In 1986, author Stephen King released IT, a novel about a small town that is terrorized by a shapeshifting monster who feeds on children, often appearing as a sinister clown named Pennywise. The book was an enormous success, and a filmed adaptation was released in 1990. The IT miniseries premiered on ABC in two installments and was a smash hit. This movie was a touchstone for an entire generation, spawning numerous fans over the years. But with a new theatrical version of the tale now opening, it’s time to look back at the previous movie with fresh eyes.
Tim Curry as Pennywise
One of the most lauded elements of the miniseries is Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. He’s easily the highlight of the movie and it’s not hard to see why. Curry is clearly having a blast as the character, and that kind of enjoyment is infectious. But, it’s fair to say that Curry’s take on Pennywise is a tad over-the-top. There’s little to no nuance in his Pennywise and that treads dangerously into camp territory. Though Curry’s Pennywise will always be a horror icon for fans and a joy to watch, he’s hardly the perfect interpretation of the novel’s eerie concept of IT.
Luckily, Curry is gifted with a ton of iconic sequences pulled straight from the novel. The most memorable of these being the death of Georgie Denbrough. That storm drain sequence is undeniably a classic moment. A lot of the movie benefits from simply adapting the novel in a fairly straightforward way. It’s here that the miniseries shines: it’s a decently faithful adaptation of King’s novel.
Weak on Violence
But, it’s also hindered by being a network television take on a dark and violent story. For a book that centers around children being killed by a ravenous monster, the miniseries has to be pretty tame with its violence. In today’s TV landscape, you could probably get away with some more gruesome imagery. But back in 1990, that wasn’t gonna fly, and that can’t help but neuter some of the story’s disturbing power. Though that blood balloon in Beverly’s bathroom is pretty bonkers.
Part 1 VS Part 2
It’s also worth noting that even fans of the miniseries have a common criticism: the first part of the film is often praised for being much better than the second part. The first half focuses on the Losers Club – the group of seven friends who band together to defeat Pennywise – when they are kids in 1960. The second part sees them reunite thirty years later as adults to kill Pennywise once and for all.
Though there are some moments of typical child acting, the kids in the first part do an admirable job and the story feels much more propulsive. The second half tends to drag and a lot of the chemistry just isn’t there, despite having a collection of great actors like Annette O’Toole and John Ritter. And, spoiler alert, the final confrontation with IT is a mishandled adaptation of the book, turning a cosmically evil monster into… a crab spider? Yeah…
Look, it’s impossible to deny the impact that the 1990 miniseries had at the time. It was a permanent fixture of many video store shelves in the ‘90s, and just that box art alone probably induced a few nightmares. It helped bring IT to a wider — and let’s face it, younger — audience and was integral in making IT one of the most well-known Stephen King stories ever.
But, the miniseries hasn’t aged extremely well and it’s too held back by its unavoidable limitations. It’s a nostalgic treat and definitely a good entry point into horror for very young viewers, but if you want to see an adaptation of IT that’s more in line with the intensity, violence, and imagination of the novel, you’ve got a great option in the new theatrical version. And just as the IT miniseries left its stamp on a generation, so will this new film.