It: (entire 1990 miniseries)
September 11, 2017 7:40 PM - All Seasons - Subscribe

In 1960, seven pre-teen outcasts fight an evil demon who poses as a child-killing clown. Thirty years later, they reunite to stop the demon once and for all when it returns to their hometown.

Ethan Alter, Yahoo Entertainment: Back to Derry: An oral history of the classic 'Stephen King's It' miniseries
[Larry] Cohen [screenwriter]: The cardinal rule of the standards and practices division of a network is not to show kids in jeopardy. Ironically, though, that’s the very basis of It. We found ways around that rule; for example, we couldn’t be explicit about, say, Georgie’s arm being yanked off by Pennywise, but we could talk about it. And we could do things that allowed viewers to fill in the blank with their imaginations. But there were still amazing amounts of real horror that got onscreen, like Pennywise cornering Eddie in the shower, and the fortune cookie scene.

[Tommy Lee] Wallace [director]: The fortune cookie scene is an example of how to get great scare-power out of fairly humble, low-budget special effects. A trick table, puppeteers underneath, a handful of creepy little cookie models, a group of characters taken by surprise. So much depended on the details. True horror happens in the mind, when a horrific idea is planted, such as the half-developed embryo of a tiny bird, all wet, moving helplessly, right there in a fortune cookie you were about to eat!

[Gene] Warren [Jr., special visual effects supervisor]: Even in the book, I had a problem with the spider. King was able to conjure it up in his head, but it was difficult to bring to the screen. We set the tone and parameters in the first part of the movie with Pennywise. But when you get to the spider, you move into a different world. It was supposed to be a horror movie, not Jason and the Argonauts.

Wallace: We labored long and hard designing a spider that was very beefy and muscular, almost reptilian in appearance. It looked great in the drawings, and I even recall a little clay model Bart did, which sealed the deal and won my enthusiastic approval. Bart and team went back to Hollywood to work the whole thing up full-size, and shooting started. When the SVFX team returned to Vancouver and unpacked the full-size spider, what I expected to see was the big version of that original model —the beefy, reptilian thing that was scary on sight. What they assembled on set was very, very different. Not chunky at all; very lean and mean. That’s a pretty big change to have sprung on you a few hours before you’re supposed to shoot. I don’t mind saying that I was hugely upset, and considered scrapping the whole thing and starting from scratch — but there simply was no more time and no more money.
Alex Leadbeater, ScreenRant: The Original IT Movie is Actually Pretty Terrible:
The big misstep, however, is the ending. Namely, they treat the book too seriously, directing lifting IT‘s true form of giant evil spider and realizing it with blunt visual effects. A guy in clown make-up can be scary and achieved on a TV budget. An inter-dimensional monster just can’t. And that’s the central problem with IT – it’s really rather cheap.
Jen Chaney, Vulture: The 1990 It Mini-series Is Not As Scary As You Remember:
The truth about the first It is that it’s actually less scary than you may remember. This is one of those shows that’s far more disturbing when broken down in still images, which is how our brains often recall certain experiences, than it is as an actual moving picture. The sight of Tim Curry as Pennywise peering out from a storm drain? That was unsettling in 1990, and it’s unsettling now, and it will be unsettling in the year 2035, when our entire government is run entirely by clowns and juggalos. But go back and view Curry as Pennywise in action in It as he assumes a gravelly, New York-ish accent while referring to one of his first victims as “bucko,” and you might be like, “You know what? I could definitely take this joker in an underground sewer fight.”
posted by We had a deal, Kyle (10 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This was playing repeatedly on Spike this weekend.

What all of the retrospectives are too kind to say is: all the (non-clown) adult actors in this are awful. So much wooden line-reading; so much hand-to-face melodrama. The child actors -- with the possible exception of young Seth Green who is trying a little too hard to make Richie Tozier wacky -- put them all to shame; and are better written, too.

It's very much a mixed bag: the second half is rushed and cheap, the first half much better but you can still see the seams where they clearly wanted to do all of the book but had to cut it down. But it's not a terrible way to spend 4 hours.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 8:03 PM on September 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

Apparently Harry Anderson's jokes were mostly improved. They are *terrible*.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:26 PM on September 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

If you listen to the podcast We Hate Movies (previously), they'll be featuring IT on their season premiere tomorrow.
posted by guiseroom at 9:09 PM on September 11, 2017

The main acting I remember from this--other than Tim Curry, obvs--is Johnboy's wooden performance and John Ritter's unintentionally hilarious "Is that you in there or the clown?", which is really what you want to hear from someone when you're sharing a tender moment.

The Giant Evil Space Spider who lays Evil Space Eggs of Evil is... one of the worst book endings (and by extension, movie endings) I've experienced. The novel achieved brilliance in places, but for me it will always remain a horror story about what happens when an author feels they have outgrown their editor.
posted by duffell at 5:35 AM on September 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

it will always remain a horror story about what happens when an author feels they have outgrown their editor.

The real problem was that it was written in the mid-eighties, a few years before King got clean and sober. (He's said that The Tommyknockers should have been about half its length.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:21 AM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I remember the anticipation when this came out. All of my friends who were into SK were all wide-eyed and "OH YEAH!" and then, after it aired, were all sad-faced and "oh man."
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:27 AM on September 12, 2017

I haven't watched this since shortly after it was released on VHS (I must have been 16 or so). I remember the first part being genuinely creepy and effective for a late 80s made-for-tv film, but the second part with the adults is just terrible. Harry Anderson apparently thinks he is the Charm King of Whimsyland and he is terribly mistaken. I assume he was a big enough name back then that the director couldn't rein him in.

Part of the problem is that a creepy adult clown has legitimate power over a bunch of young teenagers who lack self-determination at the best of times. But the same clown schtick doesn't work for adults - the audience just wonders why the gang doesn't walk up and beat the shit out of Pennywise while he is doing his parlor tricks.

The spider at the end is, of course, terrible. But the climax is abrupt anyway and the damage has already been done to the flow of the story before we even see the end boss. A better approach would be to have the second half be more physiological horror (which is what adults fear the most) with more of the town itself acting against the gang. The spider should be only glimpsed.
posted by AndrewStephens at 8:16 AM on September 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

I feel like in part the spider ending here is so unsatisfying because Tim Curry's Pennywise portrayal is so indelible: the series invests so much into "look, the monster's a REALLY SCARY CLOWN who sometimes pretends to be other things" that the final "but actually it's a SPACE SPIDER" reveal isn't earned and is more of a "wait, what now?" moment. It doesn't help also that the miniseries elides the "smoke lodge" sequence in which the kids learn about its origin.

The book does better at this by making IT's form more fluid: it's clearer, I think, that Pennywise is just one of the many "greatest fear" forms that it takes. (And without spoiling the moment in the book: the form it takes terrorize Mike Hanlon is the one that scared me most and stuck with me longest.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 1:19 PM on September 12, 2017

The Tim Curry stuff was great. The rest was horrible. Also, much as I love him, King can't write an ending to save his life.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:21 PM on September 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

King's been open about his heavy influence from Lord of the Rings. I don't know if he's said so, but my thinking is that, to him, IT is basically Shelob with an interest in pop culture. It's a better take than this one, anyway.

The impact of this miniseries is directly attributable, I think, to how old you were when you saw it. If you were grown, it was mostly laughable, except for Tim Curry's performance. But hearing Tim Curry roar "You all taste so much better when you're afraid!" is mighty heavy for a kid.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:55 PM on September 12, 2017

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