Flashback Movie Friday: Stephen King’s It (1990)

Any child of the 80’s or 90’s will no doubt have a memory of watching the 1990 mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, IT. It’s also likely that you’ve suppressed that memory and  all the many  week’s worth of nightmares that went with it… not to mention the fearsof clowns that you’ve never quite understood or begun to get over. IT is one of those films which is instantly recognisable for the role of Tim Curry, who stars as Pennywise, the killer clown. Indeed, most of the people I meet in later life will recount their own childhood terror at remembering the scene where Pennywise, hiding in the drain with little Timmy’s paper boat in his hand, turns nasty and ends up tearing the boys arm off. ‘We all float down here … and when you’re down here, you’ll float too’.
Truly, the stuff nightmares are made of…

IT Kids
(The Lucky Seven/ The Losers Club (not all pictured obviously), having the best summer of their lives).

I’ve intentionally pushed Pennywise far from my memory because the first time I saw this film it was so distressing I didn’t know what to do with myself. However, last week I stumbled across a news story about the remake that is planned for 2017 (starring none other than our new crush, Bill Skarsgård – told you he’d be taking over in no time at all ) which made me curious to revisit the original. I had a vague recollection of the ending being a bit of a disappointment, but that has also been eclipsed by that scene with Beverly in the bathroom, with the blood all over her; blood that her alcoholic, abusive father seems blind to. *horrific* Reading about the planned re-make made me a bit defensive over the original and thus, I knew that much like the Loser’s Club, I too had to go back to Derry and face my fears. Surprisingly, I got a lot out of it.

all seven
(The whole gang – bonding in their mutual terror)

Considering the scope of the story – it can only be described as epic really – I think the writers of the mini-series did a decent job of getting it into television format. My one criticism is probably that the film isn’t long enough and would have benefited from a third instalment (how often can we say that and mean it?). This would have allowed the writers to touch a bit more on the story of the main cast as both kids and as adults, because there are times throughout when it does feel a bit rushed. A prime example would be the lack of development around why, as their adult selves, none of the Lucky Seven can really remember their experiences as children. This concept pops up here and there throughout the mini-series, but it’s never fully explained and doesn’t take on the same level of importance as it does in the novel.

Additionally, the final confrontation between the adult Lucky Seven (who are by this time reduced to five) seems to be all too brief. So much build up and not much bang, as it were. In a similar vein, the sub-plot with Bill’s wife, Audra, seems a bit pointless due to the fact that it is so underdeveloped. Are they happily married? Is she having an affair? Did she have an affair? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions.

Im not seeing it though
I don’t know about this decision. I mean, he too pretty and *gulp* too young. Sorry handsome, baby Skarsgård, you is too, too beautiful to be Pennywise. 

Despite these plot issues and some poorly aging special effects, I  do think the 1990 version of IT holds up pretty well. Certainly I enjoyed it on a very different level watching it as an adult than I did when I was younger and, to be honest, I found that the 3 hour run time really flew by because I was so caught up in the story. I am sure I’m not alone in thinking that Stephen King films, much like his books, can be hit and miss adventures. When they’re good (Misery, Pet Semetary, The Shining, Christine, Carrie) they’re very good but when they’re bad (Tommy-knockers, Langoliers, The Stand) they’re bloody awful. Happily, this one fell (for me) clearly on the side of ‘very-good’.

Although the casting involves some familiar faces, John Ritter and a very young Seth Green are two examples, there’s no one that is so famous that they eclipse the rest of the ensemble and that is really beneficial to the viewer. Tim Curry is barely recognisable as the clown and so he too, is able to deliver a terrifying performance which is not obstructed by his very recognisable face. Rather than seeing the celebrity, you’re actually seeing the characters and in a film of this length that is essential to the success.

(Vale – Jonathan Brandis)

When I watch this now though, it is with a sadness, because Jonathan Brandis stars as young Bill. Although I was never one of those rabid Seaquest DSV fans, I was a Brandis fan (Side-Kicks, guys and don’t even get me started on LadybugsGENIUS); and was very very sad to hear that he killed himself in 2003 at the age of 27. He was such a talent and it was such waste.

It’s moments like this that are responsible for Coulrophobia…

Before IT became a mini-series it was of course, a novel. At well over 1,250 pages, quite a novel it is too. I believe the book jacket even describes it as epic – as if the sheer weight of it isn’t enough of a tip-off. It’s been a decade since I read the book, but I do remember it scaring me perhaps more than any other Stephen King novel has managed to do (close second to Pet Semetary) and despite the length, I managed to knock it over relatively quickly – which is always the marker of a good novel. If you’re going to invest in the mini-series (and I hope you do), I would also heartily recommend having a go at the book. I think you’ll be surprised at how quickly it pulls you in and (arguably) it gives the film a bit more context.

Obviously, you’re not going to spend your Friday night reading – but I do hope you’ll go home and give this a re-watch. It costs about $7.99 to buy on iTunes, which is a good investment in my opinion.

Ultimately, I don’t know what’s going to happen with the re-make of IT or if I will even like it (look, The Shining remake was pretty average in my opinion) but I am going to try and retain some hope and optimism that young Skarsgård can ruin the dreams of a whole new generation of youngsters. Until that happens in 2017 and 2018 respectively, we’ll just have to hang our bad dreams on the original…

see you in your dreams
Can’t wait….



  1. Gayle Harrington · July 29, 2016

    Hi Racheal. I always read your and Lauren’s blogs, always good value! Don’t know whether my daughter Lauren has told you what a Stephen King fan I am, so this was a really interesting blog for me to read. My personal opinion is that he is the best writer of horror in the 20th/21st century, but yes I have to agree with you – this doesn’t always transport well to the screen. The Shining, Carrie, Christine were the goodies; I was so so disappointed when The Stand came on TV, as this is my favourite book of his and it just wasn’t the same in a mini-series (I actually did the drying-up for my mother, and also walked to and from the train station, reading this book, I COULD NOT put it down!). As for IT, I found this such a scary book when it came out that I wasn’t game to watch the mini-series when it was produced (I had enough trouble getting through watching Jack Nicholson in The Shining). What is it with clowns??? Anyway, I think its a very difficult thing to get the same “feeling” you get from books when you watch the screen adaptations – perhaps our imagination goes so wild when reading, conjuring up emotions just by the written word – you can put your own “slant” on things I guess. I now wonder how IT is going to look when its remade in the next 12 months; whether its just going to be “another ho-hum remake” or whether its going to have balls like the original. However it turns out, I might make myself watch it (during the day when someone is at home!!!) just to see what its like, but I’ll reread the book first. Hope I’m not disappointed.
    Keep up the great blogs (LOVED the Buffy stuff, I’m hesitant to admit at my age I’m a massive fan!!).
    Gayle Harrington


    • Racheal · July 29, 2016

      Hi Gayle! Thanks for reading, I wish Lauren had told me that you were following us – I had no idea. I would agree with you that Stephen King is probably the best writer of his generation (I also rate Dean Koontz and Richard Lamont very highly and they write some similarly themed stuff… we might look at them later). Probably my one gripe with King (and maybe I am the only one picking up on this) is that he seems to have an unnatural pre-occupation with women on their menstrual cycles. Sometimes that really gets me down and I just want to give up on reading the book. I loved The Shining (novel) and also thought very highly of the follow-up that came out recently, Doctor Sleep. Probably that was what rekindled my love of Stephen King and made me revisit a lot of the classics. I have been working away on a review of Pet Semetary but it is proving really hard to write. I will keep trying though. That movie scared me witless when I fist saw it, I think it probably has to do with the flashbacks of the sick sister, who is all deformed, dying in the back room and yelling out ‘Rachel! Rachel!’ LoL.
      I bought another copy of IT the other day and am looking forward to reading it again. We should compare notes on our thoughts when we’re done. I have a vague memory of the book ending being a bit difficult for me to digest, but maybe that has changed with age and maturity.
      Thanks again for reading and for commenting. Racheal


    • swanpride · July 29, 2016

      Well, one thing for sure, the mini-series doesn’t have a giant turtle who apologizes for accidentially creating the galaxy by basically vomiting it out.


  2. swanpride · July 29, 2016

    I think the problem of the miniseries was that the first half was really, really good…I really cared about those children and was truly afraid that they might not make it, despite the fact that I saw them as adult on the screen all the time. But the adult versions of them were just blah (all of them!) and I actually was less afraid of one of them dying (even though some of them did) because they had defeated “IT” beforehand.

    I am kind of surprised that you read and liked the book, because there are two things which really stuck out to me about it, and the first one was the sexual content. I mean the book has a group orgy between Becky and the boys when they are still children, among other things which even made me uncomfortable. The other thing those was the sheer creativity put into the fight with IT. This is the one thing a remake might do better – the other is the scope. A lot of the book is actually about events in the town which showed the poisonous influence IT had on people, making them cruel, racist, homophobic but above all prone to looking into the other direction whenever possible.

    RIP Jonathan Brandis…count me in as being sad that he died so young.


    • Racheal · July 29, 2016

      Hi Swanpride,
      I will agree with you that the sexual content in the book was an issue and no, it never sat well with me either, but by the time it came up I was so into the story that I didn’t want to throw it away over that episode – unrealistic and stupid as it was.
      The final fight with IT (in the mini-series) was pretty lame and perhaps the 2017 version will make better use of the special effects that are now available.
      Also, I will agree that the adults in the mini-series were not as likeable (particularly Richie) and I wasn’t that sad when some of them died. I think that was due to the writers running short of time. It was like when the bully from their childhood reappeared, only to be quickly knifed and then left in the hotel (with no follow up by police). That whole story point was pointless – so too, Eddie’s confession that he is in his 40’s and still a virgin. It served no purpose to the story at that point and I was already not connected to the adult characters.
      That said, nothing is perfect so I am happy to look over a few flaws in order to enjoy what is otherwise a great story… I do hope they leave the prepubescent orgy out of the remake – despite the current attitudes towards sex in films, I would like to hope that there is no way that will get past the censors.


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