Monday, May 01, 2017

IT (1990)

The recent release of this mini-series/TV event film from 1990 was celebrated by it's fans. I have never considered myself much of a fan of it or, indeed, many of the various television adaptations of Stephen King stories. They have always struck me a neutered versions of tales that really need a blast of subversive ultra-violence or darker-than-allowed characterizations to become the full blooded horror efforts that they were on the page. The only one that seemed to find a way to craft visceral thrills that actually crept under my skin was SALEM'S LOT (1979) but it appears to be the only one with any real dark power and the ability to hold up over the years.

So, I picked up the cheap Blu-Ray of IT (1990) to see if my memory of it as 'not bad' held up twenty-seven years later. The good news is that I think it is actually better than my dim memories led me to believe. The bad news is that it's flaws are still IT's downfall and they come in the expected spots.

I expected some of the acting to be less than great - this is, after all, a TV production with a huge cast of mostly television stars and a large number of child performers. But I was surprised to note that the young actors are mostly very good. There are some flubs and it's easy to spot some careful editing to get around particular actors not being able to successfully bring off certain emotional notes as well as might be wished for, but overall they are solid. The adult versions of these characters are played by an assortment of familiar 1980's TV faces and other than Harry Anderson, who is way out of his depth, they are quite good. In fact. Dennis Christopher, John Ritter and Richard Thomas turn in strong work and Ritter plays well off of Annette O'Toole in an emotional scene in the final hour that is very affecting. It speaks to the talent of the cast that they managed to accomplish what they do in a story with so many characters.

As might be expected, it is the finale of the story where the production falls down the most. The visualization of the ancient evil that terrorizes Derry, Maine every thirty years has been excellent up to the final act with Tim Curry embodying the creepy horror as Pennywise the clown. But once we have to get a look at the real physical nature of the creature the film can't help but disappoint. I've never read the book but I understand the monster takes many different forms including the giant spider we get here. The effects are passable to a degree but the stop-motion employed is not up to the best of such work and, although the live action props are well matched, it never feels like a real threat. The actors do their best to bring some real seriousness to the monster battle and manage some good moments amide the TV-safe gore but it doesn't completely work.

I'm looking forward to the feature film version of this story due out later this year but at the same time I fear the loss of character detail the shorter running time will require. It'll be interesting to see what they manage on second try. If nothing else I'm sure the ending will be impressive.


Nick Rentz said...

The It remake will be in two parts. I'm sure they won't loose any character detail doing it that way.

Rod Barnett said...

Cool! That's good to know. Although it's odd to divide a horror tale into two parts.

Nick Rentz said...

Cash Cow!

Vila Wolf said...

IT being made for tv is where the problems start. Having read the book, 90% of today just cannot be put on tv. And even now there is one thing that won't be in the movies and its completely understandable. You just can't film 9-12 year olds having a gang bang in the sewers. I don't want to complain about the costuming for Pennywise since I just don't know the context for it in the movie, but that is the one thing the tv version got right. There's nothing immediatly offputting about Tim Curry. You don't know something is terribly wrong until its to late. The book is some crazy as shit though; the town itself is almost the bigger villain.

Rod Barnett said...

Damn Vila - you almost make me want to read the book! Pre-teen gang bang? Holy hell! I'd heard there was a sex scene that the filmmakers were going to have to leave out but THAT is insane.

Vila Wolf said...

After they 'kill' Pennywise the map guy is basically walking catatonic and they get really lost. One of them figures that since adults inspect the sewers on a regular basis and never get lost they need to be adults to get out. The most adult thing they can think of is sex. So there's a preteen gang bang.

And all of the adults know about Pennywise. They let him eat kids every few years because once or twice he's "defended" the town from outside threat. They knowingly cover up the murder of their own kids 'for the greater good.'

Also, Pennywise is why they all got famous. He did some magic to make them all wildly successful in their chosen fields as a sort of peace offering + get the fuck out of here and let me eat kids.