Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Cast: Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, Annette O’Toole, Tim Reid, John Ritter, Richard Thomas, Tim Curry
Screenplay: Tommy Lee Wallace, Lawrence D. Cohen
192 mins. Rated TV-14.
Ah, another October is here. And so we begin the 31 Days of Horror…come along with me.
The 2017 film It is based on the novel by Stephen King, but twenty-seven years ago, there was a miniseries movie event also based on the novel. A very popular and memorable miniseries, one wonders if it holds up.
It’s 1990, and there’s been another child murder in Derry, Maine. Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid, By the Grace of Bob, TV’s Sister, Sister) arrives on the scene, and he’s now fully aware that It is back. He reaches out to his friends from childhood, some he hasn’t spoken to in 30 years, to see if he can get them to come back to Derry. Richie Tozier (Harry Anderson, A Matter of Faith, TV’s Night Court) has become a successful comedian, but when he speaks to Mike, he knows he must go home. Eddie Kaspbrak (Dennis Christopher, Django Unchained, Queen of the Lot) hasn’t changed much in 30 years, still living with his mother, but he feels compelled to go back to Derry. Beverly Marsh (Annette O’Toole, We Go On, TV’s Smallville) has become a big player in fashion, but her childhood pain has taken a new form in partner and lover Tom. Ben Hanscom (John Ritter, Sling Blade, TV’s Three Company) has lost the weight as well as his self-respect, but his love for Beverly drives him back. Bill Denbrough (Richard Thomas, Anesthesia, TV’s The Waltons) may be a successful novelist, but his regret for the death of his brother Georgie has followed him all his life. Stan Uris (Richard Masur, The Thing, Don’t Think Twice) isn’t sure he’s ready to face It again. The Loser’s Club must all go back to Derry, together, in order to finally put a stop to It, a creature that has inhabited Derry for hundreds of years, often taking the form of a dancing clown named Pennywise (Tim Curry, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Axel: The Biggest Little Hero).
The novel this miniseries is based on is a massive tome, and to fit all of it into a three-hour-runtime is a huge feat, but director Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Vampires: Los Muertos) manages to hit the most important notes on his way to the finish line, but the troubles of a television miniseries movie in the 90s didn’t allow the meat of the novel to be shown. The performances are as good as the script, which again, hits all the plot beats but doesn’t give enough time to any of the characters to really flesh them out. It’s a nice experience if you’ve read the novel, but it just doesn’t give enough to viewers.
Tim Curry’s work as Pennywise is exemplary, however, and is the biggest reason this film has stayed so popular over so many years. His playfulness as Pennywise turns on a dime to become menacing and frightful, and it just works so well. It’s a shame, though, that he just doesn’t have a lot to do in the film.
There’s a lot of talk about both incarnations of It and how the adults are/will be portrayed, and what I don’t get is how much time in the miniseries is given to the adults. For a large amount of the book, the adults are relegated to second-tier status and framing devices to allow for the youth stories to be told. That’s why I don’t understand why the adults get roughly 60% of the screen time in this film. Sure, they are important, but the kids are much more so to the character and plot of the film.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong in It, but the movie is kind of plain. It just isn’t scary. Tim Curry’s terrific performance just can’t save the film, and it just wasn’t going to work as a television presentation. Having seen the 2017 film, I can tell you that it does work as a film (I cannot speak to the 1997 Indian adaptation Woh, but that’s for another time), but on TV, It loses all of its teeth.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, click here.
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