A tale of two halves but a great nostalgic ride into the dead lights.
It was November 1991. My friends and I were playing football outside and having a great time. Unbeknownst to us was the nightmarish movie viewing on display inside the house. Our siblings were watching some film about a clown; what could be so damn scary about that, right? Well, us kids waltz inside and feast our eyes upon one scary mofo that left me with many sleepless nights. Welcome to Stephen King's It – but does it hold up as well upon viewing as an adult? Yes and no.
Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, best known known for (at that point) the underrated Halloween III: Season of the Witch and Fright Night Part 2 and obviously based on the very famous novel by Stephen King, comes a two part mini-series about a group of seven kids - effectively known as The Losers' Club, who not only have to deal with a bunch of bullies (led by the psychotic Henry Bowers), but also a demon clown named Pennywise, who every 27 years feeds on the children of Derry.
It's up to The Losers' Club, led by the stuttering Bill Denbrough, who must face their fears of childhood all over again as adults, when Pennywise returns to wreak havoc on the town over a quarter of a century later.
The mini-series was a massive hit when it debuted on TV in the United States and was a major step forward for future mini-series, as far as pushing the envelope goes. It's not everyday you'll see a film about a child eating demon on prime time television but these days it's the norm – but does it hold up well? Let's start with the first part.
I think it goes without saying that the first half, which is set in 1960 and mostly focuses on the seven protagonists as kids (though it cuts back and forth with them as adults), is the strongest and best part of the mini-series and that comes down to two things; the youngsters and Pennywise. I've always said that Stephen King knows how to write children well.
Watching the characters, I could relate to them and the actors who play them are nothing short of outstanding. To say one is better than the next would be unfair to the rest because they are just as good as the other – and that's always a positive. They looked comfortable and were believable having fun when required and being scared – something the adult actors couldn't pull off (will get to that in a bit).
The antagonist needs no introduction and Tim Curry does an absolutely stellar job of scaring the crap out of these kids and even left me in a cold sweat at times. If his performance isn't freaky enough, his deep, throaty voice will make it complete. The look of Pennywise seems innocent enough but then again, does a clown ever look innocent? I mean really. Okay, I'll retract that last statement – he looks frightening!! Tim Curry should've won an Emmy for this performance, it was that strong and memorable.
Special mention must go to the psychotic bully, Henry Bowers (Jarred Blancard) – I mean, jesus!! What a performance and what a prick. I think we all knew someone like him at school but maybe nowhere near as messed up as Henry. He really set the tone of what a good bully in films and tv should be.
The second part was a let down, and mostly everyone will tell you that, including the director, who himself said it wasn't the best. The Losers' Club as adults were uninspiring and really overdid it in the acting department at times. It's weird because I really thought in the first part the adults were very interesting to watch, but that might have to do with the fact that they only appeared in short segments to introduce the characters.
The standout adult actors were John Ritter (Ben Hanscom), Annette O'Toole (Beverly Marsh) and Tim Reid (Mike Hanlon). The most disappointing were Richard Thomas (Bill Denbrough) and Dennis Christopher (Eddie Kaspbrak). Richard was completely miscast and just didn't fit the character at all, same can be said for Dennis who really oversold the stress at various times.
Also disappointing, to a lesser degree, was Pennywise himself - surprisingly. His screen time was more limited and was nowhere near as creepy, way too comedic for my taste. Also to be mentioned is the terrible ending. I know the book ends in the same way, but it was just a downer and it didn't have anything to do with the acting.
There were solid aspects of the second part. Obviously whenever they cut back to 1960 and the child actors re-appear; the grim and weary look of Derry is a major plus also. The infamous Mrs Kersh, who frightens the hell out of Beverly, was actually pretty eerie.
The soundtrack was just as important as the story. Kudos to the sound crew for making Derry seem as bleak and depressing as Pennywise and Henry Bowers are scary.
It's a quite literally a mini-series of two halves. If they had a bigger budget, maybe an MA rating (as the book is very violent and bloody) and cast better adult actors (not all, just a couple) – it'd be a terrific mini-series. As it stands, it's just good but you know what – after all these years and repeated viewings later, that's impressive enough.