Of all the novels Stephen King has written since his first (Carrie 1974) to his latest releases in 2022 (Gwendy’s Final Task, Fairy Tale, and even a cookbook), one of the most prolific and beloved was his 1986 creation, IT.
Back in the 1980s, Stephen King was fueled by cocaine and determination, pumping out book after book dealing with the supernatural as the substances in his system kept him typing away. The author originally came up with the concept of IT in 1978 and started typing it up in 1981. The book was finished in 1986, and it was such a great story that Writer/Director Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III: Season of the Witch 1982) later adapted it into a two part, made-for-TV miniseries in 1990 starring some well known American actors of the time, such as John Ritter (Bride of Chucky 1998), Tim Curry (Rocky Horror Picture Show 1975), Seth Green (My Stepmother Is An Alien 1988), and Harry Anderson (Night Court TV series). Because it was a made for TV movie, the 1990 adaption took a LOT of liberties with the story but it still was a very good movie to watch that fans still quote to this day.
For those that don’t know the story from the IT miniseries, here are the Cliff Notes. In 1958, a young boy named Georgie is given a paper boat by his older brother, Bill, to go play with in the rain. Unfortunately for Georgie who doesn’t understand water flow, the darn thing floats right down into a storm drain. From there, a clown named Pennywise emerges and introduces himself to Georgie, befriending the young fellow and offering him the boat back. When Georgie reaches for the boat, Pennywise turns heel and eats his arm right off his body. The young George dies of blood loss, and Bill is distraught.
Meanwhile, on the last day of school, transfer kid Ben is picked on by the town’s bullies, Henry, Belch, and Vic. With his henchmen holding Ben, Henry tries to cut his name into Ben’s belly and gets most of the H done before Ben escapes into a woody, overgrown place called The Barrens. There, he sees a manifestation of IT in the form of a mummy before running home. Later on, he meets Bill, who has a major stutter, and the nerdy momma’s boy, Eddie. Both Bill and Eddie have their own encounters with IT. Rounding out the group: lone girl, Beverly, who’s father abuses her; the school motormouth, Richie, and the shy, good old fashioned Jewish boy, Stan. The crew start to figure out that they’re all seeing this entity but have no idea what it is.
Finally, the last piece of the puzzle enters the equation in the form of a young Black boy named Mike, AKA Henry’s arch-enemy. Henry’s father, Butch Bowers, a Korean war vet, is a massive xenophobe and has passed his hatred on to his son. Henry ends up killing Mike’s dog and chases him to The Barrens where the group of friends, calling themselves The Losers, happen to be waiting. After defeating Henry’s crew in a rock fight, Mike joins The Losers, confessing that he, too, saw IT in the form of demented birds.
Doing some research, Mike figures out IT is a supernatural entity that’s gripped the town for centuries. It hibernates for 27 years and then returns to feed on humans before going back to sleep again, usually after a catastrophic event such as the Ironworks explosion or a massive neighborhood fire. The end of the first part of the miniseries has The Losers going into the sewers to fight IT as a group. IT, realizing it’s outnumbered, psychically reaches out to Henry to kill his maniac father and come down to the sewers to help.
Now, let’s look at the new adaptation (read our review here), which was released on September 5, 2017. Not coincidentally, the movie’s producers waited 27 years after the 1990 miniseries to come out with a modern day re-telling. Without the restrictions that the made-for-TV movie had, IT (2017) was going to be darker and closer to the book than the 1990 version. A then 44-year-old Tim Curry played Pennywise/IT in 1990, but for the 2017 adaptation, they went younger with 27-year-old, 6′ 4″ Swedish actor, Bill Skarsgard (Eternals 2021). What impressed director Andy Muschietti the most was Bill’s creepy smile even without the makeup. With the makeup, Bill was downright terrifying, which is exactly what fans wanted. Bill could never be Tim Curry, but he didn’t have to be. He was great in his own regard.
As for The Losers, there were some known faces amongst the kids. The most notable was Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard (Ghostbusters: Afterlife – 2021) playing Richie Tozier. Jaeden Martell (as Jaeden Lieberher: Knives Out 2018) was cast as Bill and Wyatt Oleff (Guardians of The Galaxy 2014) was cast as Stan. Relative unknowns include Sophia Lillis as Beverly, Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie, Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben and Chosen Jacobs as Mike. For the heels, we have Nicholas Hamilton (The Dark Tower 2017) as Henry Bowers, Jake Sim (Stella and Sam 2014) as Belch, Logan Thompson as Victor, Owen Teague (Echoes of War 2015) as Patrick Hocksetter, Stephen Bogaert (American Psycho 2000) as Mr. Marsh, and Stuart Hughes (Troubled Waters 2006) as Butch Bowers.
Now comes the fun part. IT (2017) took A LOT of liberties that even the 1990 adaptation didn’t touch upon. In the book, Patrick Hocksetter is much more terrifying than Henry. While Henry is a straight up, in-your-face psychopath, Patrick is a sick, sadistic sociopath. He tortures and kills small animals, murders his younger brother, and sexually abuses Henry. None of that is touched upon in the movie apart from the correct part where he’s killed by IT. The character of Butch Bowers, Henry’s lunatic dad, was turned into a town policeman who’s hard on his son because he’s a bully. In the book, Butch was the driving force behind Henry’s hatred toward Mike and pretty much everyone. The movie made him a good guy to make his inevitable death at the hands of Henry more believable and even heartbreaking. I’m not going to spoil the fates of Victor and Belch, but let’s just say the movie took liberties with them, too. There’s one well-known part of the book that was omitted from both adaptations and with good reason. Pardon my language, but Stephen King decided it was a good idea to write the underage male Losers “running a train” on Beverly. Thank goodness THAT is not in the movie.
Now, for the million dollar question: is the movie good? Yes it is. It’s damn good. It’s faithful to the book for the most part, and the cast did a wonderful job. Today’s advances with jump cuts, special effects, and makeup made the creepy, crawly manifestations that Pennywise uses to scare the children work wonderfully. Even ol’ King himself was probably tickled pink to know that this adaptation was well received by fans and critics alike.
When all was said and done, IT grossed $327 million in 2017, beating out Get Out, Dunkirk, and Thor: Ragnarok. And the film only covered half of the book. The other half is when The Losers return 27 years later as adults to battle Pennywise one last time. That’s a story for another time and an entirely different movie. Maybe five years later in 2024, I’ll cover that one, too. Until then, stay floating.