One clown to rule them all. No, I don’t mean Ronald McDonald. I’m talking about the other red-nosed, pale-faced demonic space goofball with an unhealthy appetite for all things children. That’s right folks… this month marks the 30 year anniversary of the first onscreen adaption of Stephen King’s classic, IT.
In 1960, seven preteen outcasts fight an evil demon that poses as a child-killing clown. Thirty years later, they reunite to stop the demon once and for all when it returns to their hometown.
The year was 1990, and the horror genre was booming. Stephen King was cranking out books at a feverish pace, and the studios were lapping it up. Misery (1990 – read our retro review here) was about to be released on the silver screen on November 30th, but before that would happen, it would be the small screen that would pipe King’s unique brand of terror directly into living rooms all over North America.
Adapted from King’s book of the same name released 4 years prior, ABC aired the 2-part dramatic horror miniseries on November 18th and November 20th respectively. Stephen King’s IT was like nothing that was ever seen before on tv. The entire miniseries clocked in at a combined running time of 3 hours and 12 minutes, which made it the first real binge watch I participated in in my life.
I didn’t watch IT on its original release dates, but I do remember the buzz around what a precedent it set for its time. My dad, being a massive King fan had recorded it on our VCR off the TV, ensuring that the historical dark miniseries would be watched ad nauseam for years to come. The ’90s was the decade that I really started to explore the horror genre, so my opinion on Stephen King’s IT went along with what I was watching at the time.
IT has all the telltale trappings that most King films had at the time such as being based in the author’s home state of Maine, the over-the-top bully characters, and the adults acting in a dismissive and sometimes abusive manner, to name a few. This was new to me at the time and really creeped me out as it made the kids’ scenes in the film extremely immersive as I was a child as well. I knew all too well the feeling of adults not believing things I would say or downplay any fears I may have.
Unlike others though, I also loved the scenes with the adult characters, like John Ritter (Three’s Company TV series), who played adult Ben. I was also a huge fan of Harry Anderson, who played adult Richie Tozier, from his hilarious work on the Night Court TV series. I found that they did a great job carrying the child character’s personalities into adulthood, and I loved the camaraderie and teasing that followed once they all came back to Derry.
Eventually the internet became a thing, and my natural curiosity for more info on all things horror would lead me to find some interesting facts about Stephen King’s IT that would blow my mind. These unexplored paths would have given us an absolutely different end product, and I love to imagine what it would have looked like.
First, they makers of the miniseries were toying with the idea of an 8 to 10 hour version—resulting in IT being a 4 part miniseries—thus allowing them to fit in much more details that had been laid out in the novel. Night of the Living Dead director George Romero was the original choice to direct, but eventually parted ways with the project due to “creative differences,” or more commonly known as executive meddling in his unwavering vision and commitment to the craft. Romero was promptly replaced with Halloween 3‘s Tommy Lee Wallace. Personally, I think Wallace did a great job with some truly spooky visuals.
Finally, before the portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown by the iconic Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show 1975), other actors that were considered to don the red rubber nose like Alice Cooper, Roddy McDowall (Fright Night 1985 – read out our retro review here). Last but not least, they actually considered Malcom McDowell (Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Halloween II) for the part. Now that’s something I’d like to see!
An old movie can have many lives throughout time. They have the ability to influence and inspire new filmmakers who grew up with them, inspiring them to have a go at re-interpreting the source material all while adding in some nods to the original. After the 2017 remake (read our review here) and its second chapter (read our review here) are far enough in my rear view mirror, it was the perfect time to give IT a much overdue re-watch.
I prefer how the original mixes the adult and kid’s scenes throughout the two chapters. I also think that the score in the miniseries is way more effective, and I appreciate that they used other iterations pulled from the novel, like the Mummy and Wolfman. I also much prefer the fact that they don’t drag out the clown version ever few minutes like the remake. I always felt that the studio dragged the clown onscreen in the new film more often in more of that executive meddling I mentioned before, which drove Romero away originally.
I was surprised how much I enjoyed my latest watch of the miniseries that has been with me as far back as I can remember, and it felt great to revisit an old friend.
Stay scary, horror fans!