Stephen King’s It (1990)

Originally written in January 2014

No, this isn’t a film about the famous author losing a game of tag, it’s actually a horror film about a clown with non-specific motives that terrorises the children of a small town called Derry.

The first rule of a Stephen King story is that you should always believe the least likely explanation first and It is no different. It follows each of a group of six adults, as they receive a phone call from their childhood friend that “it” is back. Now living separate, successful lives, they are compelled to return to their home town and confront the monster that traumatised their youth.

“It” most commonly takes the form of a clown called Pennywise, brilliantly played by Tim Curry who milks this monstrous character for every shred of terror it’s capable of possessing.  But it almost seems like cheating to use a clown in a horror film. It would be a greater challenge to use a clown in a comedy, given how inherently terrifying they are. It’s close in feel to Pet Semetary, A Nightmare on Elm Street or even Nightbreed thanks to its tense atmosphere. It also deserves praise for having properly rounded characters.

Yet in spite of this, the film – made from a double bill of 90 minute episodes unceremoniously sandwiched together – goes on so long that the initially terrifying monster becomes boring. His first appearance in the film’s opening is completely chilling, but as the film goes on his appearances become repetitive. With seven characters, we have to sit through childhood flashbacks in 1960 over and over again as everyone is explained. Their 1990 reunion doesn’t come about until almost two hours into the film, and almost everything up to this feels like backstory.

The clown’s frequent appearances are virtually the same every time, ever lessening its impact. It would certainly have worked better as two films as in its original format, one about the children, ending with their first group confrontation with the monster, and the second about them as adults coming back to finish the job. In this guise it’s more like a movie and its sequel being told alongside each other in one film that’s twice as long as it should be. Other solutions may have been cutting down the number of characters in the group to four or five. Three hours is too long for a pulpy slasher film.

It’s a textbook example of the cliché that less is more; as an initially chilling character is devalued to the point of tedium. Surely It deserves better.

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One response to “Stephen King’s It (1990)

  1. Pingback: It (2017) | Screen Goblin·

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