From the makers of "Is" and "A"
Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns. Thankfully I don't suffer from such a phobia. Clowns never bothered me. I remember looking forward to seeing them on a trip to the circus when I was little. I can understand, though, why someone would be terrified of a person in white makeup, brightly-colored baggy clothes, and a crazy grin. There's something slightly unnatural about their appearance and in-your-face approach to entertainment that doesn't sit right in people. It may also have to do with the fact that John Wayne Gacy was a clown. Whatever the reason may be, clowns have a tendency to show up in horror movies like House Of Fears, Masters Of Horror: We All Scream For Ice Cream, and Killer Klowns From Outer Space. But there's one movie where a clown is the epitome of fear.
It (also known as Stephen King's It) is a 1990 television movie based on the novel by Stephen King (Cujo, Misery). The two-part movie stars Tim Curry (Ritual, The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. In the small town of Derry, Maine a six-year old boy named Georgie Denbrough is playing with a toy boat when it was down into the sewer. A clown named Pennywise (referred by the characters as “It”) is down in the sewer and tempts Georgie to get closer. He grabs Georgie, tearing his arm off and killing him. Georgie's older brother Bill (Jonathan Bradis, Sidekicks, SeaQuest) blames himself for his brother's death and begins to stutter due to the trauma. Bill has a group of friends, Ben, Eddie, Beverly, Richie (Seth Green, Austin Powers, The Italian Job) and Stan who all encounter and are subsequently harassed by It. They are also bullied by Henry Bowers, a sadistic schoolmate who constantly threatens to kill them. Henry and his gang chase after Mike, an African American boy in their class, but Bill and his friends defend him. They vow to always stick together and protect each other. With their newfound courage, the group bands together to avenge the deaths of children killed by It. They discover his lair out in the woods and plan to kill him. Henry, who followed the group into the lair, sees his friend killed by It, causing his hair to turn white. After an intense fight, Beverly is able to hit It in the head with a piece of silver. The wound opens up, exposing light from his head before he escapes down a drain. A traumatized Henry confesses to It's murders and is institutionalized. Thirty years later, murders begin to happen again in Derry. An adult Mike (Tim Reid, Sister, Sister, WKRP In Cincinnati) calls everyone in the group, telling them that It has returned. A terrified Stan, unable to face the monster again, commits suicide. It begins to mentally torture the now-adult group of friends (Ben is played by John Ritter, Three's Company, and Richie is played by Harry Anderson, Night Court). He also frees Henry from the asylum who attacks Mike with a knife. Will the group be able to come together again and stop It for good?
I didn't know Pennywise was British
Despite only coming out twenty two years ago, it seems that It has managed to really become part of horror lore. It's surprisingly because, honestly, it's nothing particularly special. It's not bad, but it's not as good as one may be expecting. Part of the problem lies in the fact that the movie was made for television and not for the big screen. Being on TV handcuffs the movie in more ways then one. Obviously, the movie never reaches the proper amount of violence and true terror needed for the story. There are a few scares and eery moments, but it should have been much more. The television format also hurts the movie, fading to black multiple times for commercial breaks. When It first premiered, it was split over two days with a total run time of close to three hours. Stretching the movie out that long causes some unnecessary scenes and a lot of recapping and generalization. When watched straight through, it tends to wear on the audience. The story is just OK and the long, dawn-out scenes stretch it out way too far.
The biggest reason for It's breakthrough into notoriety is because of Tim Curry. He is utterly fantastic as the evil clown, mixing irreverent glee and general wackiness with utter terror. This is the man who was deemed “too scary” to voice the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. By just using his voice, Curry manages to terrify and haunt multiple generations of horror fans. The first half of the movie focusing on the children is much better than the second half. The kids are all likable and it's fun to see a young Seth Green in action. When they become adults, the movie becomes a slow slog to the end. All of the characters are messed up and rightly so. The problem is that they're all incredibly fragile and no one character stands out. I also never quite understood why all the characters forgot about It. Didn't really make sense to me. When It's true form is revealed, stop-motion special effects and green screen are used, making the scene look like a reject from Jason and the Argonauts. When they get up close to the monster, it looks much better. The happy ending still manages to be depressing, which was unfortunate, but expected from King.
Over the past twenty years, It has managed to become a pop culture staple thanks largely to Tim Curry's turn as Pennywise. Without him, the movie wouldn't be nearly as good. His mixture of fun and evil is quite scary even for television in 1990. The story is decent, but is stretched far too thin. The movie has a long run time and lacks the necessary violence and fear to create a truly scary movie. The acting is good and there are some really fun scenes. The movie takes a long time to watch and some may come away disappointed, but It still manages to be entertaining.