Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Cast: Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Annette O’Toole, Harry Anderson, Tim Reid, Dennis Christopher, Jonathan Brandis, Brandon Crane, Emily Perkins, Seth Green, Adam Faraizl, Marlon Taylor, Ben Heller and Tim Curry as Pennywise
Plot: The town of Derry becomes under attack from a child-murdering clown (Curry), hiding in the sewers.
It is widely known as “that horror film with the clown”. However, that really doesn’t do Stephen King’s powerhouse creation justice in the slightest. It is actually one of the more unique horror creatures of modern times and while the “job done” advertising of branding It as a creepy clown does bring a lot of pop culture benefits to the project, the truth is that there is so much more to this story than originally meets the eye.
It is closer to the Boggart in Harry Potter, a creature of unknown origin, inexplicably attracted to this one small-town, that preys on children by appearing to them as the thing they fear the most and luring them down into the sewers (a rather contradictory scheme, upon reflection). The clown seems to be Pennywise’s stock scaring outfit however, the majority of his scenes playing the cackling lunatic clown in the distance of the plot. However, It can be anything, a memory of a dead relative, a werewolf, or simply an explosion of blood in the bathroom sink. He is almost horror movie dream material, so even smaller scenes can manage to squeeze in a visit from Pennywise. Every creak in the floorboards can hypothetically evolve into a jump scare. If this narrative trick is a tad over-used and grows stale in the dying moments, is a sad downside to Pennywise’s form. Sometimes he is just too good not to use. There are more interesting quirks to the character though. His torment tricks can only be seen by children (or past victims), so when a child is assaulted by Pennywise, adults cannot see it happening. There are some deliciously horror moments in It, where a young Emily Perkins emerges from the bathroom, covered in blood from Pennywise, and her father doesn’t bat an eyelid. The real subtext behind the horror tricks however is that the children are on their own. Stephen King explores what happens when a child cannot turn to adults (every character outside of the principal friend group are either antagonists or useless). The first half of this movie focuses on the children first encountering the creature that lives below Derry and how they work together to fight it back. However, 30 years later, It returns to Derry, once again claiming the lives of local children. Tim Reid plays the one member of that group that stayed behind in the town, who figures out their old nemesis is back and calls upon a promise made a long time ago. The true story of It is the power of friendship. As the movie introduces the characters, now grown up and successful, he shows just how much of an influence Pennywise has. One character develops a stutter he suffered as a child, one character nearly does a runner… the promise is a tough one to keep, but as each friend returns to Derry, the power of friendship bleeds through.
Yes, this film is much more about a creepy clown running around killing people, but that creepy clown is worth praising. Tim Curry takes on the role of Pennywise and it is a performance so gripping, that even those that haven’t seen the movie, have likely experienced Curry’s Pennywise to some degree. He is a chilling sight, most of the time not bothering the usual horror trope of a slow reveal, but standing openly for all to see. It is the audacity of Pennywise, his cackling taunts that impress. For a long time, Pennywise isn’t quite as scary as you want him to be. His first introduction feels a bit less “aah! Killer clown!” and more like: “why is Tim Curry dressed like a muppet?” But what Pennywise lacks in outright terror, he makes up for in his chilling habits. His insincere attempt at friendliness and his harsh taunting of each character stick in the mind. As well as dressing up like their worst fears, Pennywise also uses their deepest insecurities against them. He snarls “nigger” at the one black kid in the school, mimics the “fatboy” insults used by the school bullies with another child… He is a master of breaking people down, so, especially in the moments of the film where he faces off against the child actors, he is a figure of dread. The one iconic scene of It which is burnt into every horror fans’ mind is the scene where young Georgie meets Pennywise in the storm. Alone with his yellow anorak, chasing a paper boat down a stream, he comes across a drain with Tim Curry staring back up at him. This is one of the finest moments of the film, perhaps It peaking far too early. We all know that Tim Curry is bad news, so we are left staring in horror at the inevitability of the scene.
While It is definitely a lot more than you thought it would be, there are times, it is a tad too much. This isn’t quite a movie, but a TV miniseries, stitched together to make a weighty three hour horror epic. In some respects, it needs the bloated running time. Not only do we need to introduce seven separate characters, but we need to set them up twice (once, as an adult – again, as their child form). King writes seven unique personalities, so everyone is given a functioning part. There is not one actor here, even child actors, who could be accused of getting the lame role in the movie. But then again, as with most of Stephen King’s work, there are large chunks that could have been trimmed slightly. Tommy Lee Wallace’s direction feels like a movie that is too desperate to be true to the book, drowning his film in the process. Pennywise crops up a few too many times, haunting each adult separately. The second half of the film, which sees the adults return to Derry, hits a repetitive loop. Perhaps it is simply the three hours starting to work against the plot, but does every character need a reunion with Pennywise? Surely, the psychological effects work just as well as a physical encounter? If this movie was treated to a much leaner edit, this could have been a brisk horror movie, with a three-dimensional mythology burning in the background. As it stands, It is a movie you slowly fall out of love with. Too many subplots are dragged up and it takes too long for the final fight with Pennywise in the sewers. The final form, hinted to be the real Pennywise (although we could argue that that form is still an illusion), is part-terrifying, but it feels restricted by the era (god help us in the remake, however). It works as a worthy conclusion however, definitely a horror movie that engages you instead of simply trying to scare you half to death.
Final Verdict: Perhaps guilty of being overcooked, but It remains a horror like no other, Pennywise a cult icon in the genre.