In our regular film column, guff-film buffs sort the cinematic wheat from the chaff, then throw all the wheat away. This month Stephen King fan Sooz Kempner finds herself rooting for the bad guy.
Stephen King’s 1986 novel It is my very favourite book. This 1,000+ page tome tells the story of a town in Maine terrorised by a killer clown every 30 years. In the 1950s a gang of seven misfit kids (the Losers Club) believe they have killed the clown, only for it to return when they’re adults for another showdown.
This bizarre, B-movie-esque plot somehow is a truly terrifying horror and a deeply moving study of childhood and lost youth. I’ve read it cover-to-cover at least 10 times but it’s not what I’m here to tell you about. You see, It was such a popular novel that in 1990 it got its very own three-hour TV movie adaptation and it doesn’t take a fan of the book to see that it’s a flaming trashcan fire.
Before I get stuck in to this abomination I’m aware that this movie is the reason a lot of people have a phobia of clowns. To those people I say, get a fucking grip, this film is terrible.
“Nobody in the adult Losers Club should be proud of their work in It; they stiffly meander their way around schlocky dialogue and repetitive scenes where It in various guises pops up, mocks them, tells them they’re going to die, then fucks off again.”
But also… I can understand it ever so slightly because one of It’s only plus points is the performance of Tim Curry as Pennywise the killer clown. He is having an absolute riot, hamming it up and devouring the scenery, giving 100 per cent when the film doesn’t deserve it.
Curry is the perfect choice for a god of evil that usually takes the form of a clown. When It appears in other forms (a werewolf, a mummy, a security guard with a dog head, a giant stop-motion spider… seriously) there is zero horror. Just hilarity. So bravo Tim Curry, you have maintained total dignity despite being part of this shitstorm.
More kudos also has to go to the child actors playing the Losers. The standouts are Jonathan Brandis as young Bill, the group leader, who manages to muster up genuine emotion when confronting It for murdering his younger brother, and a teenage Seth Green as Richie, the joker of the pack.
The performances from the kids are pretty strong but the same can’t be said of their adult counterparts. Nobody in the adult Losers Club should be proud of their work in It; they stiffly meander their way around schlocky dialogue and repetitive scenes where It in various guises (including Curry’s clown) pops up, mocks them, tells them they’re going to die, then fucks off again.
They’re not given an awful lot to work with here (Bev sobbing, “Why is it SO mean?” is impossible to take seriously, she’s a 40-year-old woman, sort it out) but by the time three hours have gone by you’ll be rooting for Pennywise to put them (and us) out of their misery.
So much of the novel has to be chopped out because it is vast but if It starts using that as an excuse I will get really mad. It’s not an excuse when they dedicate two-and-a-half minutes to adult Bill and adult Mike finding Bill’s childhood bicycle and just pissing about on it while giggling.
It also doesn’t excuse the fact that the movie is desperately trying to convince us that balloons are menacing. Balloons tumble out of a fridge, balloons full of blood pop in a library, balloons come out of plugholes. We get it, movie, your budget could stretch to a whole bunch of balloons. They are not scary.
It’s an adaptation made by people who don’t seem to have understood the novel’s allegory for a child’s fear of adulthood and an adult’s grief for the loss of childhood. What they’ve created is a very, very long film (albeit originally screened in two parts) about a killer clown.
It’s not just a bad adaptation though, because I accept that It is a tough novel to adapt to screen; it’s a flat-out crappy movie. It has what must be the worst film score of all time: an annoying synthy fairground pastiche that dates the movie even more than the alarming fashion choices in the adults section.
It is a stinker but it’s definitely worth a watch with friends. There’s plenty to point and laugh at but it’s all unintentional. Hollywood is in pre-production for a brand new adaptation of It, out this year and I hope it’s either a vast improvement on the TV movie or even worse. “They all float down here!” says Pennywise. And nothing is more of a floater than this film.
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Funny Women Variety Award Winner 2012. ASDA Kate Bush.