This is a made for television adaptation of the Stephen King novel It. A group of young friends who once battled a malicious evil being are drawn together again as adults to face It once more.
In my early teens I couldn't get enough Stephen King and this was the book that scared me the most. The stand out character in the book is Pennywise, the evil child eating clown of your nightmares. Watching the film again got me wondering about the origin of evil clowns, it seems as though everyone agrees that clowns are creepy nowadays but when did that happen? Looking into the history it's clear clowns and jesters have always had a dark side but perhaps our modern perception of evil clowns with painted faces comes from the Batman character the Joker. Anyway that's another story, suffice to say Pennywise is one of the scariest clown characters ever created and he is played brilliantly in this film by Tim Curry.
The story is set in small town Maine (well it is a Stephen King book) and centres on a group of seven friends who form a kind of club, a loser's club. They soon learn there is strength in numbers as they are able to protect each other from the local bullies, most notably the psychotic Henry Bowers. However they have more to fear than bullies and each of them has a mysterious encounter with the object of their darkest fears. When they eventually tell each other about their encounters they learn the one thing they have in common is a big scary looking clown.
We soon learn the clown is called Pennywise and he has a history with the small town, popping up every 30 years and bringing a plague of child murders in his wake. Leader of the group, Bill loses his brother to Pennywise and so he convinces the others to join with him and try to kill the clown once and for all. The flashbacks are interspersed with the characters grown up, thirty years has passed since they went down into the sewer to hunt Pennywise and Mike, the only one to stay behind in the small town, phones them up to remind them of their childhood promise to return should Pennywise ever rear his ugly head again.
The story is a fairly complex one and typically the film is unable to do the book justice even with a three hour running time. The portion which features the child versions of the seven friends is the best, the child actors are all good and there are some classic Pennywise scares. When the characters return grown up it doesn't work so well and the final showdown suffers terribly from some of the worst special effects I've ever seen. There are also elements of the book which are very cheesy but this is made all the more abundantly obvious onscreen than it was on the page and some scenes may induce severe cringing.
The direction from Tommy Lee Wallace is passable; there are a few effective scares and a bit of tension. The effects as mentioned previously are terrible and the film is low on gore with a bit of blood but nothing much else.
The best performance of the film comes from Tim Curry as he really brings the menacing clown to Technicolor life and the scenes with him onscreen are really chilling. The child actors are all very good and give natural performances, the only one I recognised was Seth Green who played the wisecracking Richie and amusingly had a fear of werewolves (he went on to play a werewolf in Buffy). The adult cast are less convincing, Richard Thomas played Bill but I can only see him as John Boy from the Waltons and he is sporting a truly horrific ponytail which gave me the biggest scare of the movie. John Ritter was okay as Ben but I must admit I prefer him as a baddie. You may recognise a few of the others but none of them are great to be honest.
The film makes for an absorbing drama but it never casts off that made for television sheen and it is disappointingly light on horror. It stays faithful enough to the book to provide a few chilling moments and it is an enjoyable yarn which is perfect for lazy Sunday afternoon viewing. When it comes to scary clowns Pennywise is the one that stuck in my imagination but there is no doubt the film version pales in comparison so if you are hungry for more Pennywise action the book is well worth getting.Short Review
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