The success of "Stephen King's It" in the miniseries lies in the frightening portrayal
of Pennywise by the incomparable Tim Curry.
Twenty seven years ago, "Stephen King's It" made children and people with coulrophobia scared stiff over a certain clown on television. That clown in question is none other than Pennywise, the child-eating monster played to creepy perfection by Tim Curry.
Sure, King's aforementioned clown was first written as a novel back in 1986, but it wasn't until the legendary horror author and director Tommy Lee Wallace ("Halloween III: Season Of The Witch", "Fright Night Part 2") turned the novel into a two-part TV miniseries four years later in 1990 which took the world by storm. The rest, of course, is history.
Pennywise and the red balloon will be haunting audiences once again in the
big screen adaptation of "It".
With "Stephen King's It" about to creep its way into cinemas this September in the form of a big screen adaptation directed by Andrés Muschietti ("Mama"), it's time to look back at the original 1990 miniseries itself.
Come to think of it, it is hard to believe that "Stephen King's It" still frightened a generation of people who watched the miniseries in the 90s, especially given the fact it was made for television, not a feature-length adaptation that would make a more logical sense of choice. Besides, a TV miniseries or season-long series back then wasn't anything like HBO, Starz or other premium cable networks of today that allow to show content beyond the boundaries (read: rating) of television. Long before HBO became the pioneer that forever changed the way we watched television, "Stephen King's It" was conceived in the era where TV in general was still bound by broadcast restrictions, and yet, the miniseries managed to be as terrifying as some of those great horror movies shown on the big screen.
So, some of you might be wondering: What makes "Stephen King's It" such a cultural phenomenon after all these years? First and foremost, part of the success lies in the story itself. Tommy Lee Wallace and Lawrence D. Cohen, who both adapted the novel, were able to translate Stephen King's 1,100 pages into a chilling visual interpretation that successfully tapped our basic childhood fear or more appropriately, the fear of clowns otherwise known as coulrophobia. From the general point-of-view, we often perceived clowns as supposed to be fun and entertaining characters who amuse people with ridiculous acts or other party tricks. But then, imagine the particular mindset that has been part of our comfort zone all along, is otherwise depicted as an evil clown.
Whereas "evil clown" or "killer clown" or whatever in between has long existed since the 1924 black-and-white silent classic "He Who Gets Slapped", it was "Stephen King's It" that made clowns - well - scary. The negative depiction of Pennywise the clown forever altered our perceptions that were reminiscent of what Alfred Hitchcock did for the shower scene in "Psycho" and Steven Spielberg for shark in "Jaws".
The kids from The Losers Club in "Stephen King's It".
The miniseries also worked because of its relatable coming-of-age storyline that deals with childhood, friendship and bullying. This is especially true during the first part of the miniseries which takes place in the 1960s, as we learn how a group of outcast kids a.k.a. The Losers Club - Bill (Jonathan Brandis), Ben (Brandon Crane), Eddie (Adam Faraizi), Richie (Seth Green), Beverly (Emily Perkins), Stanley (Ben Heller) and Mike (Marlon Taylor) - become best friends where they unite to face their greatest fears together against the school bullies led by Henry Bowers (Jarred Blancard) and of course, Pennywise. We rooted for them because they are nothing more than innocent small-town kids hoping to go through a happy childhood just like any other normal person out there. We also feel the sense of helplessness and frustrations they have to endure all via all the nightmares that haunt them.
Henry Bowers (Jarred Blancard) plays the leader of the school bully in "Stephen King's It".
Of course, the coming-of-age story wouldn't have succeeded if not for the talented young cast played by the aforementioned actors. The kids, particularly those from The Losers Club, share a terrific rapport and chemistry together. Blancard's Henry Bowers, in the meantime, is perfectly cast as the greasy-haired leader of the school bullies.
The grown-up adult members of The Losers Club reunite once again in the second
and concluding chapter of "Stephen King's It".
Then came the second and concluding chapter of the miniseries, in which we see the kids from The Losers Club all grown-up into adults and have their own respective careers, but they are eventually brought together after learning their childhood town of Derry is terrorised once again by Pennywise. And this time, they braved themselves by overcoming their childhood fear to defeat Pennywise once and for all. Just like the kids, the adult cast is equally well-developed with great performances all around by Richard Thomas (Bill), John Ritter (Ben), Annette O'Toole (Beverly), Harry Anderson (Richie), Dennis Christopher (Eddie), Tim Reid (Mike) and Richard Masur (Stanley).
The original Pennywise (Tim Curry) and the upcoming big-screen version (Bill Skarsgård).
At the heart of this excellent miniseries is Pennywise himself. Tim Curry's performance as the demonic clown is both eerie and terrifying. He clearly immortalised the role that Curry is forever associated with, as the iconic Pennywise character. In fact, it's hard to imagine anyone else who could have pulled off such a memorably creepy role. So, whether or not Bill Skarsgård's upcoming role as Pennywise in the big screen adaptation of "It" manages to overcome the sceptics still remains to be seen.
Pennywise (Tim Curry) kills the little girl on a tricycle during the opening
scene of "Stephen King's It".
Back to Curry, his performance is an epitome of pure evil. He can be as scary even just for his first brief, yet quick appearance in the sheets where he kills an innocent little girl on a tricycle. Curry is also blessed with some of the best dialogues in the miniseries that send shivers to your spine. Whether he says "Don't you want a... balloon?" or "Beep Beep Richie! They all float down here. When you're down here with us, you'll float too!", his line of delivery evokes a true sense of dread and menace.
"Don't you want a... balloon?"
Finally, kudos also go to Tommy Lee Wallace. His direction is definitely worth noting, for thanks to his blend of well-staged frights and strong character-driven drama. Many iconic moments such as the aforementioned opening scene, the scene where Bill's little brother Georgie (Tony Dakota) encounters Pennywise in the sewers and the "fortune cookies" scene, remain scary even by today's standard.
Cinema Online, 03 September 2017