It is a 1990 American-Canadian supernatural horror drama miniseries directed by Tommy Lee Wallace and adapted by Lawrence D. Cohen from the Stephen King novel of the same name. The story revolves around a predatory shapeshifter which has the ability to transform itself into its prey's worst fears, allowing it to exploit the phobias of its victims. It mostly takes the form of a sadistic, wisecracking clown called Pennywise played by Tim Curry. The protagonists are The Lucky Seven, or The Losers Club, a group of outcast kids who discover Pennywise and vow to destroy him by any means necessary. The series takes place over two different time periods, the first when the Losers first confront Pennywise as children in 1960, and the second when they return as adults in 1990 to defeat him a second time after he resurfaces.
It features an ensemble cast, starring Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Annette O'Toole, Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Tim Reid and Richard Masur as the seven members of the Losers Club, and Tim Curry as Pennywise. The child counterparts of the Losers that appear in part one are played by Jonathan Brandis, Seth Green, Emily Perkins, Brandon Crane, Adam Faraizl, Marlon Taylor, and Ben Heller. Michael Cole, Jarred Blancard, Gabe Khouth, Chris Eastman, Olivia Hussey, Frank C. Turner, Tony Dakota, Ryan Michael, Tom Heaton, and Chelan Simmons also play supporting roles.
Originally conceived as a four-part eight-hour series, ABC enlisted writer Lawrence D. Cohen to adapt the 1,138-page King novel. Cohen's script condensed the source work into a two-part, four-hour miniseries that retained the core elements of the novel, but Cohen was forced to abandon numerous subplots by virtue of the novel's length and the network's time-slot restrictions. Production on It began in early 1990, and the series was filmed over a period of three months in New Westminster, British Columbia in mid-1990.
It aired on ABC over two nights on November 18 and 20, 1990, attracting 30 million viewers in its premiere. Critics praised Tim Curry's performance as Pennywise. For his work on the miniseries, Richard Bellis received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Miniseries or a Special (Dramatic Underscore).
In Derry, Maine, in 1960, Bill Denbrough gives his younger brother Georgie a paper sailboat to take the boat out onto the street to sail in the gutter. But Georgie is unable to stop it from sailing down the storm drain, peering in to see a strange clown who introduces himself as Pennywise. Pennywise then entices Georgie to reach into the drain to retrieve his boat, killing the boy while ripping his arm off. Months later, during the spring semester at their school, Bill befriends the overweight and nerdy new kid Ben Hanscom, asthmatic Eddie Kaspbrak who lives with his overbearing mother, Beverly Marsh who lives with her abusive father, comical Richie Tozier, and Jewish Boy Scout, Stanley Uris. Besides being tormented by a gang of local bullies led by Henry Bowers, the group each had disturbing encounters with Pennywise. During one afternoon after school, Bill and his friends encounter African-American outcast Mike Hanlon being pursued by Henry's gang. They chase the bullies off with rocks and befriend Mike, Henry vowing to kill them all. The group, calling themselves "The Losers Club", come to realize that they are each being terrorized by the same entity. Noticing that "It" assumes the appearance of what they fear, they deduce Pennywise is a monster that surfaces every 30 years in Derry to feed on the children of Derry before returning to hibernation again.
The Losers decide to venture into the sewers under Derry to kill It, followed by Henry and his friends, Victor Criss and Belch Huggins, intent on killing them. But It kills Victor, who had separated to set an ambush on the Losers, and Belch, who helps Henry separate Stan from the others, sparing a horrified Henry while chasing Stan as he regroups with the Losers. But Pennywise grabs Stan, only for the Losers to use It's ability to access their imaginations against him when Eddie uses his aspirator to melt the clown's face while Beverly smashes a hole in the clown's head using one of the two silver projectiles. Pennywise evades the second and escapes down a drain, seemingly dying as the Losers assumed. But Bill makes the others promise to return and kill It should the creature resurface 30 years later. Henry, his hair whitened while having lost his mind from seeing It's Deadlights, later emerged from the sewers and is institutionalized when he takes credit for murdering It's victims.
In 1990, now the town librarian, Mike is investigating the string of missing children and killings as he arrived to the crime scene of a murdered girl named Laurie Anne Winterbarger. Finding Georgie's picture convinces Mike that It is back as he proceeds to connect the others to fulfill their vow. Bill became a horror novelist married to British actress Audra Phillips, Ben is an architect, Beverly is a fashion designer abused by her lover Tom Rogan, Richie is a late night TV comedian, Eddie runs a limousine service but still lives with his mother, and Stan is a real estate broker. Prior to Mike's phone calls, the other Losers had completely forgotten each other along with their childhood traumas and memories of It. While the other five reluctantly agree to come, a fear-stricken Stan slits his wrists in his bathtub and writes "IT" on the wall in his own blood.
The remaining six find themselves harassed by Pennywise once reaching Derry as they eventually meet at dinner, learning of Stan's suicide shortly after while Mike reminds them of what It is. Two other people also converging on the town: an older Henry who Pennywise freed to kill the Losers, and a worried Audra who ends up being abducted by It while exposed to the creature's Deadlights. Mike is hospitalized by Henry before he is killed by his own knife during a scuffle with the other Losers. After Mike gives Bill the two pieces of silver he retrieved from the sewers, the five remaining Losers decide to destroy It for good. They descend into the sewers once again, Bill learning Audra is being held while overcoming It's attempt to induce further guilt. The Losers eventually reach It's inner sanctum, finding both a catatonic Audra and It's true form as a giant spider. Bill, Ben, and Richie nearly get lost in Its deadlights when Eddie is killed attempting to save his friends, as Beverly mortally wounds It with her slingshot. It limps away, but the surviving Losers pursue and knock the creature down and while ripping its heart out. They remove the comatose Audra and Eddie's body from the sewers, burying him in Derry's cemetery.
With It finally dead, the Losers go their separate ways and move on with their lives as their memories of It fade away. A recovered Mike also has his memories begin to fade as he considers starting a new life elsewhere. Richie is cast in a film with an actor resembling Eddie, while Beverly and Ben are married and expecting their first child. Bill is the last to leave Derry, using his last hour in town to coax Audra out of her catatonia by giving her a ride on his childhood bicycle Silver.
ABC had acquired the rights to a television miniseries of It, for what would be the first made-for-television film based on a Stephen King work since Salem's Lot (1979), directed by Tobe Hooper. Lawrence D. Cohen, who had previously written the film adaptation of Carrie in 1976, was hired to write It. According to both Stephen King and Cohen, King had little to no involvement in the writing of the miniseries. George A. Romero had originally been signed on to direct the project, which at the time ABC had planned for an eight-to-ten-hour series that would run over four two-hour blocks. Romero left the project due to scheduling conflicts, after which ABC condensed it to a three-part series. Shortly after, Tommy Lee Wallace was brought in to direct. After Wallace signed on to the project, ABC had ultimately decided to condense the series to two parts.
According to writer Cohen: "Speaking candidly, ABC was always nervous about It, primarily the fact that it was in the horror genre, but also the eight-to-ten hour commitment. They loved the piece, but lost their nerve in terms of how many hours they were willing to commit. Eventually, they agreed to a two-night, four-hour commitment." Given the length of the King novel, which runs 1,138 pages, a great deal of material was left out of Cohen's adaptation, including subplots concerning the personal lives of the adult characters, one of which had the main male characters each losing their virginity to Beverly. "I can’t even begin to enumerate my favorite scenes from the book that we had to cut, because there are so many of them," Cohen reflected. "I look at it as a glass half full situation. There are scenes in both nights that were created by Steve [King] on the page, and I’m delighted that they survived, like the fortune cookie scene and adult Beverly going to her childhood house. The way I see it, the best moments from the book made the cut and the rest are casualties of war."
Wallace and Cohen, however, retained the centrality of Pennywise in the source novel; as noted by film scholar Tony Magistrale in Hollywood's Stephen King, the miniseries retains the "association between the adult world of Derry and It [which] is further established in the masterful choice of a carnival clown as a unifying symbol for the various creatures representing the monster."
The majority of the adult actors in the film, including John Ritter, Dennis Christopher, Tim Reid, and Harry Anderson, were hand-chosen by Wallace and Cohen for their roles. Annette O'Toole was cast in the film at the suggestion of Ritter, with whom she had recently shot The Dreamer of Oz: The L. Frank Baum Story (1990): "I think [John] may have talked to somebody, because I got an offer [to play Beverly]," O'Toole recalled. "It happened really fast; I don’t think I even went in for a reading. I was living in Oregon at the time, and the next thing I knew, I was in Vancouver hanging out with the coolest, most fun guys of all time."
Emily Perkins and Marlon Taylor, who played the young Beverly Marsh and Mike Hanlon, were cast out of Vancouver, while Seth Green and Jonathan Brandis were cast out of Los Angeles for the parts of young Richie and Bill.
According to Cohen, he had written the script for the series without a specific actor in mind for the role of Pennywise. According to director Tommy Lee Wallace, before he was attached to the project, Malcolm McDowell and Roddy McDowall were in consideration to play Pennywise, but Wallace wanted Tim Curry for the part; Wallace had previously worked with the latter in Fright Night Part 2 (1988).
It was shot over a period of three months in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on a budget of $12 million. Given that the shooting entailed an adult cast with child counterparts, Wallace sought to have the adult actors meet with the children playing the younger versions of their characters: "We made a point of bringing the adult and children actors together for a couple of days, even though it was costly, since the adults and the kids have no scenes together." Filming locations in Vancouver included Stanley Park, Beaver Lake and Saint Thomas Aquinas High School Convent in North Vancouver. Wallace told The Hollywood Reporter that his job as a director "was to give Tim the stage and not get in his way too much. He was like Robin Williams in the way he brought a spontaneous improvisation to the part." Curry gave Pennywise a Bronx accent in order to sound like "an old-time Catskills comic". "I just let it happen," Curry said. "Clowns are your worst fear realized. I think I scared a lot of children."
Original storyboards for Pennywise featured exaggerated cheekbones, a sharp chin, and bulbous forehead. According to director Wallace, "Tim [Curry] objected strongly to all the rubber. He had recently been in several movies which covered him in prosthetics and I’m sure he felt all the glue and latex would just get in his way. He was right, of course. With those eyes, and that mouth, and his crazy, sardonic sense of humor, less turned out to be more in the makeup department."
Special effects coordinator Bart Mixon began working on a head cast for the Pennywise character after Curry was cast in the role; he also designed three clay molds for testing. According to Mixon, he based the shape of Pennywise's head on Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera (1925), "stylized into a clown." Three different versions of the clown's face were created, one of which resembled a hobo clown, another that was "a little meaner," and the final one seen in the series. To achieve the white complexion, Curry wore prosthetic make-up cream to make him appear "almost like a living cartoon."
The majority of the special effects in the film were done practically without digital alteration, aside from the shower scene in which Pennywise comes out of the drain; this scene was done with replacement animation, an animation technique similar to stop motion animation.
The spider figure in the conclusion of the series was hand-constructed by Mixon and his art department team. Wallace recalled of the spider:
We labored long and hard designing a spider that was very beefy and muscular, almost reptilian in appearance. It looked great in the drawings, and I even recall a little clay model Bart did, which sealed the deal and won my enthusiastic approval. Bart and team went back to Hollywood to work the whole thing up full-size, and shooting started. When the SVFX team returned to Vancouver and unpacked the full-size spider, what I expected to see was the big version of that original model, the beefy, reptilian thing that was scary on sight. What they assembled on set was very, very different. Not chunky at all, very lean and mean."
It originally aired on ABC in 1990 on the nights of November 18 and November 20. Part 1 was the fifth highest rated program of the week with an 18.5/29 rating/share, and being watched in 17.5 million households. Part 2 was the second highest rated program of the week with a 20.6/33 rating/share, and watched in 19.2 million households. According to writer Cohen, It was considered a major success for ABC, garnering nearly 30 million viewers over its two-night premiere.
Matt Roush of USA Today gave the series a positive review, writing: "If Twin Peaks is a midnight movie for prime-time live, It is the miniseries equivalent of those Saturday matinee shockers that merrily warped a generation before Freddie and Jason began stalking their more graphic turf... Accept It on its own popcorn-munching terms, and keep the lights on high." Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly praised the performances in the film, but had a negative response to its special effects and pacing, noting: "It features a high level of ensemble acting rare for any horror film... in addition to It's slow pace, I found the ending a big letdown—unimaginative special effects animate the monster in its final incarnation. But the cast is terrific, Curry's cackle is chilling, and King's usual buried theme—about the pain adults inflict on children without even realizing it (It?)—is always worth pondering." The Hollywood Reporter called It "one big kicky ride thanks to the charismatic acting of Curry as savage, sneering malevolence."
Sandra Harris of Movie Pilot gave the film a positive review, noting: "There’s some gorgeous scenery too and a nice interweaving of flashbacks with the regular scenes. For Stephen King fans, this film is a must for your collection. For fans of horror in general, I’d say you could do a lot worse. Take the phone off the hook and burrow under the duvet for three hours with the popcorn and the remote control." Ian Jane of DVD Talk highlighted the miniseries' combination of childhood nostalgia with horror elements and praised Curry's performance as Pennywise. Bloody Disgusting's John Campopiano commended director Tommy Lee Wallace for "relying less on jump scares and more on creating an unsettling atmosphere to contrast against the kids and their stories." In 2017, Rolling Stone writer Sean T. Collins called the miniseries "legendary" and commented that it had become a cult classic. He said although the miniseries "largely bungles Pennywise's powers", Curry's portrayal of Pennywise is "the stuff sleepless nights are made of. He gloats, he giggles, he taunts, he devours the scenery like the monster himself devours middle-schoolers – and he generally sears his way right into the brain of the viewer."
Stephen King commented on the miniseries in a 2015 interview, and was appreciative of it: "You have to remember, my expectations were in the basement. Here was a book that sprawled over 1,000 pages, and they were going to cram it into four hours, with commercials. But the series really surprised me by how good it was. It’s a really ambitious adaptation of a really long book."
It was released on VHS and Laserdisc in 1991. The original VHS release was on two cassette tapes, one for each part. The VHS and Laserdisc releases feature It as originally aired. In 1998, It was re-released on VHS, this time, on one cassette tape (in EP format). The film was later released on DVD in 2002 and on Blu-ray on October 4, 2016. Both the DVD and the Blu-ray feature an edited version of the film, which presents It as one "movie". The suicide scene at the end of Part 1 is shortened, the hotel scene from Part 2 is missing, and the graveyard scene toward the beginning of Part 2 is also slightly shortened to remove the on-screen credits that originally appeared.
A 2-CD release of the miniseries' complete score by Richard Bellis was released on November 15, 2011. The music of the film ranges from orchestral music to trumpet-heavy music that accompanies the setting of Derry to unsteady electronic instrument arrangements for the film's scarier moments. Bellis won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Miniseries or a Special (Dramatic Underscore) for his work on the film.
|2.||"Enter the Clown"||3:04|
|4.||"Ben Gets the News"||0:51|
|6.||"I Hate It Here"||1:53|
|7.||"Bedroom Jazz Source"||2:24|
|9.||"Die if You Try"||4:02|
|10.||"Richie's Talk Show Play-Off"||0:34|
|11.||"The Beast – First Encounter"||2:05|
|13.||"Mike Joins the Group"||5:07|
|17.||"The Sewer Hole"||3:13|
|18.||"Stan Gets Nabbed"||4:27|
|22.||"End Credits I"||1:00|
|1.||"Main Title Part II"||1:51|
|5.||"Skeleton on the Pond"||0:40|
|12.||"Henry and Belch"||2:20|
|13.||"Every Thirty Years"||1:56|
|15.||"This Time It's for Real"||4:26|
|16.||"The Smell of Death"||1:59|
|18.||"The Spider's Web"||5:11|
|19.||"Hi Ho Silver"||4:33|
|20.||"End Credits Part II"||1:00|