It (also known as Stephen King’s It) is a 1990 American supernatural horror drama miniseries directed by Tommy Lee Wallace and adapted by Lawrence D. Cohen from the Stephen King novel of the same name. It is the first of two adaptations of the novel; the second being the 2017 film adaptation and its upcoming 2019 sequel.
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 human form of a sadistic, wisecracking clown called Pennywise. 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 planning 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, three-hour mini-series 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 mini-series or a Special (Dramatic Underscore).
by Stephen King
|Written by||Lawrence D. Cohen
Tommy Lee Wallace
|Directed by||Tommy Lee Wallace|
|Narrated by||Tim Reid|
|Theme music composer||Richard Bellis|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||2|
Allen S. Epstein
Robert F. Shugrue
|Running time||192 minutes (original version)
187 minutes (DVD/Blu-ray version)
193 minutes (2002 DVD/Blu-ray version)
|Production company(s)||Lorimar Productions
The Konigsberg & Sanitsky Company
Greeb & Epstein Productions
|Distributor||Warner Bros. Television|
|Original release||November 18 – November 20, 1990|
In Derry, Maine, in 1960, Georgie Denbrough plays in the streets with a paper sailboat made by his stuttering big brother Bill. It goes down a storm drain, where Georgie encounters Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Pennywise entices Georgie to reach in to retrieve his boat, only to kill him. Months later, Bill and asthmatic Eddie Kaspbrak befriend the overweight new kid Ben Hanscom. They are later joined by Beverly Marsh, who lives with her abusive father, the comical Richie Tozier, and Jewish boy scout Stan Uris. Besides being bullied by a gang led by Henry Bowers, the children all encounter Pennywise.
The group are joined by Mike Hanlon, pursued by Bowers’ gang. They chase them off with a rock fight, Bowers vowing to kill the children, who are dubbed the Losers Club. While looking through Mike’s history scrapbook, the Losers realise that Pennywise, which they refer to as “It”, is a monster who awakens every thirty years to devour children. Bill realises It killed Georgie, leading the Losers into Derry’s sewers to kill the clown.
Stan is ambushed by Bowers and his friends Victor Criss and Belch Huggins, but the latter are both killed by It. Henry is left traumatized, his hair turned white. Stanley regroups with the Losers, but is grabbed by It. The Losers use It’s ability to access their imaginations and use it against him. Eddie imagines his inhaler is full of battery acid, melting half of It’s face. Beverly fires silver bullets at It, the Losers believing it can kill the clown. It escapes down a drain to hibernate. The Losers make a vow to return to Derry as adults, should It return. Bowers, driven insane, takes credit for the child murders and is institutionalised.
In 1990, Mike works as a librarian in Derry. It resurfaces and murders several children, prompting Mike to contact his estranged friends to fulfil their vow. Bill has become a bestselling horror novelist married to British actress Audra Phillips, Ben is an architect, Beverly is a fashion designer abused by her husband Tom Rogan, Richie is a late night television comedian, Eddie runs a limousine service but still lives with his overbearing mother, and Stan is a married real estate broker. All of the Losers, save Stan, promise to return. Stan’s wife later discovers he has committed suicide in the bath.
The other Losers return to Derry, tormented by Pennywise, and reunite, later learning of Stan’s suicide. Henry escapes from the asylum with help from It, to murder the Losers. Audra travels to Derry but is captured by It, hypnotised by the monster’s “Deadlights”. Henry ambushes Mike, but is stabbed by his own knife when Eddie and Ben fight him. Mike is hospitalised, giving Bill two pieces of silver he retrieved from the sewers. The five remaining Losers return to the sewers to confront It. Bill discovers Audra has been taken prisoner, but is supported by his friends.
They reach It’s inner sanctum, find the catatonic Audra, and It’s true form of a gigantic, otherworldly spider. Bill, Ben, and Richie are entranced by the Deadlights, while Beverly scrambles to retrieve the silver bullets after misfiring them. Eddie attempts to repeat the wound he inflicted on It as a child, but is mortally wounded. Beverly frees her friends, but Eddie dies. The others chase the injured It, ripping out its heart and killing It. They remove Audra and Eddie’s body from the sewers.
The Losers go their separate ways once again, their memories of It fading over time. Mike recovers in hospital, Beverly and Ben get married and expect their first child, and Richie is cast in a film. Bill is the last to leave Derry, coaxing Audra out of her catatonia by riding down a street on his childhood bike “Silver”. Audra recovers, she and Bill kissing in the middle of town.
ABC had acquired the rights to a television mini-series 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."
However, Wallace and Cohen 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 role; 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 mini-series 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 mini-series' 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." Dan Stephens from the UK website Top 10 Films awarded the film four out of five stars. In his review Stephens praised the film's story, character development, and suspense during the first half. But criticized the second half as disappointing and criticizing the lack of "friendship and togetherness" of the main characters that was present during the first half, and clichéd ending.
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 mini-series' 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 mini-series 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|