It (1990) Miniseries Review – 31 Days of Halloween
In 1960, seven pre-teen outcasts fight an evil demon who poses as a child-killing clown. Thirty years later, they reunite to stop the demon once and for all when it returns to their hometown.
Welcome to Knockout Horror. It’s day 21 of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature and today we are moving the goal posts a little. We are checking out the 1990 miniseries version of Stephen King’s It. I know we typically stick to movie reviews exclusively but this version of It is making the rounds on streaming services as if it is a movie. So let’s just treat it as one. In fact, you can find it on Tubi as of this writing completely free.
I’ve already covered It Chapter 1 from 2017 as part of my 2022 31 Days of Halloween feature. Rather than checking out the rather lacklustre second chapter I decided to go back to the original. We will go into the debate between the different portrayals of Pennywise The Dancing Clown a little later on. But it goes without saying that the 1990 It miniseries is an important event in horror history.
The Loser’s Club
It follows the story of a group of friends who are haunted by a malevolent being that takes on the form of a clown known as Pennywise. The story consists of flashbacks told from the perspective of the friends as children. Reminiscing on how they first discovered It and how the being played on their own personal fears and worries. After vanquishing the creature, the group have been forced back together to, once again, confront their fears after Pennywise returns to terrorise the town of Derry.
The story kicks off with the adult characters reflecting on what happened to them as children. Before throwing us back to 1960’s Derry, Maine. The first episode of the miniseries basically focuses on the story of the Loser’s Club and their epic battle with It. With the second episode taking us back to the 90s to see the adults come back together in Derry to rekindle their friendships and battle It once more. Naturally, both parts are fairly solid but it’s the first episode that really shines. With Pennywise at his most sinister and the friends doing whatever they can to confront their fears.
A 90’s Television Horror Hit
It was filmed over a period of a number of months back in 1990 and was afforded a massive budget of $12 million. Far exceeding the typical budget given to television productions during that period. Originally intended to be an 8 hour production shown over four two hour blocks. It’s story was condensed down to three hours and spread over two episodes. Despite initial skepticism and mixed reviews, It went on to be a massive television broadcasting success and pulled in a couple of Emmy nominations.
It represented only the second Stephen King title to be adapted for TV after 1979’s Salem’s Lot. It would be far from the last, though, and it is fair to say that the success of this miniseries inspired further adaptations later down the line. It would be nearly 30 years before It would be brought to life once again with Andy Muschietti’s chapter one in 2017 and the debate rages on regarding which version is the best.
Which Do You Prefer?
Those of us who grew up in the 90s might be more inclined to point to this version as their It of choice. Whereas younger people may prefer the 2017 iteration. I am kind of on the fence, to be honest. My fiancee and I ended up watching It Chapter One in the cinema three times because of various friends that wanted to see it and enjoyed it each time. My major complaint would be the somewhat basic manner of storytelling and the fact that the second chapter was so disappointing.
The 90’s miniseries version was something I remember watching when I was about ten years old and it scared the crap out of me. Seeing Pennywise looming through the bed sheets drying on the washing line stuck with me like little else I had seen up until that point. Even as an adult I looked back on it fondly as one of the more authentically scary horror productions of the era. Pennywise was just so sinister and it felt, at least for me at the time, like he became creepier and creepier as the movie went on.
As time passed and I actually got around to checking the miniseries out again in preparation for the 2017 movie adaptation. I realised that I had, perhaps, been looking at the miniseries through a swanky pair of 90’s style rose tinted glasses. Perhaps the kind that had the cool outer lens that you could lift up to reveal clear glass underneath. How silly did they look? A lot of this miniseries is camp beyond belief but that means it is perfect for the run up to Halloween.
Don’t get me wrong, the childhood friendship stuff holds up pretty well. Even managing to feel more brutal than the movie version in a lot of ways. But some of the stuff with the adults has aged terribly. Billy’s terrible stutter reappearing after hearing the news about Pennywise coming back is hilarious. And John Ritter’s Ben replying “I don’t think I am honey. Not tonight, not ever” when asked by his girlfriend if he was alright. Only for her to reply “well are you going to kill yourself?” to which he says “no, I don’t think I will but it might be better if I did”. The dialogue here is cheesy as hell.
Set Your Expectations
The Loser’s Club stuff, as mentioned earlier, does hold up with the story of the kids battling Pennywise being beyond great. Sure, it feels a bit more dramatic and grandiose than it does in the movie version but it’s just a lot of fun. The late Jonathan Brandis is perfectly cast as Billy and pitch perfect throughout. Seth Green is great fun as Richie and I loved Emily Perkins as Beverly Marsh. Jarred Blancard makes for the perfect greaser bad guy version of Henry Bowers and Frank Turner is perfectly detestable as Beverly’s dad.
But anything involving the adults is pretty bad. I really like this cast too! I am a huge Annette O’Toole fan, John Ritter was beyond great (R.I.P) and I really like Olivia Hussey. It’s all just so damn cheesy, though. It has a distinctly 90’s day time television feel to it. Almost soap opera like in parts. Watching today, you really have to reset your expectations because it’s not really scary and it’s often quite silly. I imagine younger people will be wondering what all the fuss is about if I am being perfectly honest.
A Horror Icon
Let’s be real for a second, though. When we talk about the 90’s miniseries version of It. There is only one reason we are watching and that is Tim Curry’s version of Pennywise. That’s what this is all about and he is incredible in this role. Don’t get me wrong, I really loved Bill Skarsgård’s version of Pennywise but it was so different from Curry’s. Curry played it for maniacal laughs while Skarsgård keyed in on some of the more bestial aspects of the character. Tim Curry’s version is demented and sinister while also being completely hilarious. For some reason, this adds to the scare factor.
The way he torments his victims and verbally abuses them makes him all the more calculated and menacing. He’s like a school bully turned adult with a hint of Freddy Kruger. His comical appearance doesn’t feel silly so much as it feels legitimately disturbing. Added to that the strange, almost New York, accent Pennywise speaks in and the sudden emergence of a vicious set of teeth and you have one of the greatest horror movie icons of all time. Curry takes the role and makes it entirely his own and that’s what makes this version so much fun. You are waiting with baited breath for every next appearance of Pennywise. Curry is just that damn good.
Final Thoughts and Score
It’s hard to talk about the 90’s miniseries version of It without comparing it to the 2017 movie. The reality is, they are very different and can co-exist together comfortably. If the second chapter of It was as good as the first, I would give the nod to the movie version. But I just love Tim Curry’s Pennywise so much that if I was going to pick one of them in the lead up to Halloween, it would be the miniseries. It’s cheesy, camp as hell, hasn’t aged particularly well and isn’t very scary anymore. But it is just so much damn fun that it’s hard not to love. A perfect movie in the lead up to Halloween.