Arts & Life, Film & Television

The 1990 version of ‘It’ is not a work of horror art

When you’re a child, movies such as “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Poltergeist” and “The Exorcist” were scarring and kept you up at night, fearing that the entities seen would come and get you in your sleep.

But the one that ruled them all was the 1990 miniseries adaptation of the Stephen King classic, “It” starring Tim Curry in the role of killer clown, Pennywise.

Thanks to a combination of his menacing performance and a few terrifying sequences, it is constantly seen on lists of the scariest movies from childhood and as one that still freaks audiences out to this day.

While some still argue that the film holds up, the reality is that the movie is not only subpar by today’s standards, but it’s even mediocre by the past’s standards.

Full disclosure, I actually didn’t see the movie until about the age of 14, so there was not a factor of being scarred by one of the most terrifying fictional clowns in existence at a young age, but even then I’m a somewhat easy person to scare.

Deliver a creepy atmosphere, throw in one or two good jump scares and have some good special effects no matter the time period it was made, and I will be on the edge of my seat one moment and hiding behind it the next.

While some might say that since it’s older, it was hard to portray certain special effects in a believable way, especially since computer generation was still developing at the time, the effects seen were still incredibly lackluster for the genre.

The original “Nightmare” came out in 1984, “Poltergeist” in 1982 and “The Exorcist” in 1973, and yet these films feature horrifying visuals and interesting stories created long before “It” was made. The film showed a lack of imagination in its special effects and ability to bring its classic source material to life.

Given that the film was made for television, there were going to be issues regarding budget and attention to its running time, but seeing as how television is the perfect medium to break up a 1,000 page novel into a two or three-part series, the filmmakers dropped the ball in telling this story properly.

The pacing of the film is very skewed and unbalanced, rushing audiences from the characters’ terrifying childhoods to their dull adult lives, which they all leave behind for a battle against the villain that proves to be neither suspenseful or frightening.

In addition to the poor pacing, the film skips over a lot of key subplots and character development from the novel, which, while some of it was tough to cover given its broadcast network home, truly took away from the movie’s ability to be faithful to the source material.

Pennywise’s final form as a spider was poorly portrayed on screen, relying on old-fashioned practical effects that created an underwhelming monster. This disappointment took away from the high-level tension and moody atmosphere developed through part one and half of part two.

One of the film’s few saving graces came in the performance of Curry as the antagonist. The “Rocky Horror Picture Show” star delivered one of the best performances of his career thanks to his occasionally-erratic personality and charming nature.

Unfortunately for Curry, his performance and the solid performances of the then-ensemble cast are buried in a three-hour-long film that is boring, not terrifying and a disappointment given the novel’s classic nature.

As a kid, we all saw Curry’s evil clown on screen and would panic, shield our eyes and ears  and try to avoid having nightmares that night. However as adults, the reality is that this version of the film and the character do not carry the same weight.

A creepy performance can only go so far, and while there’s an extreme nature to some of the scares like with many horror films today, a mildly gonzo performance can’t keep audiences on the edge of their seats enough to justify scarring them for life.

As I sat through this two-part miniseries, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of boredom and hysteria as much of the film feels hokey and cheap, even by 1990’s standards.

So the next time an entertainment website makes a list of films that were frightening from childhood, it’s validity should immediately be thrown into question if “It” is included on that list, because despite its cult following, it’s truly one of the more lackluster Stephen King adaptations.

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