The F*cking Black Sheep: Stephen King's IT (1990)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!



Stephen King is having a renaissance year. Not only are two of his lengthiest and most popular horror tomes getting the big-screen treatment in 2017 – one a remake in IT, the other an original in THE DARK TOWER – remember, his monster-incursion tale THE MIST is also being serialized on the tube later this month (June 22nd to be exact). You got the 10-episode run all queued up on the DVR or what? I know we do!

But for all the Kingly celebrations going down right now, let’s not forget how many of his terrifying tales have inspired suboptimal horror movies. In terms of adaptive success, King’s batting average is nowhere near as sterling as his bestselling novelist namesake might suggest. Worse yet, there are some of his movies that have undeservingly spawned sequels, even when the original on which they’re based wasn’t very good to being with (CHILDREN OF THE CORN comes to mind). We know the formula, if it grosses greenbacks, it’s perceived as a success, regardless of actual quality.

One such example of this, surely looking to be rectified via remake this October, is the episodically droning, overlong 3-hour TV miniseries known as IT. Now, does IT boast a great horror villain? Yes. Does that make it a great movie? Absolutely not!

We were fixing to do this one a little closer to its remake release this October, but what the hell. Here’s why Stephen King’s IT is not just a blandly nondescript noun, it’s also a F*cking Black Sheep of a horror film!

If the medium is the message, then it must start there. A horror movie made for television is a bit of an oxymoronic disservice. After all, how scary can a movie be if it’s rating is codified for wee 14 year olds? The content might remain as unnerving as it is in the novel, but graphically? From jump, the visual elements of the horror story were hamstrung by the strictures of TV censorship. Had the movie been designed to be a three hour feature meant for the big-screen, perhaps the inherent horrors of the story would be better reinforced. In retrospect, the idea to turn such a length tome into a TV miniseries was a misguided one. In fact, almost every King miniseries has been a massive letdown, from THE TOMMYKNOCKERS, to the LANGOLIERS, to THE SHINING, to BAG OF BONES, and on.

Of course, Stephen King movies are that their best when he adapts the script himself, a la PET SEMATARY, CAT’S EYE, SILVER BULLET, etc. Not the case with IT, which was written by Tommy Lee Wallace (HALLOWEEN III, FRIGHT NIGHT 2) and Lawrence D. Cohen (CARRIE, THE TOMMYKNOCKERS), two men who you’d think would have a better grasp on retaining King’s authorial voice. Wallace specifically, as he was responsible for also directing both parts of the IT miniseries. So what the hell happened!? Why the lost translation?

Perhaps the most glaring IT detractor, aside from being way too long, is that it qualitatively cleaves between two halves. The "past" section is superb, the "present" sprints out of steam, the result being uneven at best, boringly insufferable at worst. Everything involving the children works well, from the entire back-story of the Losers Club, to how the carnivorous child-eating clown called Pennywise only manifests every 30 years. The nightmarish nostalgia those childhood scenes are tinctured with really lends a sense of dread and unease. It works even better when seeing the film at an age on par with those very kids.

The less is more approach to showing Pennywise sparingly, from a distance, a face half-shrouded in the sewer, etc…really mounts a sense of suspenseful anxiety early on. The subsequent sewage-way scenes and interplay between IT, the Losers Club and the gang of bullies led by Henry Bowers is where the movie is most entertaining. Unfortunately, the movie has nowhere to go but downhill once the second half comes around. The storytelling is there, but the horror lacks!

Just as seeing the first part as a kid works beneficially, seeing the second half as an adult is as diametrically dismal. That is, the second half sucks even harder the older you get. When picking the tale up in the present time, 1990, when all the characters are 30 years older and fighting the same mysterious menace, we lose many of the aspects that make the past section so compelling. Namely, the iconographic killer clown! Not only do we cease to get the three-way Loser Club vs. It vs. The Bullies dynamic, we now get Pennywise, who eventually morphs into a ludicrous spider-monster, usurping and puppeteering adult Henry on behalf of killing Mike and the rest of his Loser pals. The entire narrative crumbles in favor of a far less convincing second half. In terms of sheer storytelling, the revelations and specific characterizations are quite rich, but in terms of being a harrowing Stephen King level spook story, it sort of sags.

The final surmise? How very Derry, 27 years later and King is milking the product for all IT’s worth. It’s not enough for STRANGER THINGS to be popularly hailed for flat out biting this film and a dozen others, we now get to see how well Andres Muschietti (MAMA) fares when bringing Pennywise back into the public consciousness this fall. That said, the fact the newest ITeration is to be a half-as-long, R-rated movie meant for the big-screen (not TV) means measures have already been taken to rectify much of what plagued the original TV version. Now let’s all hope Pennywise flashes a set of veneers even mordantly sharper!



Extra Tidbit: You a fan of IT? Explain below!
Source: AITH



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