Your Worst Dream Come True
Starburst Magazine|August 2017

Even if you haven’t seen IT, or read the book by Stephen King, you’ll probably be familiar with its iconic titular villain. The shapeshifting terror who hunts kids, lives in the sewers, and prefers to take the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown has fascinated readers since the book’s release in 1986. Though the novel was a huge success on release (many regard it as King’s finest), it was Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 two-part TV serial that seared IT into the horror canon, guaranteeing clown terror for decades to come...

Scott Clark

A Nightmare for all Ages

The film follows King’s novel pretty closely. In it, a group of pre-teen outsiders, The Loser’s Club to local bullies, band together to fight an otherworldly creature that’s killing kids in the small town of Derry. The first half of the novel covers the kids’ battle with IT and apparent triumph, the second half zips forward 27 years to when the grown up Loser’s Club return to Derry once more to do battle with IT.

It’s a huge undertaking and ABC’s two-part serial was an understandably big event. A decades-spanning horror story, IT would be the first TV adaptation of King’s work since Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot in 1979. Written by Lawrence D. Cohen, the man behind De Palma’s classic King adaptation Carrie, and directed by Halloween III’s ambitious Tommy Lee Wallace, the project had a buzz. ABC weren’t being cheap, either. The $12 million budget was a crazy amount of money to spend on a TV serial, but love of the source material and confidence in its ability to bring in viewers was not consistent.

IT appears to be a difficult property. Like New Line’s troubled 2017 update directed by Andres Muschietti, the ABC-produced 1990 TV movie saw production issues stemming from a loss of faith. A story about a cosmic terror that can shape-shift and likes goring kids is a tough nut to crack, especially on US cable television. It was originally planned as an eight-hour extravaganza (four two-hour parts) until ABC’S itchy trigger finger saw Wallace’s adaptation slashed to two instalments of ninety minutes. For a novel of 1,138 pages, that’s a whole lot of story. It seems the same old factors came into play: studios are scared of horror. Not in the good way, in the bad genre-cinema-doesn’doesn't attract-punters way.

The show pulled in record viewers for ABC.

The Loser’s Club

It’s not hard to see where much of the budget went. ABC made a point of hiring a collection of popular ‘80s TV personalities. One of the film’s strengths lies in its ensemble cast, all treated as equals, all given their chance to shine by Cohen’s nifty flashback structure. The first half is a series of scenes after each has learned IT has returned. The second half is a straighter story of reunion and horror. It’s a film reliant on the bond between the child and adult versions of the same character and is, for the most part, Wallace’s crowning achievement. It is nothing if not a well-distilled shot of nostalgia.

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