Pennywise, the star of Stephen King horror novel 'It'

Stephen King’s ‘It’: The 1990 Version And The One Thing I Hate About The Hype [Opinion]

The hype is real for the forthcoming two-part film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 horror fiction masterpiece It. The movie has accrued a viral internet following thanks in part to its extensive coverage by many news sources, and even as one of the reporters behind that coverage, I am by no means immune. There is just one thing I hate about the whole hype train, and it stems from the TV miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s It aired in 1990.

I want to impress that I love It and that I’m extremely happy it is being adapted. I am a huge Stephen King fan, and It is among my favorite books King has ever written.

Because of my love for all things Stephen King and my borderline-obsessive anticipation for the adaptation coming out on September 8, I have read a countless number of essays and articles about the film. I am happy to read differing opinions about the upcoming film or Stephen King’s book, but one thing that really bugs me is when people say something along the lines of “the 1990 version was a masterpiece. The 2017 remake has some very big shoes to fill (no pun intended, haha), but fingers crossed that director Andres Muschietti can make it happen.”

Why does this upset me every time I read it? Amazingly, it has nothing to do with that horrifically bad clown humor. It has a little to do with the fact that the upcoming film is disrespectfully referred to as a “remake” when it is quite clearly a completely separate adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, but I can look past even that. No, my anger at these statements has more to do with the bit about the 1990 miniseries being a masterpiece that set a bar to be reached.

Before going any further, let me make it absolutely clear that I understand movies and TV shows, even ones based on Stephen King books, are subjective. Just because I or anyone else do not enjoy them doesn’t mean people who do are any less right for doing so.

That being said, I don’t agree (and the general consensus by King readers on forums like the Stephen King subreddit tends to concur) that the 1990 version even approaches the status of “masterpiece” or succeeds in translating to the screen what Stephen King wrote. I feel it might be more accurate to say it is a three-hour showcase of mostly bad acting (more on that later), worse special effects, dialogue that is very frequently cringe-worthy, and a plot so watered down from Stephen King’s tale with tired horror movie cliches that it is practically devoid of even mildly interesting moments.

A big part of the problem is that the miniseries, which aired on cable TV in two parts, wanted to maintain a relatively kid-friendly TV-14 rating. In order to do that, it had to take a story based on Stephen King’s book about a sewer-dwelling clown who abducts and eats children and basically castrate it. In other words, it had to drain a fairly violent horror story of most of its violence and horror.

The result is a flat and forced effort that was very obviously pushed out on a shoestring budget and rushed to be on air in time for the Holidays — it aired on ABC in mid-November. Not something worthy of bearing Stephen King’s name.

Pennywise burning a Stephen King photo
[Image by Kid-Eternity/Deviant Art]

The one saving grace to which I will concede is Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise the Clown, It’s main antagonist. Although I feel that even Curry’s Pennywise was not great because it was too friendly for a character who Stephen King wrote to be so evil and terrifying, I realize that was probably the fault of the script or the direction, and I acknowledge that Curry sells what he is doing very well. One of the reasons King’s Pennywise is such a brilliant monster is because he is so contradictory; he looks like a friend and even acts like it to draw you in, but he turns very bad very fast once he has you in his clutches. Curry is able to go from silly to downright terrifying in the blink of an eye, and that really makes his performance capture the terrible essence of Pennywise that Stephen King initially intended.

A side note: The creature that sometimes takes the form of Pennywise is revealed in Stephen King’s work to be a female, but I use the prefix “he” to refer to her in the context of the screen adaptations because, in both cases, the character is portrayed by male actors.

The second reason I feel the statements about “the 1990 version sets a very high bar” criticisms are offensive is because they imply the upcoming movie of Stephen King’s It is probably not going to be as good as the miniseries.

Although an official trailer for the movie has not yet been publicly released, fans have managed to glean a decent amount of information pertaining to the film from set photos, Instagram posts, and interviews concerning the production — all this information has been covered here at the Inquisitr. In short, the gleanings have pointed to the conclusion that the film will be scarier, more authentic, and overall much more faithful to Stephen King’s work than the miniseries was.

In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, though, many, many people discussing the nearing release insist on comparing it to the 1990 “classic” and saying the older version probably can’t be touched. Not only are they insulting Muschietti and the efforts of the movie’s production crew, but they are insulting Stephen King’s work by saying that the story he presented originally is not as entertaining as the decidedly less mature 1990 retelling.

Again, though, who am I to call a work of the screen bad? Obviously, a lot of people think the series accomplished what Stephen King intended with the book; they remember it as terrifying and probably pretty entertaining. Was it, though? I feel like people must for some reason be remembering the series through rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. Why Graveyard Shift, another 1990 adaptation of a Stephen King book, is practically forgotten while It gets so much love I do not know, but I simply refuse to believe the people saying the 1990s adaptation of Stephen King’s book was fantastic are really remembering it accurately.

This belief is only strengthened by the many recent reviews of the miniseries by critics who have gone back and watched it in preparation for this year’s attempt. Pretty much without exception, they decide it was terrible for all of the reasons described above.

I realize that this opinion of the 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s It is not exactly popular. I think, however, that those who are going to claim the 1990 version was awesome should give it another watch. If you still maintain your position after watching it, you got some quality entertainment out of the deal. If you don’t, you won’t be guilty of praising a work that you do not actually appreciate. It’s a win-win. After watching, though, just ask yourself, WWSKT? What would Stephen King think?

[Featured Image by Magdalena Proszowska/Deviant Art]

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