When you hear about Stephen King’s It, do you think of a scary, homicidal clown? I think most people probably do, especially with the release of the newest movies, It: Parts One and Two. In case you haven’t read the book or seen the movies, the story is about a killer clown who targets kids.
I first read Stephen King’s It when I was a teen. It’s a bloated book with lots of meandering subplots and a lot of weird or creepy things that could (no, should) have been cut out, but at the heart of the tale is the story of childhood friendships. It is so much more than the recent movies captured, and though parts of the ’90 miniseries feel dated, it truly captured the feel of the book.
The miniseries opens with a little girl pedaling home on her tricycle. Once in her yard, she stops to pick up an abandoned doll and spies a cheerful-looking clown hiding behind her mother’s clean laundry, drying on the clothesline in the yard. The girl smiles. The music becomes more menacing, then crescendos. The next scene is the mother coming outside to call for her daughter, then screaming at what she sees off-screen.
That murder forces the local librarian, Mike, to start a string of phone calls he never wanted to have to make. Back in 1957, something killed Bill Denbrough’s little brother, Georgie, and a lot of other children. Bill and his friends, The Losers, hunted down that thing, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and thought they killed it, but in 1984, it came back. Mike calls each of the other six Losers to remind them of a promise they made as children. They promised if It ever came back, they’d return to kill the monster.
King makes each of these kids real. Beverly has an awful home life. Ben is fat. Mike is the black kid, Stan the Jew. Richie never knows when to shut up, Eddie has asthma and an overbearing mother, and Bill has a stutter. None of these kids fit anywhere, so they gravitate to one another, and the attacks by It only make them closer. The miniseries shows these kids at school, at the movies. It fleshes out the bullies at school, and shows the Losers bonding. It starts with Bill and Eddie building a dam. They’re joined by Ben, and later Richie, Stan, and Beverly. Mike joins their group when the same bullies from school attack him and the other six show up to protect him.
My favorite part is the music they play: “It’s Alright,” by Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions and “The Way You Do the Things You Do” by The Temptations are forever wedded in my mind with It.
With such a limited time to tell such a long story, there are montages of the Losers doing things together; they build a dam, ride their bikes or go to school, and as adults, they meet up for Chinese or at the library to talk about how to defeat the monster. Those quiet moments make the scary ones more frightening. Each child and adult is perfectly cast, but the crowning glory of the miniseries is Tim Curry. Curry perfectly blends cheerful clown with the frightening monster behind the smiling face because the viewer knows, even when Pennywise is trying to be charming, something is very wrong with this clown.
Like most adaptations, the miniseries isn’t perfect. The ending isn’t that scary, and the script cuts parts that would have made the story stronger. But overall, the miniseries is as close as I think it’s possible to get with King’s work. If you’re in the mood for something scary (but not too scary), I’d say give Stephen King’s It a try.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carol Starkley lives with her husband, three daughters, and numerous pets. She likes to read, write, bake, and dabble with the clarinet. She also infrequently blogs.