Friday, November 20, 2015

Stephen King's It (Tommy Lee Wallace, 1990) - 25th Anniversary Retrospective - Part 2

Picking up where we left off on Wednesday, tonight we return to 1990 and the fictional New England town of Derry, for the concluding half of the TV movie adaptation of Stephen King's It, which again, was originally broadcast a whole 25 years ago today. 

Of the two halves, this is undoubtedly the more controversial among audiences, the consensus being that compared to the consistently strong first hour and a half, in night two, things started to go off the boil somewhat. While I can certainly understand why people have a problem with parts of this, and there are things which seem perhaps tonally at odds with what comes before, the more I watch it, the less these stick out and the more I appreciate what part two has to offer overall. In fact, I'm more and more of the opinion these days that compared to its preceding part, this is unfairly maligned and stronger than some folks give it credit for. Finally, concerning the elephant (read: giant spider) in the room, a bit of context r.e. the book and the behind the scenes of this adaptation arguably helps to take the edge off it, so to speak. Anyway, enough pre-ramble, let's dive in... oh, and like on Wednesday, I'm presuming anyone reading this has seen the film and is therefore familiar with the plot.

One possible reason this half is less well regarded than the other is suggested by director Tommy Lee Wallace in the DVD commentary, where he says that perhaps people find the adult's story less compelling than that of the kids... something that is also maybe inherent in the source material. Personally I don't know... he could be right. What I will say (and we'll get into this later) is there are elements of the story (i.e. including in the novel) that are less satisfying than others, particularly in this second half... but nothing I find too problematic. Plus, as I've gotten a bit older, I've obviously started to be able to appreciate the adults' side of things much more.

One thing I did used to think in the past was that part two felt more melodramatic than one... but now it strikes me more and more that actually, the whole movie has an element of that. And as a related side-note, I have to say that more recently I've really come to really appreciate Its score, by Richard Bellis (who deservedly won an Emmy for his work here). All the cues are excellent I think, especially the main theme and the creepy circus music associated with Pennywise. Also speaking of music, I really dig the pre-existing stuff that's included, such as the Impressions and Temptations numbers used over the fun montage scenes, Beethoven's Fur Elise (used early in part one and recurring in a later haunting scene in two) and at the beginning of the first half, the nursery rhyme sung by the poor young girl who isn't long for this world... the somewhat aptly named (considering what happens at the end of the film), Itsy Bitsy Spider. And again, while we're on the subject of the songs, couldn't resist the urge to post some screenshots from one of my favourite scenes below, the totally bro-mantic bike riding montage that's set to the sounds of "The Way You Do the Things You Do"... and by the way, the formatting in this paragraph and the last went sideways and I couldn't fix it. Thanks Blogger! You can be a real pain sometimes!

Sorry, got a bit carried away there! But like I say, I do dig this scene quite a bit. Sure it's a tad cheesy but for me that's all part of the charm and makes me love it all the more... and the same applies to a few other scenes. 

In terms of scare factor, I think there are scenes in part two that are up there with anything from one... the case in point for me being when Beverly (Annette O'Toole) returns to her childhood home ("If you're wise, you'll run dear run... because to stay will mean worse than your death"). I get chills just thinking about that one. Also, I really dig the scene which we didn't get to see in part one... i.e. when Stan (Ben Heller) finally sees It. For some reason I find that part very eerie. I think the music, which is quite creepy and atmospheric there, really helps. Finally, I always found the end of the bit where Ben (John Ritter, who tragically died the year after he recorded the DVD commentary. He's a total hoot there by the way) arrives back in Derry, seeing Pennywise at the roadside waiting to greet him, quite startling.

Holy crap! I went screen cap crazy there for a moment again! Sorry about that folks! But yes, I'm sure that edition of "These are a few of my favourite scenes" gets the point across. Finally, while we're speaking of scenes, the Chinese restaurant re-union and later, the parts taking place in the Derry Inn, are excellent I think. Especially considering the fact that both have to deliver quite a bit of exposition, something which can always be potentially problematic as far as both actors and audience are concerned. Oh, and I just remembered that in the previous post I promised to mention a scene which gave me nightmares for some reason when I was a kid. As I said then, it seems silly now... it's the head in a fridge bit. Yup, really.

Who knows why, but for whatever reason, this scene haunted my dreams one summer back in the early '90s, making me want to not sleep for a night or two. Oh and fun fact, I recently realised the man playing said head, Richard Masur, also played Clark in John Carpenter's remake of The Thing. Guess he must have got used to the cold after working on that one, something which would have come well in handy here!

So then, I've talked at some length about some stuff I love about this second half but now I think it's time to finally address the film's climax and of course, that spider that seems to bother so many.

Now like a few things here, it took me a bit to warm up to it, but having read the book and being generally forgiving by nature with movies, I never had a huge problem with the spider. Firstly, and as Tommy Lee Wallace says in the commentary, the ending of the book is so cerebral in parts that it'd be practically impossible to realise on screen, even with millions of dollars. Secondly, if memory serves, I think said spider is actually in the book, so we can't blame the makers of this adaptation so much for its appearing. And finally, the commentary informs us that the initial design for the spider, which was more muscular and therefore perhaps a bit more fearsome, was unable to be realised due to it being physically impossible in practical terms.

As it stands, and given the perspective leant by the passing of quite a few years now, I don't think it looks bad at all. The main problem I guess people have is that after all the psychological scares of what came before, not to mention a lot of build up, seeing the previously mercurial evil entity reduced to such a form was always going to be something of a let down.

Besides, if one is to take issue with anything from the latter parts of this movie, I'd suggest something that might actually be more problematic (and I know I'm not alone in thinking this). I'm referring to Bill's wife Audra (Olivia Hussey of Black Christmas, who does a fine job with a part that doesn't really make the most of her talents). I mean she shows up in Derry to help her husband, gets immediately captured by It and wrapped up in webs and is found to be catatonic when the beast is finally defeated. At the end of the day though, it is what it is. I'm not trying to be an apologist for it, but this is the movie we have folks. And structurally, it does mean we have a second ending of sorts to potentially satisfy anyone who was bothered by that pesky spider. 

And as slightly silly as the final scene is, with Bill (Richard Thomas) beating the devil and bringing Audra back from Its deadlights by riding his trusty bike Silver down a hill and into an intersection, nearly causing complete mayhem in the process... it does feel like as good a place as any to finish the film. I mean, for one, King's book ends with the same coda. And also, it calls back to an earlier scene with young Bill and Stan.

Ok, I realise I've gone on enough already, but before I let you go, a couple of quick shout outs. Firstly, kudos to the adult cast, who often fall in the shadow of the kids for some reason. I think they're all pretty good and have a convincing rapport, something undoubtedly aided by the fact that quite a few of them had worked together before. Secondly, to screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen (who also wrote the script for Carrie) for being able to condense such a weighty tome as the source novel into a three hour movie and without losing the essence of the story. And finally, to director Tommy Lee Wallace (a friend and protege of John Carpenter and the man who helmed Halloween III: Season of the Witch), who does an excellent job here, making something which often feels much more cinematic than its TV movie label would suggest. 

So in summation then, I think that despite its flaws, this is still, a quarter of a century on, an excellent, highly effective horror film... entertaining, full of heart and characters I really care about and featuring more than its fair share of scenes that can quicken one's pulse even now. I mean while it might not pack quite the same punch to a 2015 audience as it did to a 1990 one, I'm willing to bet that this still has the potential to traumatise younger viewers and put whole new generations off clowns for good. 

As always, I feel like there's stuff I forgot to mention... and, like book and film, I can't quite find the perfect place to end this retrospective... so I'll finish by submitting for your approval, ladies and gentlemen, what could be a candidate for the greatest scene of the entire movie... a sequence from this second half, which can be summed up in a three word quote (and with as many stills below)... "Kiss me fatboy!"


  1. If, in 2015, it can scare a whole new generation of kids off clowns, then its' job is done.

    1. Sorry Mark, only just seen your comment. Completely agreed... and would be curious to see how kids now would react to it. Cheers for stopping by :)

  2. Excellent work on your review, sir! I haven't seen this in years. Might be time for a rewatch.

    1. Sorry Richard, only just seen your comment. And many thanks for the kind words! As I said, I think it holds up pretty well, though admittedly my eyes may be biased by childhood nostalgia. Let me know what you think when you get round to re-visiting it. Overall, 1990 wasn't a bad year for horror, imo.