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The 1990 IT is better than you remember

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader


The last few months I’ve been reading about how the new movie based on the Stephen King novel IT is finally going to do the story justice on the big screen. It’ll be the film that sets right what was done wrong in the 1990 made-for-tv movie IT. These articles talk about how bad that TV version was and how it was unwatchable in its day.

Either the people writing about how the 1990 IT stinks weren’t around back then or don’t have good memories, but as someone who remembers I’m here to tell you that good sci-fi and horror series were the exception rather than the rule back then and the TV version of IT was one of the good things on TV.

Back then there were a few sci-fi/horror series on like Twin Peaks, Quantum Leap and The Flash with other syndicated shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation and Swamp Thing as well. But non-sci-fi/horror TV series then ruled the day with shows like Murder, She Wrote, Matlock and In the Heat of the Night which were all top-rated series in the early 1990s.

But really there wasn’t too much good stuff on TV in 1990. Shows like The X-Files, Babylon 5 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were all still in the future in 1990 so, when the IT TV movie was announced I was beyond excited.

In 1990, Stephen King was the one author who’s books kids at my school actually chose to read without having to. He was, and still is, a prolific writer who had a huge body of work that seemingly all of which was slowly being turned into movies. Some were good like Stand by Me and Carrie and some of which was not so good. But since there was a lot less to choose from then, genera fans like myself would devour the good stuff right alongside the not-so-good stuff. I think that’s why I was so excited about IT. To a certain extent, it didn’t matter if IT was any good or not. Fans like myself were going to watch it no matter what. I think what mattered was the “king of horror” was going to have one of his stories turned into something that was going to be shown on TV — in prime time — and on a major network.

Back then if you weren’t going to record something like IT to VHS then you had to watch each episode when it aired. And because IT aired over two nights meant you had to come back the next night to finish the story. Which a lot of people did — IT was a success for ABC when it aired with nearly 30 million people tuning in to watch.

Why do people dislike the 1990 IT today? My guess would be that by today’s standards the movie looks pretty crude. It stars a group of actors mostly known for TV work and has some special effects that are more “man in a rubber suit” funny than terrifying. Which is all true, if you look at the movie with 2017 eyes.

With my 1990 eyes I saw the movie in a whole other light. There was nothing like it on TV — it felt a bit like the kids from Stand by Me who were fighting a kid-killing alien from space which was not something that ever showed up on Murder She Wrote. And it had some truly scary moments, abet the end of the miniseries when you get to see the creature in all its glory probably isn’t one of them.

But still, there’s Tim Curry as the title character in its human form that was so good in the miniseries I think he turned a generation of kids off clowns for all time. Curry in his Pennywise guise is the most effective villains in any Stephen King adapted work, and that’s saying a lot.

Now comes a 2017 IT for a new generation, this one out September 8. This new IT might be the bestest, scariest, goodest Stephen King movie ever made, but I can only imagine sometime in 2044 there’ll be a whole new generation of fans talking about how bad it was.

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