Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Delayed Reaction: Stephen King’s ‘It’ (1990)

Red balloon. Rain slickers. Clown.

It, that iconic clown demon, has returned and is now terrifying and delighting audiences on the silver screen. Since it seems like balloons and raincoats are all the rage curiosity encouraged this scaredy-cat to watch the original. As in the televised mini-series that terrified viewers in 1990. I am twenty seven years late to the party but it’s never too late to start.

Actually, I was never interested in joining in on this party. Stephen King is not my go-to for horror. As much as I acknowledge his talent and legacy of writing, his stories fall short of satisfying me. King’s stories tend to be a fun buildup of suspense or chills and then poof. No pay off. For these kind of stories where the payoff is disappointing, I much rather read anything by Michael Crichton. Crichton’s imaginative ways of turning science “what ifs” into horror/suspense stories echoes my own paranoia.

Since almost everyone I know swears up and down that It was terrifying, I steeled myself for new nightmares and development of coulrophobia. Instead, I was treated to an adventure story of children versus a shape shifting demon.

We begin with a series of missing children in a small town called Derry. The police are just going through the motions of handling it even as they brush off the concerns of a local librarian, Mike Hanlon, who has had some alarming suspicions. After being brushed off again, Mike turns and is stunned to find an old black and white photo of a young boy leaning against a tree. It is a picture of a young boy named Georgie who had disappeared decades ago. Mike immediately contacts his past neighborhood friends to come back and honor a pact they made together 27 years ago: to bring down It AKA Pennywise the dancing clown.

Most will attribute the lack of fear for this movie on watching this at an older age than most of my peers. Most have watched this at a much younger age (of which, I keep asking, how!??!?!? didn’t your parents stop you??). On the contrary, I am one who still holds stubbornly to a whole stable of fears: the dark, spiders, slashers like Freddy, possessed dolls like Chuckie, aliens, meteors, mirrors facing one another, and the list goes on. What took the absolute terror out of this film was the man playing Pennywise, Tim Curry.

His performance as Pennywise is just out of this world. He seemed like he was enjoying every single second as Pennywise! He was full of energy, menace, and charisma. Which is what It the demon wanted.According to fan who has read the books and love all things It, It was a demon theorized to be from another plane of reality. The form he chose to lure prey (human) was Pennywise the dancing clown. His actual form is incompatible with our reality. All we can comprehend are the dead lights before going insane. The demon has been munching on humans in Derry for hundreds of years. It would feast and then “hibernate” before coming back out. Other have informed me that It feeds on the fear of humans and hence why it manifests nightmarish visions to enhance it all.

Tim Curry makes us forget that time when he danced around in lingerie.

I argue that it can eat whomever it wants whether or not the human feels fear. My argument is with Georgie right from the first scene. Georgie is wary of the clown in the sewer but he is not afraid of it. Nor does the child really question why a clown would be inside a sewer grate. His main concern is the boat. Pennywise spends more energy coaxing Georgie to not be afraid and to come closer. A predator soothing the fears of the prey away until it is way too late. I would say It has grown complacent in the easy prey around it. His presence alone has increased the unsettling atmosphere of the town. No one will lend a hand and bullying runs rampant. That is until Pennywise meets his match in a gang of misfits adorably calling themselves the Losers Club. Pennywise is actively trying to get to leave or stop coming to Derry. His tactics begin to go from psychologically traumatizing to blatant horror. These are the actions of a creature starting to realize that they may have to fight to survive.


As to the horror itself, I really appreciated how it was what we don’t think of as scary as being terrifying. All of the obvious “scary” places like the cellar or the attic are just that. Nothing else. Even the entrance to Pennywise’s lair is technically pretty mundane. The horror comes from not knowing where he will show up, challenging the spaces that you thought were safe at your most vulnerable. The disbelief that this is breach is enough to stun the victims so that Pennywise can inflict more damage to their psyche. It is all just a bunch of mind games.

Everybody and their dog warned me about the ending but I will still not prepared for the preposterous and overall lackluster ending. I did cheer for Beverly taking the initiative even as my heart sank as they fought the “creature.” Dang it King. Once again, I was led to false hopes of a grandiose and satisfactory ending and it was meh.

“If not for those meddlesome kids!”

Despite the ending, It (1990) is a great chilling story. The Loser Clubs won due to their collective experiences of hardships and willpower. As a group, they bonded with laughter and positivity despite the bullying and domestic abuse that they endured. Pennywise didn’t stand a chance against these pubescent teens with hardened skin. They dealt with even greater horrors at home.

As adults, they struggled a bit and it was the weakest part of the movie. If it was up to me, the movie would have been just the kids vs. Pennywise. As adults, most had left the town and their memories had almost faded. The minute they were back at Derry, however, it all come flooding back. This time, the courage and willpower that they had as children is not as certain as they question it all. If Pennywise hadn’t resorted to his table tricks of horror, they would have all left and the demon would have been free to continue the spree. Pennywise may have been seeking retaliation but why resort to the just scaring them instead of outright killing them?

“Man, what happened to us? We used to be cool.”

Thankfully no fears have developed after watching It (1990). It only cemented my absolute adoration and love for Tim Curry and my annoyance at Stephen King’s ending. It is definitely a classic movie that must be experienced and I am very glad I did.


  1. Chris Schillig

    I feel weird commenting on a post so many years later, but here goes.

    For me, IT was the novel where King’s brand of horror became too formulaic — small town, creeping terror, shifting perspectives, apocalyptic payoff. I remember a TIME magazine cover from that era that showed a reader shuddering at “a book by Stephen King.” The title didn’t matter. The “brand” did.

    Since then, to his credit, King has diversified himself with the Dark Tower series and forays into detective fiction and suspense. That recreation has kept me reading well into adulthood. While he occasionally dips back into the tropes of old, he does so more selectively now, with what feels like a sense of nostalgia.

    BILLY SUMMERS, his latest, was damn good, with nary a ghost or vampire in sight. The only nod to the past was an oblique tie-in to THE SHINING, which didn’t hurt the book’s examination of the creative (re: writing) life.

    1. Le Messor

      Well, writing about writers is one of his most notorious tropes!

      I like Stephen King’s writing, a lot, but I can’t deny he gets formulaic. It’s largely his style that gets to me – he makes me nostalgic for things I’ve never experienced.
      I haven’t read even close to his full back catalogue, though.
      (I’ve just realised that It is on the wallpaper next to this comment.)

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