ME AND LIL’ STEVIE
Have Finally Found
(INTERIOR/NIGHT. Establishing shot of the Derry, Maine standpipe…a central hub for the town’s main sewage line. There are channels dug into the floor where gray water travels to and fro, leading off into different paths and corridors. Somewhere in the darkness, we can hear an evil laugh echoing just over the incessant plop-plops of dripping water. Camera makes quick pan toward one channel, where a paper boat is sailing along with the current. It whisks through the channel swiftly, and when it passes off into one of the darkened chambers, a figure emerges. It is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)
Peter: Greetings, Constant Viewer, and welcome to another chapter of our beloved column.
Lil’ Stevie: That’s right, folks. Twenty films reviewed so far and ZERO “Cease and Desist” letters!
Peter: If you’ve been watching the Cinema Knife Fight page on Facebook, you already know that we’ve been…ahem, dying to review today’s film. But our DVD has been missing for a long, long, time now, so we were going to once again skip Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s IT. That is, until the boss intervened on our behalf.
Lil’ Stevie: You mean L.L. Soares actually bought us a NEW copy?
Peter: Oh, hell no! I was talking about Mrs. Dudar. Thanks, Hon!
Lil’ Stevie: Who’s the REAL dummy around here…?
(In the background, we hear the sound of a toilet flushing.)
Lil’ Stevie: (pointing at something floating by in the sewage) Heh heh…Look, they all FLOAT down here!
Peter: How did I know that was coming? Let’s get started. This film was a two-part miniseries that originally aired back in 1990. It concerns an ancient evil that has inflicted itself on Derry, Maine…King’s second most infamous fictitious town right after Castle Rock. This ancient evil can manifest itself in the form of whatever nightmares the children of Derry are afraid of, but it mostly takes on the form of Pennywise the Clown (Tim Curry, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, 1975). IT uses the standpipe and its sewage lines throughout the town to lure in and kill children to feed upon. The monster has been doing this on a cycle of every 30 years or so. Of course, the town itself is poisoned and turns a blind eye over and over again until 1960, when…
Lil’ Stevie: You’re already getting the movie’s chronology all wrong. The movie begins in 1990, when another tricycle-riding tot is lured in and murdered by Pennywise. And as the police investigate, the town’s librarian Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid, Television’s Venus Flytrap from WKRP in Cincinnati) shows up to make his own inquiries. Mike remembers the summer of 1960, when his friend Bill Denbrough (Richard Thomas, Television’s Jon-Boy Walton from THE WALTONS) lost his little brother Georgie to the town’s malefic horror.
Peter: Pretty good so far. Mike Hanlon is the cornerstone of the film. He’s the movie’s narrator; the one member of the “Loser’s Club” they formed as kids that remained behind in Derry after his childhood friends all moved far, far away. Likewise, he’s the beacon that draws the other members back. After this latest murder, Mike begins a string of phone calls that interrupt the successful lives of all the other members, reawakening the childhood terror that has remained dormant in their minds ever since leaving their hometown behind. Bill Denbrough is a beloved horror novelist (big surprise, huh?) who has temporarily moved abroad to do some screenwriting for his beautiful wife Audra’s new film. Getting the call whisks him away to the memory of him being deathly sick as a child, and sending his kid brother Georgie out to play in the rain with a paper boat he’d made. And, of course, that was the last time Bill saw George.
Lil’ Stevie: The other members of the Losers Club all follow suit. The first part of the miniseries is all setup. It’s all about introducing the individual characters, sharing their own childhood terrors at the hands of IT, and getting them on track for a reunion. Only, they aren’t returning to reminisce and see how each other’s lives are going, they’re returning on a childhood oath that if IT ever came back, they would all come back to fight it and kill it.
Peter: To expedite things a bit, Ben “Haystack” Hanscom (John Ritter, Television’s Jack Tripper from THREE’S COMPANY) is a successful architect. Beverly Marsh (Annette O’Toole, Television’s Martha Kent from SMALLVILLE) is a successful clothing magnate. Richie Tozier (Harry Anderson, Television’s Judge Harold T. Stone from NIGHT COURT) is a successful comedian, Eddie Kaspbrak (Dennis Christopher, Television’s Bellegard from DEADWOOD) owns a successful limousine service, and Stan Uris (Richard Masur, Clark the creepy dog-handler from THE THING, 1982) is a successful…um, did they ever say what his occupation was?
Lil’ Stevie: Holy cow. He was a real-estate mogul.
Peter: Oh, yeah. Thanks. I have to confess, it’s been about 20 years since I’ve read this novel. I should hope you’d cut me some slack.
Lil’ Stevie: Yeah, no! If you’ve forgotten, you should have reread it.
Peter: Thanks, Dad. Anyway, like we were saying, the first part of the film is all setup, laced with flashbacks to each character’s respective trauma and how that summer drew them together. For Ben Hanscom, it was about dealing with himself and his mom being forced to move in with his aunt after his father’s death in Korea. His relocation to Derry was difficult enough, but upon his first day at school he found himself at odds with town bully, Henry Bowers, and his buddies. Ben is instantly smitten with Bev Marsh, who is the unfortunate daughter of the school’s drunken and abusive school janitor. They make friends quickly, but it’s obvious that Bev has her heart set on “Stuttering Bill” Denbrough. Bill is cute and brave, and looks super cool on his boss bicycle that he calls “Silver” after the Lone Ranger’s horse. In a serendipitous chain of events, Ben meets up with Bill and Eddie down in the barrens, where the two are trying to flood the creek. Being a bit of an engineering whiz, Ben will show them (along with the rest of the gang, who conveniently show up all at once) how to build a real honest-to-goodness dam.
Lil’ Stevie: The rest of the gang, except for Mike. He’s the town’s other new kid. Only Mike is African-American, and immediately meets with intolerance from bigoted Henry and his buddies.
Peter: The Loser’s Club end up rescuing Mike from Henry and the bullies in a rock war inside the old quarry.
Lil’ Stevie: You mean they had a battle of the bands?
(Peter tips Lil’ Stevie upside down and dangles him over the filthy water.)
Peter: Do you have any more stupid questions?
Lil’ Stevie: I’m sorry! I’ll be good!
Peter: (fixes Lil’ Stevie upright again) That’s better. To answer your question, the Loser’s Club has had enough of Henry and his shenanigans. They’re dealing with a child-eating monster, after all. So when they see Mike getting chased, they immediately “Dummy Up” with heavy rocks and begin an assault on Bowers and his hoods. And they win their first real victory, thus cementing their kinship of “Lucky Seven.”
Lil’ Stevie: Did ya catch that? That’s important, y’all…
Peter: It is, because Stan Uris, the non-believer in anything “empirically impossible” is also a huge coward. By the end of part one, Ol’ Stanny is in his bathtub slitting his wrists rather than jumping the next available transit back home to Derry. Their “Lucky Seven” dies with him.
(In the background we hear the sound of an evil clown laughing).
Pennywise: He Floats Down Here…and soon, YOU’LL FLOAT, TOO!
Peter: Part two begins with the Loser’s Club all returning to Maine, and each member dealing with their childhood horrors on an adult level. Being away from Derry for so long has robbed their memories of a lot of stuff, and there are a lot of blanks to fill in. Each member returns to their respective homes and hangouts, only to discover that Pennywise is constantly trying to turn them back and scare them away. Fortunately, they brave these terrors and eventually reunite over a dinner of Chinese food, where Mike helps them remember the rest of what happened that summer, and how they eventually beat IT the first time. Only, they didn’t kill IT completely, so now it’s back to feed again.
Lil’ Stevie: So the Loser’s Club have to convince themselves and each other to fulfill that promise they made so many summers ago, and destroy IT once and for all.
Peter: With the scope and length of this story, we seemed to sum it up pretty handily, wouldn’t you say?
Lil’ Stevie: That’s a good thing. It took me forever to write IT.
Peter: Har har. Let’s get a bit more in-depth about the good stuff and the bad stuff. Let me begin by saying that time has NOT been good to this film. The teleplay by King, Wallace, and Lawrence Cohen does leave a lot of stuff from the novel out of the movie, but that serves as utilitarian in keeping the movie at a reasonable length without being mired down by dull moments or unnecessary exposition. Gone is that whole bit about the Edge of the World and the story of the Turtle which I, for one, never understood.
Lil’ Stevie: You really ARE a dope.
Peter: What’s left is a nifty little fright flick that elevates a lot of made-for-television actors into a very dark and creepy world. Everybody turns in a rock-solid performance (although I must admit, Harry Anderson comes off as very whiny and self-absorbed). And Tim Curry as Pennywise is absolutely perfect. He’s just terrifying with his murderous antics and that lecherous scowl that turns into the mouthful of razor-sharp teeth at any given moment.
Lil’ Stevie: Either you are the world’s biggest hypocrite or you have a really bad memory!
Peter: Why do you say that?
Lil’ Stevie: Because you just lambasted King’s STORM OF THE CENTURY a few episodes ago over Andre Linoge suddenly sprouting a mouthful of fangs. In fact, you blamed that movie for being too Mick Garris-ish because Garris did the same thing in SLEEPWALKERS. How easily we forget…
Peter: Are you ready for that swim?
(Lil’ Stevie pulls his head down so that his mouth is hiding beneath the collar of his shirt).
Peter: No more warnings. And in fairness, this movie preceded those other two, so it gets rightful props. This movie is beautifully shot and it does deliver the chills, all the way up to the end where Wallace drops the ball. Everything that happens once the adult version of the Loser’s Club enters the standpipe falls apart. The monster finally appears in its true form as a gargantuan spider with “Deadlights” in its belly. The spider looks so ridiculously fake that it kills any credible suspense the movie had been building up to. It’s a massive letdown. But not enough that I’d advise fans not to watch it. It really is a beautiful movie that captures the love of childhood friendship and the paranoia of small-town living, where grown-ups would rather mind their own business and not get involved when bad things happen. And if you look at how the internet has changed our society, it almost feels prophetic. I loved the book because I felt like I belonged in the Loser’s Club. Most of us do. The film captures a huge part of that, and it really is wonderful to watch. There’s a scene where adult Mike takes adult Bill out to the shed where Mike has been keeping Bill’s old bicycle. Reid and Thomas act the scene out wonderfully, with the two fixing the flat tire and Bill is suddenly reunited with not just his bicycle but with his childhood. It plays out with the two grown men speeding back and forth on the bike to some old Smokey Robinson tune, and it feels absolutely bittersweet. The entire cast brings that magic to the film, making it a very pleasant experience.
Lil’ Stevie: What the film DOESN’T capture is the depth of the children’s loss of innocence in order to combat the evil they face. In my book, Bev actually winds up having sex with each of them as a ritual of preparation. In the movie, they all take a tug off Eddie’s asthma inhaler. Totally lame!
Peter: What do you expect from prime-time television? Besides, knot-head…you didn’t write it!
(More laughter from the corridor ahead)
Peter: I think Pennywise is coming to pay a visit!
(Another figure steps out of corridor, only it’s L.L. Soares).
L.L.: Hey, your column is LATE! What’s taking so long?
Peter: You came all the way down here just to harass us?
L.L.: Actually, someone clogged the toilet. You don’t have a plunger, do you?
Peter: Here…use this!
(Peter takes Lil’ Stevie off his arm and tosses him over).
L.L.: Thanks. I’ll make sure he doesn’t get cleaned before I send him back.
Lil’ Stevie: No! NOOOOO! Not the swirlies again!!! Please!
Peter: Thanks for spending your time with us once again. See you next month!
© Copyright 2013 by Peter N. Dudar