Why Is IT So Mean?

I've been on vacation with my family.  My mother loved the Stephen King novel IT. She mentioned several times that she wanted to see the mini-series, even though I discouraged her.  However, I finally gave in (okay, she didn't have to push too hard) and spent the $7.  I might have paid too much.

I haven't seen the entire mini-series in years. I was startled to discover just how good it is!  "This thing still bites," I said. The first half is excellent.  I find the scenes with the children over the top scary.  When the clown in interacting with children, their fear is very real.  But then something really bad happens -- and it's not Pennywise -- it's part 2.  All of it.

Part 2 should have been the stronger part, since it not only contains Pennywise's defeat, but well known actors take the stage.  These are people who, by 1990, had plenty of time to hone their craft.  But they were terrible!  The show sinks into melodrama.  Scenes that should scare, get a laugh.  When Pennywise makes bad  things come out of the fortune cookies, it's just flat out funny.  In fact, not once does the second half of IT produce a scare of any kind.

There is something sincere in the children's portrayals, and something quite plastic about the adults. Interesting how young people who did not have the time to learn to pretend brought the real deal to the small screen.

The second half fails to produce any real drama, romance or tension.  The viewer is not left wondering if Pennywise  will live or die.  In fact, by the time we get to the final battle with the monster, we've lost so much interest in these characters that it would be just A-Okay if the monster did take them down.

My favorite scenes: 

  • The attack at the beginning of the show.  The girl playing on her trike, then you see a clown through the hanging cloths on the cloths line, then just a knocked over trike with the wheel still spinning -- outstanding!
  • Pennywise and Georgie.  This is great stuff because it's so scary.  Everything about the scene is perfect.  Georgie scared of the dark basement; the rainy day; the boat floating in the drain; and that clown.  The scene is so good, it leaves you talking to the TV.  "Don't do it, Georgie!  Run!"  But his brother made him that boat, and your heart just goes out to the little guy.
  • Pennywise and Bev.  When Bev hears the children's voices coming from the drain, I think that is down right spooky.   Worse, when the balloon explodes with blood all over the bathroom, it seems a little silly at first -- until she realizes her father can't see the blood!  She is a quick thinker and tells her daddy it was only a spider that scared her.
  • Stanley's suicide, with the word IT written in blood in the bathtub.  My mom thought the scene was reminiscent of Psycho, where Janet Lee slides down the shower wall and you see a trail of blood.
  • The scenes with the scrap book are kinda fun.  I like it when the thing drips blood, or when the pictures from back-when comes to life with Pennywise taking center stage.
Least favorite scenes: 
(Please keep in mind that this does not mean I disliked the same scene's in the book.  In fact, often these were scenes I thought rocked in the novel and was saddened they were not brought to life with any zeal.) 
  • The attack on Pennywise at the end.
  • Bill's final ride on Silver.  Great in the book -- not so great on TV.  Because, of  course, if your ride fast enough on a bike, people come out of their monster-induced coma.  
  • Library with blood balloons.  Seriously?  And, only the Loosers Club is supposed to see the balloons, or Pennywise for that matter -- but there is a lady in the scene who definitely jumps when the balloon pops.
  • . . . this list can get too long and critical.  You get the idea.

My favorite stupid line: Adult Bev to Ben, "Why is IT so mean?"  Why is it so mean?  WHY IS IT SO MEAN? BECAUSE IT'S A MONSTER!  They don't make nice monsters in Derry, you have to go to Mayberry for that one!

The 50's
The show authenticates a small town circa 1950's so well, it makes the stuff with the children more believable.  You get the feeling this really happened back then.

I was a Knotts Berry Farm with my family this week when a quartet came into the Johnny Rockets there  and asked if they could sing for us.  Sure!  Their song?  "It's alright."  Same song used in the movie during the dinner scene.  (The group was The MoonRays)

Final thought: There isn't much they can do on screen that beats what Stephen King can do with a  typewriter. 


  1. Huh. Ever since I noted reviews like this I've been fascinated in what it is that makes shows like It fail for other horror fans.

    Like what are they seeing that I'm missing, or am I seeing something they're not, and how and why?

    All I can say is I liked it from beginning to end, and yes I even found the adult scenes riveting, even the restaurant and balloon scenes.

    One possible theory is that my fear bar is set pretty low (in other words, I'm a scairdy-cat).

    However, for me, two things stand out that make it work:

    The character of Al Marsh hangs over the show for me, and I think it's that that gives even the adult scenes powers, because you don't know where Marsh ends and the clown begins in the miniseries (an aspect of the book I think they caught wonderfully).

    The second is the same criteria as before, everything, including performance is secondary and subsumed into whether or no the story is good.

    If the story is good then for me the acting works because it is inherently in the service of the story, and it's clear the actor's have read the book and believe in it (yes, even with that "So MEAN!" line), and therefore, for me, the whole thing works from beginning to end.

    A final third is the problem of satisfaction with images on film and what makes them works or not for others.

    All I can say is visuals are also secondary to story. If a performer can create a good image, (like Curry with Pennywise) then it's a plus, but both image and performance wouldn't exist without (and therefore depend on) story.


    1. It's film (or in this case television), it's an audio-visual artform. It combines many arts into one. Not only the story is important, the characters (& acting), the visuals, the soundtrack... all equally as important. Nothing is secondary to another thing. In the best movies, every component of it is excellent, not just one. But a movie without much of a story can also be great if it has characters you want to keep following & unique visuals.

      That said, I think this mini-series tells the story quite poorly anyway. The only interesting part that keeps you watching is the portrayal of the kids and Pennywise, the few times it gets the atmosphere of the book right and the unique sounding music.

      One of the things that bothers me most, is how It doesn't seem to even try to attack and kill the Losers. He literally says to Eddie: "I just wanted to say, hello!". What kind of monster is this? Scare the guy and eat him!

  2. Loved the post and your whole blog. A friend of mine told me about your blog and I am defiantly following it now. You have some great info and posts here.

    I really liked the Batman #400 post. Looking forward to seeing what you post in the future.

  3. BTW your picks for best scenes are spot on. I also think there's a few effective moments when the kids go underground to confront Pennywise. That part really scared me as a kid.

    It's a struggle to find anything truly memorable in the second part. Mrs Kersh comes close, and Pennywise cracking jokes at the library is kinda funny, but still not as great as it could've been.

    I really hope the remake by Fukunaga will be made. Now there's a director that can really give It the cinematography It deserves.