‘It’ retains its terror in Stephen King-story remake

For those who might not be familiar with the miniseries version of Stephen King’s “It,” made in 1990 with a host of familiar television faces (John Ritter, Richard Thomas, etc.), it bears mention that the original novel was published in 1986 – so that no one accuses the iconic horror writer from stealing any ideas from the relatively recently started streaming series “Stranger Things.”

Both stories involve groups of young friends in terrifying circumstances, and rather than also dealing with its characters as adults, the latest screen version of “It” remains focused on their childhoods in a Maine town – where one youngster is guided to his fate by an evil clown named Pennywise (played here by Bill Skarsgard, though Tim Curry had more of an overall impact in the role in the aforementioned miniseries).

Other children vanish in the months afterward, prompting the brother of the first apparent victim to gather his so-called “Losers Club” to seek those who are missing – with Pennywise, who reappears roughly every 30 years to terrify the locals, showing up in various guises to try to scare the amateur detectives out of their wits.

Bill Skarsgard stars as Pennywise in "It"
Bill Skarsgard stars as Pennywise in “It”

“It” benefits in two big ways. There haven’t been many King movie adaptations lately, where there used to be a ton of them (it’s not a stretch to say there was a new one almost every month for a while), so his themes are relatively fresh again. And the believability is helped by a cast that’s virtually unknown … with the possible exception of young Finn Wolfhard, who also was in “Stranger Things.”

As it stands by focusing in the characters in their younger years, “It” is hugely reminiscent of another popular King story, “Stand by Me.” That has its own suspense, but of a more down-to-earth nature by playing up some of the basic rites of childhood, but that sense of close camaraderie also permeates “It.” And minus the horror aspect, it’s almost equally affecting.

“It” has proven quite potent at the box office, racking up the biggest opening weekend ever for a movie in its genre, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the works of Stephen King mined by moviemakers all over again. Here’s hoping, however, that similar care is taken as was with such adaptations as “Carrie” (the original), “The Shining” and “Christine,” to name a few.

Terror of the mind is still King, and that’s a fact that keeps “It” – in its newest iteration – the effective thrill show it’s been for three decades.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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