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. Therefore, no one could accuse the iconic horror writer from stealing any ideas for it from the more recent 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 2017 screen version of “It” — which TNT shows Wednesday, Oct. 14 — 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.
“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, with an “It Chapter Two” (which did consider the characters as adults) having followed this. And the believability here is helped by a cast that’s virtually unknown, with the possible exception of young Finn Wolfhard, also featured in “Stranger Things.”
As it stands, by focusing on 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, That sense of close camaraderie also permeates this tale, and minus the horror aspect, it’s almost equally affecting.
“It” proved quite potent at the box office in 2017, racking up the biggest opening weekend ever for a movie in its genre up to that time, but there wasn’t a huge rush for the works of Stephen King to be mined by moviemakers all over again. “Pet Sematary” was redone in 2019; here’s hoping that similar care to that shown in “It” is taken as was with any future revisitings of “Carrie”, “The Shining” and “Christine,” to name a few.
Terror of the mind is still King, and that’s a fact that has kept “It” the effective thrill show it’s been for well over three decades.