Wednesday, 29 January 2014


Part One

"A clown brought us down here. We all float."

I hadn't heard of this before, but my uber-coulrophob ic fiancee bought this years ago and, in spite of her phobia, rates it very highly. It's a 1990 two part US TV adaptation of Stephen King's novel of four years earlier, a novel which, arguably, did as much as John Wayne Gacy to make clowns in the modern world figures of fear rather than fun. Also, Tim Curry is superb, John Ritter is in it and we even get a glimpse of a very young Oz from Buffy. What's not to love?

It's a fairly straight, for which read long, adaptation. The first part is the atmospheric one, and thus the better of the two. We begin, though, with a little girl, and a little cultural difference between Yanks and us Limeys; apparently for them it's Itsy-Bitsy Spider, not Incy-Wincy, who falls down the spout. Fancy that. There are also cultural and visual differences between the two time frames within the film- the 1980s present day and the late 1950s, a time when I Was a Teenage Werewolf was a current film. Mike, our central character, is a black man living in the USA,a fact which has somewhat different connotations in our two time zones, either side of the Civil Rights era as they are. The contrast between these two particular time zones make it hard not to think of Back to the Future.

We have a small group of seven kids / adults, including Beverly, our one token girl, and we follow their contrasting fortunes, haunted by the awful Pennywise, up until the present. Mike, the only black character, is our point of view yet also an oddly passive and unambitious character. Bill, a successful writer, is Stephen King, but harbours a deep guilt over his brother's death. Ben is annoying as an adult, yet more vulnerable and likeable as a kid, and demonstrably the same person. He reminds me of Tony Stark. Stan is the intellectual Jewish kid who dies at the end of the episode rather than face Pennywise again. Eddie is the sexless, mother-dominated hypochondriac, a deeply tragic figure. Richie is, if you'll forgive me, the clown. And Beverly is an abused woman whom we desperately want to get together with Ben, her childhood sweetheart. All of them have character traits that, rather too neatly, reflect their future jobs as adults.

Glimpses of Pennywise are, rightly, rationed and put in a child's perspective, but are deeply effective for all that. He has a strong New England accent.I 'm not sure what this is meant to signify: is this a traditional Maine accent or does it paint him as an outsider? He represents, I think, paedophilia, a subject so awful that it is often wise to approach it obliquely. He's not the only villain, of course; there is also the deeply disturbed bully Henry Bowers, seen here only as a youth. He is left the most marked by Pennywise, becoming confined to an institution.

One of the creepier moments is where a photo is made to move; this is like something straight out of Sapphire and Steel and is deeply unsettling.We end with a showdown, some excellent use of stop motion, a pledge, and a suicide.

Part Two

"You're too old to stop me. You're all too old."

This episode is not as good. Having said that, though, it is perhaps inevitable that the atmospheric set-up episode will outshine the part that has to do the donkey work of resolving the plot; the two episodes should not really be considered separately.

Our protagonists, passive until now, are faced with having to go after Pennywise and destroy him, thus achieving catharsis over their childhood demon(s). They have quite a foe; we begin with Pennywise goading them with the above quote and a library soaked in blood. There's rather a lot of blood; even tea becomes blood, proving that nothing is sacred. That's before we even get to the fortune cookies. And a lot of people from our protagonists' pasts are possessed and say awful things. Henry, meanwhile, being weaker than our protagonists, becomes its pawn.

Our protagonist have a good wine-fuelled night, but the time comes to face what they have to do. Eddie is the most reluctant. His back-story is perhaps the most developed; his asthma is non-existent, he's a virgin and, it's implied, he's gay and closeted. The scary events continue apace, including a scene of a typewriter typing with no typist which may well have influenced one Steven Moffat for both Doctor Who and Jekyll.  There's a moment, where Henry stabs Mike, where we assume he's dead because of the "black guy dies first" trope. He doesn't, but there's still a bit of metatextuality there, methinks. Henry, rather predictably, dies next. There's nowhere else for him to go having fulfilled his plot function, besides he's both a baddie and a tragic figure. He has to die.

We approach the climax, and there's a rather good stop motion giant spider. Eddie dies a forty-year-old virgin.The rest all survive the showdown, but there's no conclusion; Pennywise will be back in  thirty years' time. If we're looking for a happy ending then we must make do with Ben and Bev finally getting together.

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