My notes on Pennywise The Story of It, which is available digitally from October 3 and physical media from October 24.
There’s been a trend in recent years for feature-length documentaries which might once have been extras on a physical release of a mainstream studio backlist title. The main impetus for this seems to be that the genre fare of the 1980s has such a lock on the nostalgia market that it commands the resources to provide meticulous chronicles of films (or, in this case, TV miniseries) that are okayish but really not that much out of the ordinary. Frankly, I’d be more stoked for a feature-length doc about the Clara Bow/sex comedy It or the Roddy McDowell/golem It – but I’m in the demographic that saw Tommy Lee Wallace’s two-part adaptation of Stephen King’s novel as a review cassette when it came out on VHS in the UK and reckoned it was an improvement on the baggy novel but still just solidly above average … as opposed to those kids who saw the show when it aired in the US, think King/Tim Curry invented the idea of clowns being scary (which is a big fuck you to Lon Chaney and his clown at midnight) and have been haunted by it ever since.
Presumably, directors John Campopiano and Chris Griffiths are in that camp – which means they must have winced when Curry said that his response to people who said the show terrified them when they were young was ‘well, you shouldn’t have been watching it then’. This includes a few archive clips of King talking about It and his work in general, then gets into the series – with no mention of the recent theatrical duo of remakes. Screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen and director/co-writer Wallace go through the development process – George A. Romero was attached, but left when the commission shrank from eight to four hours – and both own up to the opinion that ‘Night One’ was much better than ‘Night Two’, hinting that they found much of King’s ending hard to take (the underage gang bang was eliminated – though actress Emily Perkins tells a funny story about her young co-stars teasing her about it when they’d read the book and she hadn’t) but also that Wallace didn’t know ahead of time how Curry would command the screen and the role in such a way that he was missed when a giant spider replaced his character.
Much of the cast is roped in for interviews – Annette O’Toole is the only major survivor not included – and share personal stories of what was mostly a positive work experience. It’s mentioned that the show was a ratings success, but not that it opened up the way for King adaptors to concentrate on ‘novels for television’ rather than theatrical movies for a few decades. As usual, we see a few cast members at autograph conventions. When do we get feature-length documentaries about The Gate, Waxwork, Witchboard, Hideaway or The Seventh Sign?
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