2017 is proving a great year to be a Stephen King fan, with new shows based on Mr. Mercedes and The Mist, alongside new movies based on Gerald’s Game and The Dark Tower. Next year also sees the arrival of the J.J. Abrams produced Castle Rock, a show that brings together intertwining characters and stories from King’s fictional town in Maine.
But perhaps most importantly, this year also sees the long awaited return of Pennywise, the shape-shifting monster who haunted the pages of King’s epic novel IT. The trailer became one of the most watched of all time when it debuted, and anticipation for the film couldn’t be any higher, especially now that King himself is singing its praises for all to hear.
This new version of IT will also bring back happy memories – and old nightmares – for those who experienced the 1990 miniseries. This two-parter cast Tim Curry as the murderous clown, and his terrifying performance made the show iconic. The show hasn’t aged all that well, with part two, in particular, suffering from clunky dialogue and a disappointing finale. Nevertheless, this beloved cult classic still features some great scares and performances.
The miniseries has lingered with fans all these years for a reason, so here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About The IT Miniseries, from subtle in-jokes to alternate casting choices.
15. George Romero Was The Original Director
The great George Romero collaborated with Stephen King on a few projects, including The Dark Half and the beloved anthology film Creepshow. He also developed a big screen adaptation of The Stand for years, but cutting the epic novel down to a manageable feature length script proved nearly impossible, so the movie was abandoned.
When it came time to adapt IT, Romero was the first director to sign on, being a fan of the book and feeling that television was the perfect medium for the story. He spent a year working on the show, drawing up a series bible and penning scripts for each episode.
14. It Was Supposed To Be Composed Of Ten Episodes
IT is a gigantic, brick sized novel that’s loaded with subplots and characters, so there was plenty of material for a limited series. When Romero signed up, the idea was to make ten episodes, which gave plenty of scope to flesh out characters and make a true adaptation of the story.
While ABC was initially onboard with that approach, the darkness of the material and the cost involved made them reconsider. They initially asked the order to be cut from ten episodes to eight, and then six. Romero left around this period, feeling he’d lose the essence of the book with further cuts.
13. The Screenwriter (Who Also Wrote Carrie) quit during production
One of the reasons Stephen King felt the project would be in safe hands was because scripting duties went to Laurence D. Cohen, who wrote the screenplay for Brian De Palma’s Carrie. The author feels the film did a better job with the story than his own book, so Cohen and Romero’s hiring gave him confidence.
Like Romero, Cohen was excited by the scope ten episodes would give them, and the two worked hard to adhere to the book. When ABC decided to trim things down, Cohen also started to lose faith in the project, deciding to leave when the series was reduced to a two-parter.
12. King Wasn’t Involved
Hollywood went crazy adapting Stephen King’s work in the eighties, which resulted in a few classics (The Shining, The Dead Zone) and a few duds, including Silver Bullet and King’s only directorial effort, Maximum Overdrive. The author’s involvement varied from project to project, but while IT was a special book for him, he had next to no input with the resulting series.
He knew it was happening and gave the show his blessing, but since he had no contractual say in how it was made, he declined further involvement. He also confessed his expectations “...were in the basement,” since he didn’t see how a network series could successfully adapt such a large book.
11. Pennywise’s Make-Up Was Inspired By The Phantom Of The Opera
Tim Curry’s casting as Pennywise was a huge breakthrough for the production and has since become iconic in its own right. One condition Curry had signing on was that his makeup be relatively simple, since he had a nightmarish time with the heavy makeup on Ridley Scott’s Legend.
To that end, make-up artist Bart Mixon designed a look that was relatively easy to apply, while taking inspiration from another horror icon. He based Pennywise’s look on the 1925 version of The Phantom Of The Opera, where Lon Chaney portrayed a particularly hideous version of the title character.
“The upturned nose, bald dome and cheek bones were intended to echo this classic makeup,” says Mixon. Thankfully, the makeup allowed Curry’s performance to shine through without the need for layers of latex, which is why the character works so well.
10. Adult Stan Only Has Three Scenes
Part one of IT shows that literal boy scout Stan has a hard time buying into the myth of Pennywise – even when the clown almost eats him in the sewer. Like his friends, he did his best to forget all about the monster and Derry when he grew up, until he gets a call reminding him of his promise to come back if Pennywise returned.
Stan can’t face the thought, and commits suicide instead of facing his past. This means that despite actor Richard Maser getting billed in the main cast and appearing in promotional photos, he only appears in three scenes; and he’s dead in one of them. Nice work if you can get it.
9. IT’s huge debut
The series was a huge success for ABC when it aired, bringing in around 30 million viewers across its two-night premiere; alongside scarring a generation of children with nightmares about maneating clowns. Screenwriter Laurence Cohen has since noted, with irony, that the show was such a smash that ABC regretted not expanding the amount of episodes.
The show also earned good reviews, with Tim Curry, in particular, being singled out for praise. It was the first miniseries based on a King novel since Salem’s Lot in 1979, and soon paved the way for an epidemic of them in the nineties.
8. The Asylum Guard Is a Jab at King’s greatest rival
The work of King and fellow author Dean Koontz is often compared, since they both write popular horror fiction. Both have a unique writing style and passionate fanbases, who often like to debate over which author is the best.
Neither of them really acknowledges this so-called rivalry, though it’s interesting to note that King takes a small jab at Koontz in both the book and miniseries. When Pennywise recruits former bully Henry Bowers to attack the returning Losers Club, he has to break him out of an insane asylum, where he’s watched by a guard named Koontz.
Henry says “Koontz is the worst,” and the stand-in for the author – known for his love of dogs – is eventually ripped to bits by a Doberman when Henry escapes. Hopefully, this reference was all in good fun on King’s part.
7. Mrs Kersh Is A Nod To A Famous Director
Koontz isn’t the only shoutout in the book and series. When King was in England visiting the set of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, he popped next door to visit the other movie filming in Elstree Studios; The Empire Strikes Back.
This is where he met director Irvin Kershner, who was nicknamed “Kersh” by the crew. The two men must have got on well, because King named a character after him in It. Mrs Kersh initially appears as a kindly old lady living in Bev’s childhood home, inviting her in for tea and a chat.
Bev soon realises Mrs. Kersh is just another form of Pennywise trying to toy with her, and warns her to leave town. It’s one of the creepier scenes in part two, which is slightly lacking in genuine chills.
6. Part Two Cut Bev’s Boyfriend As A Major Villain
The task of chopping a nearly 1,200-page book down to three hours was always going to be tough, and a lot of great scenes had to be removed. A subplot involving Bev’s abusive, controlling boyfriend made it into the show, but got a significant trim when compared to the book.
In the show, he threatens her with violence if she tries to leave, but she overpowers him and escapes. He’s never seen again, but in the novel and the original script, he was supposed to return and cause more trouble. He comes to Derry chasing Bev and gets hypnotized by Pennywise into doing his bidding, including kidnapping Bill’s wife.
5. The Blu-Ray And DVD Delete Part 2’s Original Opening
Fans of the show eagerly awaited the release of It on DVD back in 2006, since it had been hard to get ahold of for years. Since the show ended with a cliffhanger when it fired aired, a bit of creative trimming was needed to make it flow like a movie for the DVD re-release.
This included trimming the grisly discovery of Stan’s body, cutting the closing credits of part one, and losing a couple of scenes with Bill at the beginning of part two. Although these scenes are hardly essential to the narrative, some fans complained about them not being made available as bonus features.
4. There’s An Indian Remake Of The Series Called Woh
A ten episode adaptation of the show might have let the story breathe a little more, but the Indian remake of It didn’t have that issue; they had 52 episodes to work with. This series is called Woh, and follows the same basic story of a group of children who fight a shape-shifting monster, who in this version is dubbed The Joker.
Woh has a much lower budget than its American counterpart and changes the story significantly, including a bizarre subplot where the group defeats The Joker, only to learn that his evil was reborn in the form of a seven-year-old child.
3. New Pennywise Bill Skarsgard Was Born The Year The Show Aired
Fans of It have noted that the new version of the story is coming twenty-seven years after the miniseries first aired, which in the book is the same length of time it takes for Pennywise to re-emerge in Derry. Adding to the somewhat creepy coincidence is the fact that the new Pennywise, Bill Skarsgard, was born the same year it premiered.
It’s too soon to tell if Skarsgard’s fresh take on the character will leave the same impression as Curry did, though early previews and footage make it look like he’s nailed the role. Despite early pictures of the character being mocked as trying way too hard to be creepy, IT is now the most anticipated horror release of 2017, and is on course for a huge opening weekend.
2. The director Admitted The Spider Finale Is Lame
One of the most mocked elements of the series – and the book – is the reveal that Pennywise’s true form is that of a giant, rubbery spider. It’s probably the lamest twist possible, and it doesn’t help that the effects used to bring this creature to life on the small screen were less than convincing.
The final battle in the book is more complex and otherworldly, though it would have been impossible to film on a television budget. Tommy Lee Wallace had the same concerns with the ending, but felt he could make it work with the right monster design. The original concept he picked for the spider looked meaner and bulkier, but the effects crew had to simplify it during construction.
1. Alternate Pennywise Candidates and Another Killer Clown role for Curry
It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Pennywise now, but a few other actors were considered. Tommy Lee Wallace briefly considered his Fright Night Part 2 star Roddy McDowall for the clown, but ultimately decided that the actor was maybe a little too nice to convince in the part.
Alice Cooper and screen vet Malcolm McDowell were also considered, and given some of the latter’s previous work, he no doubt would have made for a terrifying Pennywise. Tim Curry was always the first choice for the character, though, and the only one who received an offer.
Interestingly, Curry’s take on the character also nabbed him the role of The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. While this seems like a case of pitch-perfect casting, it proved to be a little too perfect; producers deemed his voice “too scary” for a kids show, and he was later replaced with Mark Hamill.
Do you know of any other fun facts about the original IT miniseries? Let us know in the comments.
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