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The 1990 It Miniseries With Tim Curry Is Worth a Watch Before It: Chapter Two

Prepare for Pennywise's return by breaking out those VHS tapes

Amanda Bell

Thanks to director Andy Muschietti's new cinematic version of Stephen King's It, an all-new generation of fans have come to know and fear its toothy villain, Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

With 2017's It, Muschietti breathed new life into the Losers Club's brush with the child-slaying demon. It: Chapter Two presents the second half of the battle, as the beast reemerges 27 years later and (most of) the now-grown versions of the kids come back to Derry to finish what they started. Chapter Two, which will also feature flashbacks to the characters as kids, will focus on how their lives have been shaped by their unique tragedies -- and how the town's memory-wiping effect hinders their ability to remember, let alone fight, the force that's been thirsting for their blood all these years.


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Before the 2017 movie, there was another adaptation of King's book haunting every kid's dreams. In 1990, ABC presented a two-night TV miniseries event based on It, written by Lawrence D. Cohen and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace. It was, at the time, total nightmare fodder fun. It, which was later released in a popular two-tape VHS set, featured Tim Curry as an indelibly humored version of the killer clown. The performance was so instantly iconic that Bill Skarsgard, who takes over the role in the new films, knew better than to try to emulate Curry's approach. Whereas Skarsgard's Pennywise is unhinged and more clearly monstrous, Curry's version was so much campier and had a knack for cruel wit, making his more sinister moves all the more unnerving.

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Unlike Muschietti's films, 1990's It presented the adults' side of the story alongside the kids', which meant that some of the horrors they experienced later on crossed over more clearly into the memories of their disturbed youth. Plus, since audiences got to see first how these childhood traumas shaped them as adults, the overarching theme about how adults tend to forget these experiences was salient throughout the story.

There are, to be sure, several aspects of the 1990 TV miniseries that have not aged well at all -- the special effects are laughably dated, and some of the evil encounters are silly compared to the more imaginative threats in present-day films. But the classic miniseries is still well worth a visit for anyone who hasn't checked it out, and the two versions of the story are distinct enough that unless you're side-stepping spoilers for Chapter Two or haven't read the book, it won't interfere with your enjoyment of the new films. In fact, the miniseries might just be the supplement you've been hoping for.

After all, there are certain scares that the Losers experience in the miniseries that aren't featured in the 2017 film (though there's always a chance Muschietti could work similar scares into Chapter Two). In one scene in the miniseries, for example, Ben's late father is suddenly standing in the middle of the creepy pond, with his soldier's uniform slowly melting into Pennywise's clown costume. In another, young Richie finds himself face to face with a werewolf (after watching I Was a Teenage Werewolf) in the school's boiler room. They both look like outtakes from an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? now, but one of the thrills of It is seeing the clown capitalize on all of the kids' freshest fears, so each of these villainous vignettes still has power. The living photo book will still give you goosebumps, guaranteed.

There are also some compelling performances turned in by the miniseries' stars, including Annette O'Toole, Tim Reid, and late actors Jonathan Brandis and John Ritter. And there's something inherently nostalgic about seeing the story of It set in nearly the same era as the 1986 novel; in the miniseries, the kids' loss of innocence happens in 1960, and their reawakening as adults happens in 1990. (The childhood portion of Muschietti's films takes place in the late '80s, which is its own reward -- hello to all those New Kids on the Block shoutouts.)

The 1990 It miniseries still feels like a slice of childhood to some of us late Gen X-ers/early Millennials, and whether or not it holds up as a cinematic property, the genuine thrills still make it worth a watch -- or rewatch. If nothing else, a look back at the first adaptation will strengthen your appreciation for modern effects, production value, and scoring techniques, so even if you don't like it, it's a win-win.

The TV miniseries, which is over three hours long, is currently available to stream (for purchase) on Amazon Prime Video. It will also air on SYFY several times this month: Thursday, Sept. 5 at 8 p.m. ET; Friday, Sept. 6 at 5:50 p.m. ET; Sunday, Sept. 8 at 12:26 p.m. ET; Tuesday, Sept. 10 at 11 p.m. ET; and Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 10:30 a.m. ET.

The 2017 film is also available to stream on Amazon (for purchase), and Cinemax subscribers can also currently catch the film streaming on MaxGo.

It: Chapter Two hits theaters on Thursday, Sept. 5.

Tim Curry, It