An appreciation of the undervalued 1990 Stephen King adaptation
With every movie-going human being tripping over their toes to ladle love and money on the lavish remounting of Stephen King’s gargantuan novel It, it’s nice to see that the veteran master of literary arcana’s source material still has the power to suck in the pundits. If you believe the hype, It (or at least the first part of It that has thus far seen release) might just be the most financially successful horror movie in history. Critics are hot for the movie too and, to be fair, It is a beautifully produced and faithful realization of the 1986 book, improving on the limitations of Tommy Lee Wallace’s flawed but effective 1990 TV miniseries and providing a wealth of scares, both of the slow-creeping and jump-out-of-your-skin variety.
But the problem with It is that the picture – which reframes King’s initially 60s-set tale in the 80s – feels kind of…forced. Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things is the poster child for this wave of Regan-era pop culture fetishization, a greatest hits of that decade’s horror and fantasy movie tropes and it all works. Because of the show’s success, it’s clear that IT was re-designed to ride those small-screen coattails, going so far as to its casting of Stranger Things‘ Finn Wolfhard. And because of that, IT sort of left me a bit cold. It felt fabricated, calculated. It’s a fairly safe blockbuster entertainment, goosed-up gore be damned.
Now, come with me as I dial-back the clock to 1990 and the release of the King-cribbed Graveyard Shift. The ’80s saw a boom of lower-budgeted films that licensed King’s short stories, fleshing them out to varying degrees of success. King himself directed one of these cinematic expansions, 1986’s Maximum Overdrive and while King has since rejected that film (his first and last as a director) as a coked-up folly, I adore the picture. In fact, I tend to love most of the King films blown-up from his short stories (Creepshow, Silver Bullet, et al). Truth be told, I actually find King the writer at his strongest in the short story format. His novels – while expertly constructed and realized – tend to be bloated affairs that are not always suited to cinema.