13 Things You Never Knew About the Original It Movie
This September, the first half of the two-part film adaptation of Stephen King's 1986 novel, It, will be released. For those unfamiliar, the story follows a group of childhood friends who is terrorized by a shape-shifting, evil being that preys on the fears of its victims. Over 20 years later, the creature — which often takes the form of a clown named Pennywise aka "It" — returns, forcing the friends, now adults, to come together and protect the next generation as well as themselves.
The Fall film, which features a cast of young up-and-coming actors (including Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise), will be so terrifying that it'll have you shaking in your boots. Yet, this isn't the first time the horror story has hit the screens. In 1990, the first adaptation aired on ABC as a miniseries, starring Rocky Horror Picture Show alum Tim Curry as the demented clown. Take a look at the list below to learn a few fun facts about the original TV film, and don't forget to check out the teaser trailer for the upcoming remake!
- Jonathan Brandis was in another Stephen King adaptation before his starring role in It. Just one year before his portrayal as a young Bill Denbrough in It, a 13-year-old Jonathan Brandis was used to voice over the beginning scenes of Pet Semetery, a film based on King's 1983 novel of the same name. Years later, Brandis would go on to voice a main character in an animated television series remake of Disney's Aladdin; however, it was his breakout role in It that paved the way for the child actor and made him a teen heartthrob of the 90s.
- A real-life "killer clown" is rumored to have inspired the story. Just a few years before King's novel was released, John Wayne Gacy was convicted for the rape and murder of 33 boys in 1980 in Illinois. Declared a "killer clown" by the media, Gacy had spent years providing entertainment at children's parties and charity events dressed as "Pogo the Clown," a character he created. While King has never confirmed the public's 1980s clown frenzy as his inspiration for It, it's hard to imagine that two killer clowns in one decade is a coincidence. King did, however, speak about the 2016 clown hysteria on his Twitter, stating, "Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria--most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh." Furthermore, just a couple of weeks after the trailer for the 2017 film remake was released, King tweeted, "The clowns are p*ssed at me. Sorry, most are great. BUT . . . kids have always been scared of clowns. Don't kill the messengers for the message."
- Eerily, two main cast members both passed away in 2003. In the film, Three's Company actor John Ritter portrayed Ben Hanscom and a preteen Jonathan Brandis played young Bill Denbrough. In 2003, Ritter tragically passed away from surgical complications, while a 27-year-old Brandis committed suicide. In an interview with Yahoo celebrating It's 25th anniversary, the director of the miniseries, Tommy Lee Wallace, spoke about Brandis: "He had matured a bit, of course, but he seemed overly serious and distracted, as well. I recognize now that it may have been depression; wish I'd had better insight at the time, but it's probably naive to think I could've helped him in some way." He continued, "A tragedy. As was John Ritter, whose life felt very much unfinished, even though he had a long and varied career."
- The budget was monumental for a television film. A whopping $12 million was given for the creation of the horror project, which was just a two-night television event; with inflation, that'd be over $21 million today. In comparison, this year's film reboot had a budget of $30 million for the big screen.
- Brandis found it difficult to play a character with a stutter. In an original 1990 interview with cast members during the film's production, a young Jonathan Brandis told Fangoria magazine, "One of the reasons this movie's harder is that I have to stutter, and that's a really difficult thing — which I never realized when I auditioned for it. They said I had to stutter, and I thought, 'Hey, that can't be so hard!' But I had to get coaching on the set, because it was really tough."
- A longer, more expansive format was originally considered. When reflecting on the original film, screenwriter Larry Cohen stated, "This was the heyday of networks adapting lengthy novels for TV, and initially It was going to be an eight-to-ten hour series." He continued, "ABC was always nervous about It, primarily the fact that it was in the horror genre, but also the eight-to-ten hour commitment. They loved the piece, but lost their nerve in terms of how many hours they were willing to commit. Eventually, they were agreed to a two-night, four-hour commitment." While the shorter format was ultimately successful, Cohen acknowledges that anthology/miniseries today are extremely popular and had they been given more time back in 1990, "It would have provided the canvas to really get to know these characters."
- The network placed restrictions on the gore-factor. During production, screenwriter Larry Cohen told Fangoria that they had to cut out "a fair amount" of gore. He explained, "One of the problems dealing in television is that the standards and practices of TV are concerned about children in jeopardy, yet the nature of what this book is about is children in jeopardy — it's founded on that theme." However, the restrictions still allowed for a few gross scenes, such as a wet corpse climbing out of a pond and bubbling blood. Eek!
- It took forever to apply Curry's clown makeup. In an on-set interview, Curry told Fangoria that it took roughly three hours to apply his makeup. Annette O'Toole, who played Beverly Marsh, confirmed this to Yahoo, remembering, "The poor guy had to spend a ton of time in make-up chairs. He knew the score, but it was crazy. We'd see him running back and forth from the set to his make-up trailer all the time."
- A film adaptation was in the works before the novel was even released. The two-part television adaptation of It was released in 1990, just four years after the book hit shelves across America. Screenwriter Larry Cohen told Yahoo about how the project first came together. Sharing his story, he stated, "It's 1986, and the phone rings in my New York apartment. My agent's voice on the other end says, 'How would you like to do a Stephen King adaptation for ABC?' I pressed him for more details, and he told me, 'It's called It, and it hasn't been published yet.'" Apparently, after reading only 100 pages of the original 1,138-page manuscript, he signed on to tackle the project.
- Stephen King didn't have a hand in the movie's creation. King told Yahoo, "I was hands-off in the making of It, basically saying, 'Hope you guys do a good job; I wish you well.' These days, I have a lot more input into film and television adaptations of my work, in the sense that I can greenlight cast members or screenwriters or directors. Back then, I'm not so sure that I did. And even if I had, I probably still would have decided to be hands-off." His lack of involvement in such an iconic film is somewhat surprising, especially because It wasn't the first major adaptation of one of King's works; over 15 of his stories had been created for the screen prior to It's release.
- Costars Annette O'Toole and John Ritter had just done a movie together. O'Toole told Yahoo, "I'd just done a TV movie with John Ritter, The Dreamer of Oz, and we had come in for a looping session when I asked what he was doing next. He told me about It and I said it sounded awesome. He looked at me and said, 'They haven't cast the girl yet.'" A few weeks later, the actress was cast as Beverly Marsh, marking the second time she and Ritter were cast as costars after The Dreamer of Oz, which was also released in 1990. Years later, O'Toole was featured in another King adaptation, Hulu's 11.22.63.
- Key scenes and characters from the book had to be cut. Upon its release, the novel came in at 1,138 pages. With only a four-hour time slot (some of which was designated for commercials), many scenes had to be cut. For example: the scene when the members of the group all lose their virginity to Beverly (although, we're guessing this was cut for other reasons as well). Larry Cohen, It's screenwriter, shared, "I can't even begin to enumerate my favorite scenes from the book that we had to cut, because there are so many of them. . . . The way I see it, the best moments from the book made the cut and the rest are casualties of war." Though things were removed, the end product was still amazing! Not to mention, the upcoming reboot will span two films, giving fans the opportunity to see more of the text make it to the screen.
- Very few cast members actually had to audition. To get the network to support the project, director Tommy Lee Wallace looked to cast well-known television actors, which at the time included the likes of John Ritter (Three's Company) and Harry Anderson (Night Court, Saturday Night Live). Wallace told Yahoo, "Most of the adult casting was 'telephone' casting, which is, 'No need to audition so-and-so for the role, they'd be brilliant.'" However, when it came to casting the children, the young actors had to jump through a few more hoops. Marlon Taylor, who portrayed young Mike Hanlon, remembered, "I went through two auditions and three or four callbacks before I was told that I had the part of young Mike."