OTHER STEPHEN KING SHOWS
Salem's Lot '79
Salem's Lot '04
OTHER HORROR SHOWS
A calculating hitman executes the world's leading toy magnate and then goes home. Shortly thereafter he takes receipt of a boxful of toy soldiers. These toy soldiers, however, prove to be a match for the assassin. His fancy apartment becomes the site of one of the strangest battles ever.
The short stories of Stephen King have been stretched beyond all recognition into some of the worst horror films ever made. There's a reason they're called short stories after all. This series takes some of those tales and gives them a more sensible hour long treatment. Battleground is the first of those.
And what a way to start! This is a bravura piece of storytelling. It takes nearly a full quarter hour to realise that nobody has uttered a word and another ten minutes to realise that nobody is going to. It doesn't matter at all because William Hurt gives an excellent performance as the cold, capable killer who slowly comes apart under the onslaught. It is his performance that stops the character from being utterly repellent, which would have undermined the balance of the fight.
The various stages of the fight are well-handled, moving from one to the other in amusing and chilling fashion by turn. The injuries that the killer receives start off being small, but soon start to mount up and are always convincing. His method of fighting back using any weapon that he can fashion keep sympathy swinging one way and then the other.
Whilst it is true that the film SMALL SOLDIERS worked with this story long before now, the film probably pinched the idea from the original short story. The realisation of the soldiers is brilliantly handled, completely convincing and gives the story a sense of reality that could easily have been missing.
Battleground sets the standard for this series. We can only hope that the rest of the stories live up to it.
Two young Americans on holiday in London are invited to the home of the company's UK lawyer in a place called Crouch End. They accept, but find themselves lost in a place that is reputed to be a 'thin spot' - a place where the membrane between dimensions has worn away and can rip. Alone but for a cat with one good eye, two sinsister children and something else that won't identify itself. They're lost and can't find their way out.
Everyone has been lost in a strange place at some time and felt some of the nervousness that assails our young heroes, which makes this story's failure to frighten all the more inexcusable. The scares are too indefinable, hiding in the shadows, never quite seen. When it does finally step out into the light it turns out to be a dreadful stop-motion tentacled beastie name-checking the Lovecraftian mythos of monsters to no effect. After the excellent special effects of the series opener, this comes as something of a surprise and a disappointment.
Claire Forlani and Eion Bailey do their best to convey the fear that should be being evoked, but are better served by the early sequences of life before Crouch End.
Umney's Last Case
Clyde Umney is a private eye in the 30's and a pretty special one at that. His day takes a turn for the stranger, though, when a stranger turns up claiming to be a writer, the writer who created Umney and controls his life. The writer's own life contains a tragedy so great that he intends to swap places with Umney. Both will learn, however, that the consequences of what they do (or don't do) will follow them.
An intriguing concept that just about sees out its running time, this story benefits hugely from the presence of William H Macy as both the gumshoe an the writer. Macy doesn't know how to give a poor performance and certainly doesn't do so here. He doesn't look like the traditional Sam Spade type, but he manages to pull off the role and then makes his writer instantly different. Look alike they might, but act alike they don't. Jacqueline McKenzie (of The 4400) gets the thankless role of the writer's wife and is unable to do anything with it.
Umney's Last Case is a fun, but ultimately lightweight story that is only saved by the presence of its immensely likeable lead.
The End of the Whole Mess
Howard Fornoy makes a video diary of the story of his family. His brother Bobby was the kind of genius that comes along once in a generation, a man who could change the world. His discovery of a chemical compund that eliminates aggression promises to do that. Using a natural phenomenon to spread the chemical worldwide, the two brothers create a global peace that lasts for three years. Then the side effects start to emerge.
What price peace? Can desperate need ever justify the circumventing on proper controlled testing?
The first twenty minutes or so of this story are a potted history of two brothers that could be summed up in the phrase 'my brother was a child prodigy'. Whilst Stephen King might be able to keep this sort of freewheeling storytelling interesting on the page (and even he's not always capable of it) this episode can't. This section is tedious and annoying.
Then we get to the interesting bit - the discovery of the peace drug. The plot the takes on a momentum that raises interest and keeps it up until the final revelation about what has been wrought. Unfortunately, that revelation isn't enough to chill and the brothers are not sufficiently important to us for their fates to be of great concern.
This is not the fault of Ron Livingstone or Henry Thomas (of ET THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL fame), but rather a script that rambles, irritates and ought to have jettisoned the video diary format (how does he edit in all the old stuff if he's filming his bit live?) and all the dull childhood stories.
The least of the stories so far.
The Road Virus Heads North
A successful horror novel who has jsut learned that he has cancer picks up a painting at a garage sale of a terrifying man in a car. What becomes clear over time is that the painting is changing, the scene through which the car familiar from landmarks of places through which the author has just driven. And it's catching up.
Tom Berenger sleepwalks through his role in this, the first real attempt to do horror in the series. Sure Crouch End tried to be a bit unsettling, but that was more of a pastiche of HP Lovecraft than true Stephen King horror. This, though, has all the King trademarks and has some pretty good jump moments along the way. The painting that can't be destroyed (a bit like a mixture of the Portrait of Dorian Gray, the Catspaw and King's own Christine) and shows the progress of the horror as it approaches is a very nice idea and it is a quite unsettling series of pictures.
There's also blood in this for the first time. Someone dies in a messy fashion and the aftermath is shown in more than watercolours. That gives the threat a bit more edge (although the truth of the driver isn't a patch on the painting of him). It also sets up the scene for loved ones to be killed, something that is always chilling.
One major problem, though - where was the ending. It just sort of stops. What comes next is obvious, but there's no build up to it, just the abrupt arrival of the credits. A shame really, because this was the best example of King's work in the series to date (though the sheer ballsiness of Battleground remains our favourite).Top
The Fifth Quarter
A convict gets out of prison to find that his freed cellmate took on another job whilst he was still inside and made away with $3.5 million. The loot was hidden and the four accomplices each given a quarter of the map to its location. When the cellmate turns up having been shot by one of his 'partners', his friend decides to take revenge.
Jeremy Sisto and Samantha Morton star in a straight crime thriller with no supernatural overtones at all. It's a tale of dishonour amongst thieves and has few surprises, but there is at least some depth to the relationship between the con, his wife and the cellmate. The action scans by pretty fast and pretty smooth and there are some moments of tension to be had along the way.
It is, in fact, one of the better realised episodes even if it doesn't have anything to do with the genre.Top
Autopsy Room Four
A businessman wakes up to find himself on the autopsy table. He is awake, aware, capable of feeling everything, but completely paralysed and unable to give any outward sign of his condition. The doctors begin the preparations to cut him open.
If you want a real nightmare then this is about as close as you could imagine. Unfortunately, what is a chilling as hell on the page doesn't translate as well onto the screen as it ought to. The threat of knives and being cut open alive and being unable to do anything about it is undermined by the fact that Richard Thomas is, of course, completely immobile and unable to give any response. The voiceover doesn't convey the sense of absolute terror that it ought. On top of that, all the excuses the doctors find not to cut into him start to become almost amusing in their artificiality.
The flashbacks to the events that caused his condition (snake bite) are supposed to humanise him, but really show him to be a bit of an unpleasant human being and the obssession with his genitalia shown by both the doctors and the victim further undermines the seriousness of the situation.
What should have been a study of unimaginable horror is turned into a suspenseless lark.Top
You Know They Got a Hell of a Band
A married couple on a road trip get themselves horribly lost when the husband can't bear to ask for directions and find themselves in a little town called 'Rock and Roll Heaven'. Only it turns out that the town really is filled with the rock greats - the dead ones anyway and, like the Hotel California, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
A story like this is going to live or die by its lookalikes and, sadly, this one dies the death that is denied the people they are supposed to be. As a result, the script has to build in moments where the cast can introduce themselves or each other. Is that supposed to be Roy Orbison? Well why doesn't it look like him then? Buddy Holly - no it can't be - really can't be.
On top of that, it isn't scary. Even as a story it wasn't scary and on the screen it isn't scary. Having Janis Joplin cough up maggots might be gross, but it isn't scary. The only really scary thing is how accurate the interplay between the married couple (Steven Weber and Kim Delaney) is when they are arguing over getting directions. Now that is scary to anyone who's ever been there.
Finally, it fizzles out to an ending that is no ending.Top
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