Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Nightmares and Dreamscapes mini-series pt 1

In July of 2006, TNT aired a mini-series that was a collection of episodes adapting various Stephen King short stories.  They aired two shorts a night on a weekly basis for four weeks.  The mini-series is named after King's short story collection published in 1993, but also contains some stories from other collections.  As a huge fan of King's short stories, I thought this was a great idea.  Of course, like every collection, some shorts will be stronger than others.


A simple but amusing story of a hitman who is killed by living toy soldiers as revenge for killing the maker of a toy company.  This story can actually be found in King's Night Shift collection.  King manages to make most of the fight believable in terms of the damage the little soldiers would do to a person given their relative size, and keeps the tension going throughout what it is a pretty short story.  Before watching the mini-series, I would have guessed this short would have lasted fifteen minutes tops.

It is actually fifty three.  They also made a very bold move in choosing for the short to have no dialogue at all.  I’ll admit I have a really hard time with shorts like this.  It makes sense for him to be primarily silent in the beginning when he goes about killing the toymaker, but I think most of us do talk to ourselves a little when alone in our own homes. I would certainly start doing so when being attacked by little army men, cursing and telling those little bastards I was going to get them.  Having him only grunt and moan through the whole thing seems a bit silly.

There’s also just a little too much excessive padding, as we see multiple scenes where he stitches himself up.  It’s gross enough the first time that I didn't need to see that again.  And while I admit the added scene of him trying to escape in the elevator does help keep things moving and adds a little more action and tension, I had to laugh at the tiny little commando attacking him.  It’s just a little too silly.  It's possible this was a concept that just wasn't going to work right on film, but a tiny little Rambo character certainly didn't help matters.
Crouch End
A Lovecraftian tale about a suburb of London that is one of the “thin places” where you can reach other dimensions from time to time.  There’s not much to the story beyond “husband and wife wander through a strange world, husband doesn't return” but King does a good job of setting up the creepy atmosphere and building a nice amount of tension.  However, putting that atmosphere into film is a different matter entirely, and I’m afraid this part of the mini-series really doesn't pull it off for me.
It pains me to say that the Jim Henson Creature Shop did not do a very good job with the special effects here.  I'm a huge Henson fan most of the time. In the story the wife says she temporarily sees three bikers having rat heads, and for me I was picturing actual human size rats, but here they chose an odd rat/man hybrid look that doesn't look good at all.  The cat with the pink scar tissue around one eye doesn't look too great either.   Beyond the iffy effects, there’s also the fact that the strength of this short relies on the married couple (here changed to newlyweds rather than the parents they are in the story) and Claire Forlani and Eion Bailey don’t really click for me.  They're supposed to be really close and happy and only come apart in their troubled situation, but these two seem unhappy from the beginning.
Too much of what was really spooky in the story comes off as laughable or just boring here.  When the cab driver tries to explain to them what Crouch End is like, it comes off just like every other warning from an old man at the beginning of a horror film, without any true eerie quality to it at all.  With the effects looking as lame as they do, I can't be afraid of these creatures in the same way the characters are, and their reactions come off as too over the top. It’s a shame because I think if they had actually made this one a little longer and spent a little more time on the effects, it could have made a really good short.

1 comment:

  1. Battleground is one of my favorite King shorts. Such a simple concept, rooted deep in kids playing with their action figures, unfolding in a wonderful way. But wow, padding it to 53 minutes? You could tell it in 5.


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