Today's episode features a total of three actors who played in previous King made for television adaptations: Richard Thomas (It), Robert Mammone (Salem's Lot 2004), and Steven Weber (The Shining).
Autopsy Room Four
Among the Stephen King short stories I would have considered unfilmable, this one ranked high on the list. A man is paralyzed by a snake bite, and an old doctor mistakenly pronounces him dead. He wakes up on the autopsy table, unable to tell the people about to cut him open that he is actually still alive. Plausible? Perhaps not. Frightening? Definitely! While reading the story, I found myself putting my hand to my sternum multiple times. It was as if I could feel the scissors hovering just above my chest, waiting to cut me open. It's such a wonderful short story that makes you squirm. The way in which the doctor realizes the protagonist is in fact alive is definitely unfilmable, or at least could only be hinted at on television.
This is however a pretty faithful short, with Richard Thomas narrating to us the guy's thoughts as the people in the morgue work on him. They expand it slightly by creating a subplot where he has a fiancee and erectile dysfunction, which makes his eventual sign of life have more meaning beyond just a silly joke. I'm not crazy about Thomas' line delivery, or maybe there's just something about the hoarse quality of his voice that gets on my nerves. Overall it's a pretty good short and they manage to make it even more squirm inducing by adding in the femur shot to take a blood sample from him. This is definitely one of the better shorts in the collection, and definitely the strongest of the short stories.
You Know They Got a Hell of a Band
This is a particularly peculiar short story of a married couple that gets lost driving through Oregon and ends up in a town called Rock and Roll Heaven. The lead in is far too long while we sit through this couple fighting with each other because he’s the type that doesn't like to ask for directions. I might not have been so fatigued with this part if it wasn't so incredibly similar to what happens to the couple at the beginning of "Children of the Corn." The important part is them arriving in the town, and slowly figuring out that the people around them are all former rock and roll musicians now dead.
There’s an air of trademark King creepiness as some of the rock and roll greats are showing obvious signs of decay, at least part of the time, but it’s the ultimate hook of the story that has me divided. The musicians trap the normal humans who get lost here and force them to stay in town forever and listen to their concerts every night. We’re shown a handful of miserable people who have been there a while, and the couple is certainly horrified to be stuck, but I can’t be the only person who doesn’t think it would be so bad to watch Freddie Mercury, John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Roy Orbison, etc. etc. etc. play a full blown concert in front of me for free every night. I’m not saying I want my free will taken away from me, but in terms of strange Twilight Zone type worlds you could stumble into, this isn't the worse by far. I think even King himself knows it, and forces in a few of those gruesome details to try to sell it to you. The makers of the short clearly felt the same way I did when they had the husband seem delighted by the idea of watching the concert.
It's a pretty faithful short, but the problem is something like this really relies on the strength of the impersonators you hire to portray the stars, as well as gaining the proper rights to the music to really sell it right. The impersonators are okay for the most part, but the music is lacking because they clearly couldn't get access to most of it. Add to that poor special effects during the wife's nightmare at the beginning, and the short just isn't as strong as the story. Steven Weber and Kim Delaney give good performances as the couple, and it's fun to see Weber once again returning to a Stephen King adaptation, but overall I think this one works better in your imagination than it does on a screen.