Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Quicksilver Highway


I'm not sure how the made for television film Quicksilver Highway came into being, but it certainly seems like something that Mick Garris may have originally wanted to be a pilot for a horror anthology series.  The movie is based on two short stories - King's "Chattery Teeth" and Clive Barker's "The Body Politic."  It uses the framing of a strange man called Aaron Quicksilver, played by Christopher Lloyd, wearing strange leather clothing who collects rare items and tells people odd stories.

As the movie begins, we see a couple on their wedding day stranded by the side of the road.  The husband wanders off to try to find help, leaving his bride (who appears to be pregnant) alone.  Night falls and Aaron Quicksilver pulls up next to her on the road, offering her food and telling her this first story.

Chattery Teeth

Through various stories and non-fiction essays, Stephen King has made it clear that he hates the question "Where do you get your ideas?"  But when you write a story about how a large chattery teeth toy saves a man from being attacked by a hitchhiker, I think it begs the question of just how you thought of that.  It's a pretty absurd concept, and one that it would be pretty difficult to take seriously.  King does a decent enough job making it work, and an overly large set of teeth made of metal could be quite painful chomping down on you, but there's a reason why these are generally only thought of as weapons when being used by a comic book villain like the Joker.

Mick Garris once again is creating a pretty faithful adaptation here, but unfortunately he doesn't make the teeth scary or menacing at all.  Perhaps he wanted the short to be campy and silly, and if so he does succeed.  The character of Quicksilver telling the story is far more unnerving than anything that happens in the story itself.  To try to tie it to the film a little better, the protagonist in the story is played by the same actor who plays the newlywed husband, and not long after the story is done, the husband returns and is run over by a car.  We see him pulled away by the chattery teeth for a moment until the bride catches up to them, crying.  It's a bit of a head scratching moment really, just feeling shoehorned in rather than having any real meaning to it.

From there the film fades to an amusement park where a pickpocket, played by Matt Frewer, enters Quicksilver's tent and sees a candle made from a human hand.  Frewer can sometimes be very over the top in some of his performances, but he is fairly low key here, letting Lloyd be the one to chew the scenery. His character agrees to listen to a story while he's avoiding a cop on the lookout for him.

The Body Politic

Since I've wanted an excuse to read more of Clive Barker's fiction, I thought I would do a full comparison for this section of the film as well.  And what a wonderful horror story idea this is, that our body parts actually have minds of their own and could rebel at any second.  While some of the moments here are a little far fetched (could your hands alone really pull you across a room?  It seems to me like your arms or legs would have to help) for the most part this is a fun horror story with a satisfying ending.

In the story the main character works in manufacturing, but here Frewer is playing a plastic surgeon.  It certainly makes the whole thing much more squeamish when his hands start to work against him.  While things once again lean toward camp as we hear his hands have a conversation with each other in the middle of the night, it is required for us to fully understand what's going on here.  Frewer's physicality is an asset to the story, and while even he can't quite sell the moment where his hands are carrying him across the floor, he does as best as he can with it.

I was also really impressed with the way they cut off his left hand, both in the way we see his reflection in the cleaver as it comes down, and the way they do show us the entirety of the cut.  It's gross and effective, even if it's not realistic.  This is once again a faithful adaptation, with only a few minor changes.  The rebellion is contained to the hospital, mostly likely for budget reasons.  It also ends a little differently - while in the story a man's legs stage their own rebellion, here it is a woman's nose that now wants to be free.

Just like the bride before him, the pickpocket asks Quicksilver if there was a moral to the story.  Quicksilver swears there isn't one, but as the pickpocket leaves he finds his hands have a mind of their own, and he pickpockets a cop, leading to his being arrested.

While the film is campy, that doesn't make it any less enjoyable a watch.  It's quirky and a little odd, but the score by Mark Mothersbaugh works together well with Garris' direction to create a silly little oddity.  I recommend tracking down the film if you can.  For the stories, you'll find "Chattery Teeth" in Nightmares and Dreamscapes and "The Body Politic" in Books of Blood vol 4 (also sometimes titled The Human Condition).

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