Actually, I’m digging into Stephen King adaptations for television this time around, including two miniseries and a short-lived anthology series.
ROSE RED (2002)
Legend has it that Stephen King wanted to team up with Steven Spielberg to create the most terrifying haunted house movie ever, but they just couldn’t agree on the direction it should take, so they went their separate ways and King came up with this.
He should have stuck with Spielberg.
The miniseries takes the Shirley Jackson classic The Haunting of Hill House and manages to make it even duller and more convoluted. That’s right, I said it. Her novel, the movie adaptations, the Netflix series, the rip-off movie The Legend of Hell House—they’re all one more agonizingly boring than the other. But Red Rose takes the cake.
Probably the biggest problem is that King wrote a screenplay like he was writing a novel. There’s so much bland exposition that goes on and on and does nothing to develop the scares or the characters in film format. All it succeeded in doing was dragging this shit out for three nights.
A teacher gathers together a bunch of psychics to go to an abandoned mansion ripe with a tragic history of murder and mayhem. Her young lover is about to inherit the place, so he comes along.
Aside from loads of standing around and talking for the hours and hours this movie runs, there are some cheesy effects, people running and screaming at the sight of things we never see, and everyone tossing their psychic powers around to confuse the haunting aspects even more. Oh…and the house keeps changing its architecture as in the 13 Ghosts remake. And just to be clear on the effort put into ramping up the fear factor…there’s a cheap rat scare in the final act.
Do yourself a favor if you want chills, thrills, and popcorn movie fun—skip anything based on The Haunting of Hill House and go straight to Vincent Price in The House on Haunted Hill.
NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPES (2006)
This one-season series featured one-hour episodes based on tales from King’s short story collections. Here’s what you get, and unless otherwise noted, the stories come from the fiction collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes:
1st episode – In a tale from Night Shift that plays out entirely with no dialogue, William Hurt is an assassin who kills a toymaker and is then terrorized by toy army soldiers in his apartment. This one is a nonstop action thrill ride.
2nd episode – This is a tale of a husband and wife that get sucked into a monstrous dimension while on their way to a prospective employer’s home for dinner—even after a cab driver warns them not to go there (at which point the husband’s racism shows). I was reminded of a Twilight Zone episode in which a couple spends the episode running around a deserted town, only this one features much more chaos and very 2006 CGI monsters.
3rd episode – This one has a campy 1930s charm, as a private detective discovers he is merely the womanizing fictional character of a successful author that wants to swap places with him (William H. Macy in a dual role). It feels like an episode of Spielberg’s 1980s show Amazing Stories, with a cutesy retro tone that wears thin fast.
4th episode – a documentary filmmaker trying to cope with the horrors of the world looks back at how his brother discovered a town that was totally crime-free then attempted to replicate that magic worldwide. Boring episode, but it was fun to hear Texas name-dropped as the state with the most violent crimes.
5th episode – in this tale from the collection Everything’s Eventual, Tom Berenger plays a famous author who gets bad news during a colonoscopy. He buys a painting at an estate sale of an evil man in a car, and then finds himself being stalked. The painting is hella creepy and so is the driver.
6th episode – Jeremy Sisto is released from prison on probation and swears he’s going to clean up his act. But then he learns his ex-prison mate has spread pieces of a map out to various guys Sisto has to hunt down to score a treasure.
7th episode – this is another story from Everything’s Eventual. Richard Thomas finds himself in a body bag in a morgue after a golf game and totally experiencing everything that’s happening to his body (including an anal probe). He starts to piece together in his mind what actually happened to him…by gasping his thoughts out loud in a stream of conscience narrative for an hour.
8th episode – another story that feels right out of Amazing Stories, this one stars Steven Weber. While he and his wife are on a road trip, they stop in a small town that seems to be rock and roll heaven, for all the most famous deceased rock stars live there.
BAG OF BONES (2011)
Now this is how you do a Stephen King miniseries. It also helps that it was only two parts when aired, so without commercials it clocks in at under three hours, making it more concise than that Red Rose mess.
It also has that classic King narrative style, bringing to mind plot techniques of many of his best storytelling from his earlier period of writing, including everything from The Shining to Pet Sematary.
Pierce Brosnan is excellent as an author who loses his wife in a tragic accident then escapes to their summer house by a lake to try to grieve.
He immediately begins receiving signs that his wife is attempting to communicate with him. He’s also victimized by some very unhappy ghostly apparitions. On top of that, he’s drawn into a residual haunting by an alluring Black female singer of the past.
Meanwhile, in the real world he becomes implicated in a custody battle involving horror veteran Melissa George and her nasty old wealthy father-in-law, whose female assistant is deliciously evil.
The film moves at an excellent pace for a miniseries, with clear character development that doesn’t overdue it, as well as a slowly unfolding supernatural mystery that keeps you engrossed. And I’ll be damned if there aren’t quite a few highly effective jump scares the likes of which I haven’t experienced in a Stephen King miniseries since Salem’s Lot and It.
The denouement in the final act reveals a classic King backstory, and you should be warned there is rape and racism involved. You should also be warned that there are a few really hokey moments involving good ghosts. Let’s just say it’s the kind of stuff that works great in pulling the heartstrings in Ghost, but not in Stephen King.