Stephen King in the 90s—movies and miniseries part 2

One more time into the world of Stephen King at the end of the 20th century with two more movies and two more miniseries.

THE LAWNMOWER MAN (1992)

The original King short story was just plain weird—all I remember is a naked man running around the lawn eating grass. The movie is weird in a totally different way because it’s nothing like the source material. So much so that King took legal action to have his name removed from it.

The Lawnmower Man deserves credit for being an early sci-fi film that tackled inevitability of virtual reality and cyber control. Of course it also has really cool effects…for 1992. I’m talking futuristic cool computer stuff in a Super Nintendo vs. Sega Genesis way…

There are two cuts of the film with a few variations in details, both offered on the Blu-ray releae, but the director’s cut piles another 40 minutes onto the plot. That’s the version I tortured myself with, all the while thinking “this movie would be so much better if it was about forty minutes shorter.”

Pierce Brosnan is a scientist using drugs and virtual reality on chimps. When that goes horribly wrong, he tries the same shit on a mentally challenged gardener named Jobe, played by Jeff Fahey.

At first Jobe gets smarter, gains psychic powers, and turns into a bit of a sex kitten.

Then eventually (95 minutes into the director’s cut), he starts to lose control (or take control, depending on how you look at it) and uses his powers to take down the people that have wronged him.

It’s totally trippy, as if the cyber world is colliding with reality. Finally there’s a lawnmower man in video game format, and also a killer lawnmower for one death in reality format. Even if there had been more killer lawnmower deaths, it still would have been a fucking mess. But at least, you know, there would have been more killer lawnmower deaths.

However, what’s most important is that the plot presents the concept of computer technology becoming our new “god” as we worship its power more and more. Personally, I’d rather worship a killer lawnmower.

THE LAWNMOWER MAN 2: JOBE’S WAR (1996)

This disaster has absolutely nothing to do with Stephen King and can barely manage to keep itself contained within the universe of the original movie.

An evil businessman uses Jobe to program a chip to control all computers in hopes of world domination.

Jobe is missing some crucial information, so he asks for help from an old buddy—a kid from the first movie, who is now a teenager played by the same actor. Here’s the thing. In the first movie it was “current day”. This sequel takes place in “the future”. The kid isn’t even ten years older, yet the world suddenly looks like it’s the 30th century. WTF?

The kid and his teen friends of the future (who oddly enough all have the fashion sense of an extra on a 1990s episodes of Saved by the Bell), are a bunch of computer geeks. They find the original developer of the chip, who knows the damage that can be done if the chip falls into the wrong hands, so he refuses to help Jobe.

Soooo…Jobe goes on a rampage again, only this time it’s on a grand, futuristic, action-packed, tween scale, with the teens having to take on Jobe and an evil corporation while laser fire and explosion effects swirl all around them and their cool motorcycles.

Seriously, this is basically a kids’ movie action adventure sci-fi film. And for a movie that takes place in the future, it sure feels like the 80s and 90s, with a faithful dog that knows how to operate a computer, Jobe acting very Max Headroom because it is Max Headroom, Jobe tapping into some Pinhead vibes with his costume and his own special toy box, a swashbuckling battle on a catwalk with electrified swords that make it feel like the force has awakened, and Jobe making a roach motel quip 8 years after Freddy Krueger did it much better.

THE SHINING (1997)

It’s no secret that Stephen King hates Kubrick’s much adored adaptation of his novel, so seventeen years later he decided to make a “better” version as a miniseries with horror director Mick Garris. Sometimes dead is better…

Forget the tricycle, the twins, the bloody elevator, the maze, the axe, and the redrum finger. None of that is included here, which is a smart decision, because you just can’t replicate it.

There are plenty of sequences lifted right out of the novel, which should make fans of King’s book appreciate aspects of this adaptation, but also means there are duplicate parts since the original movie sometimes borrowed from the source material as well. But the problem with this version is that it just drags on and on as it makes sure to stick to the book’s details yet fails to deliver a sense of dread.

This TV miniseries basically can’t rise above its cheap, made for TV movie vibe. The first 90-minute installment of the 3-part miniseries is almost entirely exposition about Jack’s drinking problem, Danny’s powers, and the layout of the hotel. Yawn. And by the way, everything about the interior of the hotel feels small and intimate in this version, which sucks half the atmosphere out of the movie, literally.

In the second part, things really pick up and even reach a bit of a fevered pitch as Jack begins to snap. But then all of a sudden he turns back into a comforting husband for Wendy, because of course we still have another 90 minutes to fill…

By part 3, stars Steven Weber and Rebecca de Mornay rise above the Lifetime network feel of the film during an intense confrontation. While Nicholson just threatened to bash Duvall’s brains in with a bat, Weber does a number on de Mornay with a croquet mallet. Ouch.

So what’s different throughout the full 4 hours and 30 minutes? We actually see Danny’s imaginary friend Tony, and he fricking floats around and talks to Danny. It’s so weak. As in the original novel, there are topiary hedge animals on the property that come to life. It never worked for me in the novel, and it’s even more ridiculous in the movie.

There’s a nest full of dead wasps that come back to life. We see Danny encounter the lady in the tub instead of Jack. Danny has visions of Jack looking like something right out of Evil Dead. Danny is terrorized by a guy in a wolf mask. Stephen King makes a cameo during the ballroom scene. Jack says “Boo!” and “Here comes papa bear!” Instead of “Wendy, I’m home!” and “Here’s Johnny!” When Jack pursues Danny (mostly in a tiny room), he fights the urge to kill him and warns Danny to run away.

And the climax? It’s as TV movie of the week as it gets.

STORM OF THE CENTURY (1999)

Storm of the Century has the distinction of being an original Stephen King screenplay (which was then published in print form). I was a fan when it was originally released because it felt like classic King at a time when he’d more than lost me with his newer novels. Essentially it feels like a blend of The Mist and Needful Things with a character much like The Man in Black from The Stand as the antagonist.

The residents of an isolated island village are thrown into chaos when a mysterious stranger shows up and commits a vicious murder. The town is so isolated that the constable, played by Tim Daly (he is so fricking cute), doesn’t even know what to do with a criminal, especially considering the storm of the century is hitting and they can’t get off the island.

They lock the stranger up, but this mysterious figure knows things about each character. Dark secrets they’ve kept, awful things they’ve done…including one character’s involvement in a disturbing gay situation, landing this one on the does the gay guy die? page. The stranger also has the power to control them with his mind and starts making them do bad things—to themselves and to each other.

Actor Colm Feore is fantastically chilling as the cold and calculated stranger. We don’t know exactly what he is, but there are hints of a monstrous side. Freaky glimpses of him indeed, so it’s a bit of a bummer that there are some cheesy visual effects of children flying in the air later in the film.

We really get to know each and every character, but like most miniseries, this 3-parter does become a bit drawn out before the final part, which is when all the good stuff happens. This is when we find out why the stranger is there and what he means when he repeatedly tells the townsfolk “Give me what I want and I’ll go away.”

A classic, tragic conflict between the characters leads to an unthinkable choice they must all make. It’s a haunting scenario, and I even feel one scene may have inspired one of the most memorable moments in the original Jeepers Creepers.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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