Nightmares and Dreamscapes (TV, 2006)
Fun batch of TV horror based on Stephen King’s short stories. From Death Ray 2.
Show FOUR STARS Extras THREE STARS
Directed by Brian Henson, Mark Haber, Rob Bowman, Mikael Salomon, Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, Rob Bowman, Mike Robe
Written by Richard C Matheson, Kim LeMasters, April Smith, Lawrence D Cohen, Peter Filardi, Alan Sharp, Mike Robe
Starring:William Hurt, Claire Forlani, Eion Bailey, William H Macy, Ron Livingston, Henry Thomas, Tom Berenger, Jeremy Sisto, Samantha Mathis,Richard Thomas, Greta Scacchi, Steven Weber, Kim DelaneyRunninb tim 361 mins
Extras Interviews with William Hurt, Eion Bailey, William H Macy, Richard Thomas, Steven Weber Tom Berenger, Ron Livingston and Jeremy Sisto. Featurette: Behind the drama of Nightmares & Dreamscapes from the stories of Stephen King, Pen to Picture
This box set is stuffed full of stars, an indication of the high esteem in which Stephen King is held by Hollywood. But as eagerly as his stories have been snapped up by film and TV execs in the past, the results have been somewhat varied. Nowhere else is that clearer than in this boxset. The stories range from good to bad, from science fiction through King standards to out-and-out whimsy. There’s even a crime drama in here (‘The Fifth Quarter’) and King’s take on the Cthulhu mythos.
‘Battleground’ and ‘The End of the Whole Mess’ are the pick of the bunch, and both are pure SF affairs. The first is an FX-fest where William Hurt’s assassin must fight off an army of toy soldiers sent to kill him. A lot of the budget of for the series must have been blown on this one, as we are treated to the sight of ambulatory army men and miniature helicopters blowing the crap out Hurt’s apartment. The second is a more recognisably Stephen King story about two brothers, and how the genius younger sibling inadvertently destroys the world. Both shorts feature a gimmick; ‘The End…’ uses a direct to camera narration by the elder brother as a framing device, which works well. Battleground includes not a single word of dialogue. This is less successful.
Most of the other episodes are still better than much TV, there are however two absolute stinkers in here. Autopsy Room Four is a chilling idea for a short story, but it makes lousy television. The gist is that Richard Thomas (yes, John Boy Walton) gets bitten by a snake and the distracted autopsy staff do not notice he is only paralysed. This necessitates much of the story being delivered by internal monologue, so we spend the episode staring at Thomas’ mole. There’s a 25 minute Twilight Zone episode in here, no more, and the result is poorly padded and dull.
The worst is the Cthulhu flavoured Crouch End. There is no sense of HP’s building dread, and the film resorts to shouting out Lovecraftian names and a big CGI’d tentacle for scares. But what makes it rile the most is its utterly patronising depiction of Britain. Men in bowler hats stroll by kids with Union Jacks on their rucksacks, there’s a Central London police station straight out of Camberwick Green, and everyone speaks with a generalised “Lawks luv a duck” cockney accent. King wrote the story after visiting fellow horror writer Peter Straub in Crouch End, as he said it was creepy. The Australian suburb that stands in for the place is not, and bears about as much resemblance to London as this episode does to the original material.
There’s plenty of behind the scenes material, some of it is interesting, some of it (the actor interviews) less so. It’s not terribly insightful stuff, but it’s the stories you’ll be buying this for. They alone, even including the two duds, are well worth the price.