ME AND LIL’ STEVIE
STORM OF THE CENTURY (1999)
(Interior-Night: Establishing shot of a town hall-style meeting room, where the citizens of Little Tall Island have convened to both ride out a nasty Nor’easter blizzard and to decide what to do about the scary stranger that is holding the citizens hostage. The crowd is buzzing with nervous tension as the clock on the overhead wall tick-tocks away. The sound of a gavel banging on the podium at the front of the room makes everybody jump, and then a wave of silence fills the room as everybody turns to look at the man calling the meeting to order. Camera pans to the podium where we see a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)
Lil’ Stevie: (banging gavel on the podium) Oye, oye! This meeting will come to order.
(An unruly woman in the crowd starts shouting.)
Sheri White: Boo! I just talked about this movie in my HORROR-MOM column. Why don’tcha pick out something else to watch?
Peter: Someone get her outta here! Welcome, Constant Viewer, to another episode of our little column. As you may or may not know, New England just got dumped on by a blizzard named Nemo; a collision of two storm fronts that left most of New England (and some of New York) buried under several feet of snow. Pee Wee and I decided that maybe we should spend the storm chilling out and watching the Craig R. Baxley adaptation of the made-for-television screenplay by Stephen King and report back on it.
Lil’ Stevie: I love ham-handed segues….hey, a portly gentlemen in the back has a question.
L.L. Soares: A “made-for-television screenplay” is called a teleplay, the last time I checked. And isn’t it true that this is a rare original teleplay by King, and is not based on a previous work?
Peter: Yes, Mr. Know-it-All. That is correct. Can I go back to what I was saying now? Or will there be more interruptions?
(The room falls silent)
Peter: Admittedly, Baxley is not a well-known director, but the guy has had his hand in the movie business for a lifetime, working as a stunt coordinator and then as a second-director and producer on an enormous number of made-for-television films and programs. That said, I feel the urge to point out that watching this miniseries again after seeing it way back in 1999, I could almost find myself believing that Mick Garris had actually helmed the project. It just has that feel to it.
Lil’ Stevie: What…are you cursing it right out of the starting gate?
Peter: Absolutely not! This was not a bad film, and Garris HAS put out some great stuff. I’m just talking stylistically. Can we get started?
Lil’ Stevie: Hang on a sec…(takes gavel and smashes Peter on the forehead with it). Okay, we’re good!
Peter: Ouch! What was that for?
Lil’ Stevie: Born in sin…Come on in!
Peter: (Rubbing forehead) STORM OF THE CENTURY begins on Little Tall Island, a township of several hundred people on an island off the coast of Machias, Maine. Fans of King will note that Little Tall Island is also the setting for his novel DOLORES CLAIBORNE (1992) and its respective film adaptation from 1995. The film starts with a voiceover narrative from Michael Anderson (Tim Daly, television’s WINGS, 1990-97), Little Tall Island’s constable and local general store owner, who is about to tell his tale of horror and sorrow over the course of the three-part series. “You pay as you go,” he tells us in his soliloquy about Island Life as we’re given a montage of lobstermen and boat skippers, all unloading their catches and mooring their vessels in preparation for the big storm. We see other citizens in the process of hunkering down for the storm, all chatting away about what a doozy they’re in for as the ominous clouds roll in. And this, of course, includes little old lady Martha Clarendon (Um…holy cow! IMDB doesn’t have the actress’s name listed!).
Lil’ Stevie: Hahahaha…she’s so old she forgot to write her name down for the credits!
Peter: That’s terrible! I had to Google her name, but the actress is (or was) Rita Tuckett (AGNES OF GOD, 1995). Anyway, Martha’s parked in front of her television set watching the weather report when the doorbell rings. She gets up and answers it, and then is quickly clubbed to death by a dark stranger for no apparent reason whatsoever.
Lil’ Stevie: Hit her so hard her eyes popped out! Hyuk Hyuk Hyuk.
(Peter snatches gavel and whacks Lil’ Stevie on the noggin, forcing his eyes to pop out and then comically spring back into place).
Peter: Hey, that IS pretty funny. The stranger then parks himself in the chair where Martha HAD been sitting and begins watching the news and grinning strangely to himself. We jump across town to Anderson’s General Store where all the citizens on Little Tall are frantically making their last minute purchases before the storm. Mike is waiting on people and making small talk with the citizens, basically to establish to us viewers that he is a swell guy and that we should like him. And here we encounter one of my biggest difficulties with this film.
Lil’ Stevie: I just knew you couldn’t get through this without bitching and complaining. What’s your beef this time?
Peter: You’ll notice that a lot of King’s characters, particularly in this movie, don’t just have that colorful Maine Yankee slate of colloquialisms, but they also feel a need to announce the character’s full name in conversation. As in, “That’s a hell of a storm they’re predicting for us, huh, Mike Anderson?” – “Sure is, Tess Marchant. Do you need more sausage links?” A lot of this has to do with the size and scope of the story, and the need to present an island full of people you want the viewer to care about over the next three nights. But after a while it’s annoying and it doesn’t sound natural. It strains the story for me. And this story has so many characters in it that I can’t keep half of them sorted out anyway. The important players in the story are all we need to know. This movie could have a drinking game called, “Is Martha Clarendon REALLY dead?” That line gets said over and over again!
Lil’ Stevie: I’ll drink to that! (Hoists a bottle of beer and drinks).
Peter: To get on with the review, young Davey Hopewell (Adam Zolotin, ZEROPHELIA, 2005) is heading home, dribbling his basketball and imagining he’s the next NBA star. He passes Mrs. Clarendon’s house and sees her walker on the front lawn and her door wide open, and…
Lil’ Stevie: Is Martha Clarendon REALLY dead? (Drinks again).
Peter: …decides to investigate. He sees the old woman dead on her hallway floor, hears the dark stranger speak to him, and then bolts off screaming bloody murder down the street. He’s nearly run over by the town manager, Robby Beals (noted King character-actor Jeffrey DeMunn, THE GREEN MILE, 1999). It’s obvious from the onset that Beals and Mike Anderson have some kind of pissing contest going on, mostly due to Robby’s overblown sense of self-importance. Beals takes it upon himself to go to Martha’s house to investigate, and…
Lil’ Stevie: Ish Martha Clarendon REALLY dead? (Drinks AGAIN). I love you, man!
Peter: Will you cut it out?
Lil’ Stevie: Born in vice? Say it twice!
Peter: Beals finds Martha’s body, and likewise encounters the dark stranger who tells him some terrible secrets about himself that a stranger isn’t supposed to know. Robby bolts out like a coward and finally calls Constable Anderson on the CB. The radio announcement goes off in Anderson’s General Store, where half the populace is doing their shopping and can hear for themselves that Martha Clarendon is dead. (Glances at Lil’ Stevie).
Lil’ Stevie: Continue…
Peter: You know you want to say it.
Lil’ Stevie: Is Martha Clarendon REALLY dead? (Drinks AGAIN). Best. Game. EVER!
Peter: Mike Anderson and deputy (and best buddy) Alton “Hatch” Hatcher (Casey Siemaszko, STAND BY ME, 1986) grab their guns and head on out to the old lady’s house, where we’re finally officially introduced to Andre Linoge (Colm Feore, THOR, 2011). Linoge submits to arrest without incident, although we ARE given flashes of his morphing black eyes and mouthful of CGI fangs that never really look real (a Mick Garris staple if ever there was one). He’s taken to a holding cell in the back of Anderson’s General Store, where he offers more humiliating insights into the sinful pasts of the town folk. I find the concept of that to be terrifying, don’t you? How would you react if strangers just showed up and started blurting out your worst secrets?
Lil’ Stevie: As a celebrity, I get that all the time.
Peter: You’re a puppet. Nobody talks about you once the column is over and I drop you back in the corner of my office. Let’s speed things up. This is getting longer than I wanted it to be. Linoge is kept in the cell for a good amount of time, where he uses his dark magic to manipulate the town folk into committing murder or killing themselves, each time leaving a death note reading, GIVE ME WHAT I WANT AND I’LL GO AWAY. This happens for what feels like hours, where characters we really haven’t come to know (other than having their full names repeated over and over again) bite the dust, causing terror and chaos among the citizens. The snowstorm worsens, and people are forced to abandon their homes for the storm shelter set up, conveniently, in the basement of the town hall. Everyone is drawn together, with the exception of Mike, Hatch, Beals, and the other deputies who offer to help guard Linoge in the holding cell behind the General Store. In truth, though, this is all very reminiscent of King’s novel, NEEDFUL THINGS (1991), where dark stranger Leland Gaunt arrives in Castle Rock and manipulates the residents into killing each other.
Lil’ Stevie: I thought for sure you wouldn’t notice that…
Peter: It’s a little familiar…just saying. Linoge finally reveals himself for who he is; an ancient demon with long hair and strange vestment robes. He escapes the holding cell in grand fashion, admonishing the guards once more to “Give me what I want and I’ll go away,” before slipping out into the blinding storm. More chaos ensues between the town folk as citizens ‘disappear’ without a trace, and then the eight children of the town suddenly begin acting strangely as they are manipulated by Linoge’s terrible magic cane. Now, on this whole island, it seems very improbable that there are only eight children (each being the same age), and that none of these children seem to have siblings. How on earth can you justify THIS?
Lil’ Stevie: Anderson’s store ran out of condoms during the STORM OF THE DECADE, which happened five years prior to the STORM OF THE CENTURY! Is Martha Clarendon REALLY dead?
Peter: You’re impossible! So, after the first two nights, we’re finally told what it is that Linoge ACTUALLY wants; he wants one of the children to take as his own child. Thus begins the heart and the conflict of this story. This is all one big morality play that almost mirrors the Grimm’s fairytale of Rumpelstilskin. Linoge is actually a demon who…
Lil’ Stevie: It’s pronounced “daemon.”
Peter: Say what?
Lil’ Stevie: My monster is a “daemon.” It’s different than a demon.
Peter: Fine! Linoge is a “daemon” that wants a child to raise as his own, and teach all of his terrible “daemon-y” secrets to. And if he doesn’t get what he wants, he’ll lay to waste the entire island, just as he had with the town of Roanoke, Virginia centuries earlier. And here is where the storytelling behind this miniseries actually rises to what it is SUPPOSED to be…We’re given a microcosm of society that is cut off from the rest of the world, and how this microcosm becomes symbiotic in order to survive. The people are mostly good, even if they do have their terrible little secrets, but the reality is that ALL of us have those terrible little secrets. But how far are they willing to go to save themselves, versus how far will they go to stand up for what is right? And in that battle for virtue, in that fight for GOOD, Mike Anderson is a lone voice. And when it’s over, this will cost him everything.
Lil’ Stevie: I couldn’t have said it better, Peter Dudar.
Peter: Sadly, though, it took two whole episodes of ho-hum to get this captivating bit of drama. The first two episodes never quite capture the urgency we feel once the children are involved. Linoge could have told us what he wanted way back in part one and saved us a lot of time. I think it was a mistake to film this beast as a three-part series. There are points in STORM where it feels like King is just throwing things in to fill time. It’s frustrating. Had this been written as a novel rather than as a screenplay, I think he could have done a better job with story arcs and building characters. That’s where he shines in his writing. I also think under more capable directing, it could have been paced better. I think someone with more vision and experience might have been able to stand up to King and make appropriate adjustments rather than film the script exactly as it was written. And that’s a shame, because this really could have been a killer with less filler. We could have done with fewer primary characters as well, so we could focus on the important players rather than trying to keep tabs on the whole town.
Lil’ Stevie: So, in other words, bigger ain’t always better.
Peter: Precisely. And I think it’s worth pointing out that we’re probably going to be seeing this same structuring problem when King’s miniseries of UNDER THE DOME airs later this year. But we’ll jump off that pier when we get to it.
Lil’ Stevie: A prediction! You heard it here first, folks.
(Peter stares at Lil’ Stevie, who shrugs)
Lil’ Stevie: Is Martha Clarendon REALLY dead?
Peter: Enough already. That’s getting really annoying.
Lil’ Stevie: Give me what I want and I’ll go away.
Peter: (Sighing) What do you want?
Lil’ Stevie: (Grabbing the gavel and smashing Peter’s nose with it). I want you to know just WHO is in charge of our little column. Goodbye, folks. See you next month!
© Copyright 2013 by Peter N. Dudar