Steven King is an unchallenged literary heavyweight. When it comes to translating his stories to film and television, however, his track record has been less than stellar. For every adaptation like The Shining (a film King, famously, hated) to hit theaters there are two or three adaptations like Graveyard Shift, The Mangler or Maximum Overdrive (a film King, infamously, directed) to go alongside it. TV hasn’t had a much better track record either. The miniseries version of The Stand was quite memorable, but the miniseries version of The Shining was, well, about as exciting as watching snow melt.
Undaunted by past ups and downs, TNT is rushing into the darkness with a four-week, eight-hour maxi-series event titled “Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Steven King.” It’s a scary prospect. But, thankfully, it’s at least occasionally a good kind of scary.
King has written literally hundreds of short stories. It’s a bit of a wonder that the prolific writer (who, I believe, “officially retired” about five books ago) hasn’t already slapped his name on a “Twilight Zone”-style anthology series. At a minimum, “Nightmares & Dreamscapes” offers us the opportunity to try on an even eight of King’s short chillers.
The series begins with two adaptations that pretty much run the gamut of King-sized adaptations. The first is “Crouch End,” starring Eion Bailey and Claire Forlani. The hour-long film, directed by series producer Mark Haber, finds a newlywed American couple stumbling across the mysteriously haunted British town of Crouch End. Despite countless ominous warnings from locals, the couple end up trapped in some sort of Lovecraftian alternate dimension (complete with monsters, natch). The film eventually serves up a few surreal scares but feels an awful lot like a truncated version of the recent feature film Silent Hill. The acting is OK, but Haber’s lackluster direction doesn’t help.
On the other end of the scale is an adaptation of “Battleground” written by prolific horror/fantasy author Richard Christian Matheson and directed by Brian Henson (Jim Henson’s son)! William Hurt acts up a storm in this largely dialogue-free tale of a professional assassin who bumps off a toy company magnate and finds himself hunted by some very nasty plastic soldiers. The episode boasts some skillful scares and a decent amount of blood (always a plus).
Future episodes range from lame (“You Know They Got a Hell of a Band” with Steven Weber and Kim Delaney) to quite gripping (“Umney’s Last Case” with the always worthwhile William H. Macy). Of course, it all still depends on your love or lack thereof for Mr. King’s work. “Nightmares & Dreamscapes” has all the usual King crutches. “Umney’s” stars yet another writer haunted by his literary alter-ego (see also: The Dark Half, Secret Window), while “Band” boasts the kind of gimmicky ending that can be guessed about five minutes into the narrative.
Still, it’s the middle of summer. Your only other option is to keep watching “America’s Got Talent.” Now that’s scary television.