Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tempest in a Teacup: "Storm of the Century" (1999)

Stephen King penned this original script that was turned into a bloated four hour miniseries full of competent acting, a creepy villain, some good special effects, and even a little suspense. Like a lot of King's work, the build up is better than the payoff.

Little Tall Island off the coast of Maine has four hundred residents, half of whom have vacated to the mainland to avoid a horrible storm bearing down on the area. The other two hundred stay, tough folk ready to ride it out. On the eve of the storm, old lady Clarendon is bludgeoned to death by a mysterious stranger who makes himself at home in her easy chair, watching TV and sipping tea. He makes no effort to fight when Constable Mike Anderson (Timothy Daly) arrests him, and takes him to the jail cell located in the back of Anderson's small grocery store.

The murderer is one Andre Linoge (Colm Feore), who is a little odd. Sometimes his eyes glow red, he has fangs, and the wolf figurine on his missing cane tends to come alive. Everybody is afraid of Linoge, but they fear the storm more, and gather at the local town hall. From his cell, Linoge is able to control people, forcing them to kill themselves or others on a whim. He is after the entire island, always repeating the same phrase: "Give me what I want and I'll go away." The phrase eventually becomes the suicide mantra of the helpless residents. Linoge escapes from the jail and the town eventually finds out what Linoge wants. The climax involves the real identity of Linoge, shameful town secrets, and the intricacies of small island politics.

The cast assembled for this miniseries is good. Timothy Daly is believable as the constable/store owner. Debrah Farentino as his wife Molly has some good scenes without becoming a clicheed "stand by my man" gal. Casey Siemaszko as Mike's friend Hatch has the Maine accent down cold. The reliable Jeffrey DeMunn is slimy as the town manager Beals, whose own self-centeredness is utterly believable to anyone who has ever lived in a small town.

The scariest performance here is Colm Feore's Andre Linoge. He is from the Hannibal Lecter school of villainy, a seemingly smart man who enunciates clearly, whether revealing deep dark secrets of the different townspeople, or calmly enacting murder and suicide from his cell. Feore is excellent here, and should have earned more kudos for this role.

King's script, on the other hand, is a mess. Recent history has television remaking a lot of King's films into miniseries because that is the only way they can come through coherently. If anything, "Storm of the Century" could have been cut in half and still made a pretty decent theatrical film. Half way through, King introduces three different plot points that all could have been done away with: a character who suddenly reveals she is psychic, a priest who appears as if from nowhere with a secret, and Mike's ability to quote the Bible and his unexpected expertise on demons. A good editor may have been able to work this into a leaner vehicle; watch for the climactic town hall meeting which feels longer than the storm itself, and the epilogue which also runs about five minutes too long.

Craig Baxley's direction is fantastic. Everything is covered in cold blue light, the snow storm is totally believable, and the gore effects are good without going over the top (and earning an R rating). His silliest sequence is the child-flying scenes, when you see them, you will roll your eyes.

"Give me what I want and I'll go away," says Andre. What this reviewer wanted was scares. He got some, but not enough to set this apart from other King efforts. I haven't read one of his novels in years, this film reminds me why. This storm should have knocked the wind out of me. (* * *) out of five stars.