The Tommyknockers (1993)

Directed by John Power [Other horror films: Alice to Nowhere (1986)]

When I first saw this mini-series, adapted from a Stephen King novel, I’d not read the source material beforehand. Ultimately, while I know I watched the mini-series, I recalled very little about it. Having in recent times, read the novel, and watching this with the novel in mind, it’s not only forgettable, but somewhat terrible.

A little back-story, though, which might alleviate some of the sting of those words. Though I’ve only a single read-through to base this on, I didn’t care for The Tommyknockers. I liked it more than the Dreamcatcher novel (I think, but it’s a close call), but of the King books I’ve read, it’s solidly in the bottom half. I didn’t entirely mind the disjointed feel the meat of the book had, but I did think that portions of the came out a bit of a mess.

For much of the mini-series, things follow the novel closely enough to not warrant too many disagreeable portions (though I’m not fan of the novel, following the source material is probably the way to go when making a movie based of Stephen King’s work). Until the end, that is, when they take a very family-friendly approach to the conclusion, deeply neutering it.

It was neutered long before, though, what with being a television production. Much of the epic feel of the novel is entirely lost in the execution here. Some of the coolest scenes of the novel are nowhere to be found here, and those that make it are changed into a hideously friendly-for-television feel. Certainly other King mini-series have suffered from this (such as It), but because I have no nostalgic feelings for this one, there’s nothing to protect it from my less-than-charitable thoughts.

The cast was mixed bag. I really liked E.G. Marshall in his role as the grandfather, and if there’s any reason to really commend the acting, it’s him. Playing the sheriff, Joanna Cassidy does well, and doesn’t feel too dissimilar from her novel counterpart. John Ashton (Taggart from Beverly Hills Cop) was sort of nice to see, but was nothing like his counterpart from the book, nor was his path here nearly as interesting.

Pretty much everyone else ranges from mediocre to bad. Jimmy Smits didn’t do a thing for me as the main character (and it didn’t help that he didn’t look anything like I imagined the character in the book to). I was neither impressed nor displeased with Marg Helgenberger. Both Cliff De Young and Robert Carradine have a bit of charm to them, but ultimately, I think both are forgettable. Traci Lords, though, does pretty awful here (I’m guessing it’s intentional), and Allyce Beasley (who I recognize solely from an episode of Gotham, believe it or not) is utterly laughable during plenty of her screen-time.

I’ve seen The Tommyknockers twice now (despite, like I said, barely recalling my first experience with it), and it’s not a mini-series that I have any desire to see again. There’s plenty of King’s mini-series’ I’ve not seen yet (Golden Years and Rose Red, to name a few), but The Tommyknockers is a very forgettable and somewhat bad example of a book that, if adapted better, could produce a moderately entertaining movie.

Love the laser lipstick, though. Solid stuff.

4/10

Needful Things (1993)

Directed by Fraser C. Heston [Other horror films: N/A]

Some Stephen King movies are hard to talk about because they may be competently-made for the time, and possess different stories, but the source novels are far superior. Needful Things is one of my favorite Stephen King books, and as such, this adaptation is one of the least enjoyable versions of a good story I’ve seen.

When watching this, my brother said that it was like the creators of the film read the dust-jacket plot and set out to make the film without reading the full book, and that seems apt. There are so, so many things left out or minimized, and some of it was just terrible to leave out, such as:

Pangborn’s wife and child having died, Brian’s suicide while his brother (completely omitted from the film) watched, Polly’s life in San Francisco, Norris Ridgewick’s fishing pole and helping defeat Gaunt, Ace and his assistance of Gaunt (again, entirely omitted), the majority of Cora Rusk’s story, Lester Pratt and Sally Radcliffe, toning down the Catholic vs. Baptist conflict, leaving out most of Frank Jewett and George Nelson’s conflict, the same with Sonny Jackett and Eddie Warburton, and entirely messing up the ending.

The book is a gourmet feast of characters and information, whereas the film is an unfulfilling cup of Ramen soup.

Leaving out Pangborn’s bout with depression following the death of his wife and child really strips the character of feeling, and taking out his amateur magician hobby strips him of life. In the movie, Pangborn (who was played by Ed Harris here, despite the fact that in the very same year, The Dark Half came out, which also had Pangborn, only played by Michael Rooker) just didn’t feel like the Pangborn I know at all. And in the novel, he didn’t meet Gaunt until the final 15 pages, whereas in the movie, he meets him something like twenty minutes in. It’s utterly ridiculous. Also, Pangborn doesn’t even defeat Gaunt here, that’s given to Buster Keeton, which is just terrible.

Now, before I go further, I do know that a three-hour version of this exists, a TV extension done by TNT. However, that’s never been put on DVD, and is somewhat difficult to find outside of torrents, so I watched the two-hour theatrical version. The extended version does, to its credit, add in Brian’s mother, Cora Rusk, and her own dealings with Gaunt, and likely some other stuff, but given that version is not commonly available, I can only go off what I saw.

There’s a whole point in the book about Polly’s past in San Francisco and the death of a young child, which later comes up as Gaunt’s messing with people’s relationships. In the movie, all of this is removed, and instead we get Polly thinking that Pangborn is involved in an embezzlement scheme with Keeton. They also left out the spider from the amulet, but of course they did.

Ace is a character that was used in the coming-of-age movie Stand By Me from 1986 (based off King’s novella The Body), and reappeared in a significant role in the novel Needful Things. Here, he’s not even on the radar, and the plan to blow up Castle Rock entirely abandoned.

One of my favorite portions in the book is the conflict between the Baptists and the Catholics, led by Reverend William Rose and Father Brigham. This involved twenty or so named characters, and ends in a massive and bloody brawl in the streets of Castle Rock during a rainstorm. The movie’s version in pitiful. Instead of a massive fight, William Rose and Father Meehan (he was renamed in the movie for God knows what reason) themselves punch each other out for a minute, and that’s it. Also worth noting, Nettie in the movie was apparently Baptist, when she had literally nothing to do with the conflict in the novel, nor would she have had been capable of dealing with such tension, so it was idiotic of the movie-makers to throw that in.

I will give the movie some credit for showing Frank Jewett, but for leaving out his story-line, along with the interesting triangle that was Sally Radcliffe, Lester Pratt, and John LaPointe (one of the officers), I condemn the lot of them. At least they kept in the conflict between Hugh Priest and Henry Beaufort, which was a surprise.

Brian’s story follows the novel decently well until the end. In the movie, after some cringe-worthy dialogue (‘I gotta go to Hell now’), he attempts suicide in front of Pangborn. In the book, he commits suicide in front of his little brother Sean. It’s when Pangborn interviews Sean in the novel that Pangborn finally pieces everything together, but who needs that when you eliminate Sean’s character? Also worth noting, the fight between Nettie and Wilma (which, in part, Brian was responsible for initiating) didn’t happen at Wilma’s house as in the movie, but in the streets, causing quite the scene and made for a memorable moment.

One last thing before I rate this abomination, what they do with Danforth ‘Buster’ Keeton’s character is despicable. In the movie, they make him out to be a hero, blowing himself and Gaunt up, finally killing him (it doesn’t work, but of course it doesn’t). Keeton’s no hero – he’s a paranoid and corrupt town selectman who, just hours before, killed his wife. His story in the book is a lot more fitting, and more so, the fact that they gave Keeton the final act of heroism against Gaunt as opposed to Pangborn (who just made a ridiculous speech in front of the town) was a kick in the face to fans of the novel.

Max von Sydow did decent as Gaunt. Not amazing by any means, but decent. I sort of like how they throw in an ability for him to see years in the future, but it doesn’t really add much aside from some cool lines at the end of the film.

If you’ve not read the novel, Needful Things might be a decent movie. If you have read the novel, though, and make it one of the books you read about once a year, this film feels utterly hollow and an insult to the source material. I didn’t like it much when I first saw it, and I’m bitter in my old age of 25 (at the time of this writing), so I hate it more now.

3/10

This is one of the films reviewed on Fight Evil’s podcast, so if at all interested, give a listen as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss Needful Things.

The Dark Half (1993)

Dark Half

Directed by George A. Romero [Other horror films: Night of the Living Dead (1968), Hungry Wives (1972), The Crazies (1973), The Amusement Park (1975), Martin (1976), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Creepshow (1982), Day of the Dead (1985), Monkey Shines (1988), Due occhi diabolici (1990, segment ‘The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar’), Bruiser (2000), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007), Survival of the Dead (2009)]

So, in full disclosure, I’ve not actually read the Stephen King book this film is based off of. I’ve read many of his books, but haven’t gotten around to that one yet, which may in part explain why I’ve never really thought that highly of this film.

I won’t say that the story’s bad, as it has many elements which I think have potential. But it didn’t blow me away, and while I was interested, it wasn’t any type of deep investment. Perhaps some of this is due to the movie being over two hours long, and without knowing much about the source material, that seems too lengthy.

Timothy Hutton does a decent job, but he’s occasionally prone to overacting. That said, I thought his performance here was mostly good. Something about Amy Madigan’s acting rubs me the wrong way, though, and while I love Michael Rooker, I really don’t think he was the right choice for Pangborn (while I’ve not read The Dark Half, I have read Needful Things many times, and Pangborn is a main character in that novel). Hutton pulls double duty and also plays George Stark, and he does a pretty good job portraying a character of a much different nature.

Truthfully, though, I can’t point to exactly what about this film I feel drags it down. I’m not a giant fan of the story, but even putting that aside, it just feels like it’s missing something. There is some solid brutality, and a little gore near the end, so it’s not completely void of enjoyment, and plus, the score is damn good, and the ending with the sparrows always struck me as pretty cool, but it still isn’t enough.

This is a film I’ve seen a handful of times before, and it never sat exactly right with me. It’s a technically fine film, directed by George A. Romero of all people, but still, it never blew me away. Maybe in the future, The Dark Half will do more for me. At the time, though, I find the movie a bit below average more than anything else.

6/10

Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1993)

Pumpkinhead II

Directed by Jeff Burr [Other horror films: The Offspring (1987), Stepfather II (1989), Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990), Puppet Master 4 (1993), Puppet Master 5 (1994), Night of the Scarecrow (1995), The Werewolf Reborn! (1998), Phantom Town (1999), Straight Into Darkness (2004), Frankenstein & the Werewolf Reborn! (2005), Devil’s Den (2006), Mil Mascaras vs. Aztec Mummy (2007), Resurrection (2010), Puppet Master: Blitzkrieg Massacre (2018)]

While plenty of factors in this sequel should work, something holds this movie back from possessing the same emotional resonance that the first Pumpkinhead had.

Exactly what holds this back, I’m not entirely sure. The story certainly wasn’t bad, and the group of kids who did wrong here got more characterization than the group from the first movie, but something felt like it was missing. Part of this may be due to the lackluster cast, and the fact that the Pumpkinhead creature design felt weaker certainly didn’t help matters.

Andrew Robinson (who played Larry in Hellraiser, and may have been miscast here) as a town sheriff never really felt as though the part worked for him. I just didn’t get the ‘sheriff’ vibe from him. Playing his daughter was Ami Dolenz (who also starred in Witchboard 2: The Devil’s Doorway), who did okay, and certainly looked good, but didn’t have as important a place in the plot as you might think. Gloria Hendry (who is most well-known from many 70’s blaxplotation flicks) felt a bit too peppy in her role, and the only other individual of note was Soleil Moon Frye (who starred as the title character in the 80’s series Punky Brewster), who was another actress who I wished got more screen-time than she ended up having.

Straight-to-video, Pumpkinhead II still tried for a somewhat ambitious plot, utilizing many flashbacks and juxtapositions which ultimately don’t really do that much. It’s a shame, too, as I really think that the story in this movie is pretty solid. It’s just held back from something, be it the budget, the performances, whatever. The director, Jeff Burr (behind other films, most notably From a Whisper to a Scream and the third Texas Chainsaw Massacre) certainly had a decent film brewing, but couldn’t quite make it work.

For what this is, I wouldn’t go out of my way to call this a bad film, or even a bad sequel, but I’d just say it falls a bit below average. At least it has decent gore at times, but otherwise, it’s not really anything that special.

6/10

Kalifornia (1993)

Kalifornia

Directed by Dominic Sena [Other horror films: N/A]

This is a film that many, perhaps rightly so, wouldn’t consider horror – it should come as no surprise to anyone (especially those who follow me on Twitter) that my definition of horror, much like my politics, is decidedly more liberal than others. That said, while I do consider it a horror film, I understand that most probably wouldn’t.

Whether it’s horror or not, though, doesn’t take away from the actors – all four of the central actors did a fantastic job. Brad Pitt’s portrayal of a redneck serial killer is pretty eye-opening to watch. His empty-headed girlfriend, played by Juliette Lewis, was a sight to see, and how Lewis was able to keep the air-headed act up was amazing. Of course, David Duchovny was of good value – his character’s not too much different from Mulder in The X-Files, a serious, single-focused individual, not averse to having fun, but always keeping on track. Lastly, Michelle Forbes did a fine job as Carrie, Brian’s (played by Duchovny) girlfriend.

The cast is spectacular, to make matters short. Decent gore can be found a few places also, though it is rather limited. As for the story, I think it’s moderately decent, but not overly amazing. Really, the actors were the highlight of the movie. A bit of a hard one to rate, honestly, partially because it treads the line of horror/non-horror, but it was a decent movie with solid actors. Not overly crucial, and more so, not even that amazing compared to other films, but it might be worth checking out.

7.5/10

The Dark (1993)

The Dark

Directed by Craig Pryce [Other horror films: Revenge of the Radioactive Reporter (1990)]

It’s been something like three years since I saw this last, and so I had forgotten the amount to which I enjoyed it.

First thing that came to mind watching this was the actors, a majority of which do a solid job despite the obviously low budget involved. Stephen McHattie (who played the main character in Pontypool over 15 years after this film) did quite well as this film’s protagonist. Dennis O’Connor, Cynthia Belliveau, Neve Campbell all do very well also (and seeing Campbell three years prior to Scream was interesting).

In fact, my favorite scenes early on was the believable chemistry between gravediggers Jake and Ed (played by Dennis O’Connor and Jaimz Woolvett, respectfully). Their friendship struck me as very realistic, and that surprised me in a movie of this budget. The actors I didn’t care for, including most prominently Brion James, were far outshone by those I did.

And that doesn’t usually happen – in fact, very rarely in most movies to actors stand out one way or the other to me. Here, they did. The actors really were the strong point of the film. That’s not to say the story was bad, but it wasn’t dripping in creativity. More so, the special effects, when need be, were lacking. And in fact, some of the scenes early on just felt wrong. That all said, I got a good feel for the characters, and deemed it enjoyable. In short, it’s low in quality, high in fun.

7.5/10