The Stand (1994)

Directed by Mick Garris [Other horror films: Critters 2 (1988), Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990), Sleepwalkers (1992), The Nightmare Begins Again (1993), Quicksilver Highway (1997), The Shining (1997), Riding the Bullet (2004), Desperation (2006), Bag of Bones (2011), Nightmare Cinema (2018, segments ‘The Projectionist’ & ‘Dead’)]

This rather lengthy mini-series (four episodes, clocking in at a total of just over six hours) based on Stephen King’s longest novel is definitely something that you need to invest in, but I find it generally an awarding experience.

It’s also a mini-series that I’ve seen quite often as a child. While this didn’t leave near as much an impression as 1990’s It (also, of course, based on a Stephen King novel), I saw this plenty of times as a kid, and I remember my father requesting this one when we rented the VHS (which came with four tapes, of course) from Blockbuster, so it certainly holds good memories.

That said, until this recent rewatch, it’s been at least ten years since I’ve seen it, so I was curious as to whether it would hold up. What made the question more interesting was that this would be the first time since I’ve seen the mini-series since finally reading the novel, and I was also curious as to how close this adaptation was.

And you know what? For a television production (which is pretty noticeable at times, especially in regards to the special effects), not only does it follow the novel decently well (and certainly better than many, if not most, other King adaptations), it’s also pretty solid, and while I wouldn’t call it great, The Stand is a pretty good time.

Just now, I took a deep breath, and that’s because we need to talk about actors and actresses. And believe it or not, given the mini-series is about six hours long, there’s a lot of them. And what makes it even better, most of the central performances were damn good.

Let’s start with Gary Sinise (who I really don’t know outside of this mini-series, though he did have a long-running role on CSI: NY), who played Stu fantastically. He really felt like that generic all-American man, and Sinise pulled off the role as well as anyone could hope to. With a little more of a complex character, Adam Storke did well as Larry, and by the end, you likely couldn’t help but hope for the best.

Ray Walston (Galaxy of Terror) was one of the top-tier performances as Glen Bateman, though his somewhat more critical look at society (as a sociologist, who could blame him?) from the novel was toned down. Peter Van Norden as Ralph was good too, though like the novel, we’re not given too much insight into his character.

Others that definitely need to be mentioned include Molly Ringwald (Office Killer) as Frannie, who wasn’t great but wasn’t quite as bad as some others make her out to be, Ossie Davis (Bubba Ho-Tep) as the Judge was very solid, and one of the best smaller characters. There’s also Miguel Ferrer (The Night Flier) as Lloyd, who took a little to get there, but ended up a fine character. Corin Nemac as Harold also took time to grow, but his decently complex character turned out decent, I thought.

As the Trashcan Man, Matt Frewer was a sight to behold, especially toward the end with the special effects they had. Being mentally unstable, Frewer didn’t have that much to go on, but again, I definitely thought he did the character justice. Truth be told, Kellie Overby as Dayna is memorable for just a single sequence (her getting caught and brought to Flagg), but she was so badass that I had to at least mention her. Shawnee Smith’s (The Blob, Saw) character was memorably crazy, so there’s that.

Finally, let’s talk some of the most memorable performances.

Rob Lowe (The West Wing and 2004’s Salem’s Lot) did amazingly as Nick, a deaf-mute. Fantastic character and performance, Lowe really made Nick someone worth remembering. Jamey Sheridan as Randall Flagg was a sight to behold, fantastically hammy and always fun. Laura San Giacomo (Pretty Woman) as Nadine was an interesting performance, and I thought she definitely strutted her stuff come the finale of her character.

A lot also has to be said about Bill Fagerbakke’s Tom Cullen. Until this day (3/09/2021 should history ever be concerned), I had no idea that the guy who played Tom was the same guy who voiced Patrick on Spongebob Squarepants, and while I never watched a lot of Spongebob, as a 90’s kid who consumed both that cartoon and this movie, I feel it should have clicked before. Here, he has an amazingly solid performance, and as corny as some of his lines are (“M-O-O-N, that spells deaf and dumb”), he’s definitely a character with feeling.

The best performance overall has got to be, though, Ruby Dee as Mother Abagail. She’s quotable (“mayhap she is, mayhap she ain’t) and wholesome in every way. Now, as an atheist, I can do without her religious mumbo-jumbo (and it’s worse in the book), but even so, she’s just great in pretty much every scene she’s in.

Given that very little was changed, and almost none of it was dreadfully important, it’s hard to criticize this adaptation for leaving things out. Sure, I think the way Flagg was more interacting with some of the characters before his time (such as trolling Lloyd on the telephone pole) was a bit off, but like I said, it doesn’t really negatively impact the story, so I didn’t mind that much (though I do think the overly-dramatic scene about Mother Abagial’s departure – entirely unlike the novel’s approach – was somewhat laughable).

What is probably the biggest hurdle for modern-day audiences are the special effects, which become noticeably aged in the last two episodes (those face shifts of Randall Flagg a good case in point), and as even a fan of the mini-series, those instances of iffy effects do hurt, but I don’t think it’s an overly damning quality.

A few other things that can definitely be appreciated include the mini-series’ approach to horror and the soundtrack. Toward the end of the first episode, there’s a dream sequence in a cornfield with a quality scare. What made that really stand out to me was that there was no rising music to indicate tension – there was just a guy walking through a cornfield, and BOOM, his shoulder is grabbed by a demonic figure. It’s that low-key style that really stuck out to me.

The soundtrack too is good. Sure, it’s nice hearing “Eve of Destruction” and of course, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Öyster Cult made for a fantastically memorable opening, but the rest of the score too really brings back memories, such as the music when Mother Abagail is walking away from the Free Zone. The music isn’t as good as, say, Storm of the Century’s score, but then again, little could be.

For being a television production, and definitely feeling tame in some aspects, I was pretty impressed revisiting this mini-series after reading the book, as they really did keep quite a bit of it as it was in the novel. The performances were pretty great overall (even if you consider Ringwald a weak spot, you have Ferrer, Fagerbakke, and Dee to make up for that), and while it’s not a short watch, I do find the experience worth it (corny Hand of God thing at the end notwithstanding).

8/10

Death Machine (1994)

Death Machine

Directed by Stephen Norrington [Other horror films: Blade (1998)]

Generally speaking, Death Machine is both a well-made and moderately fun movie. My main question is, did it really need to be two hours long?

The story was good, the gore, when it popped up, was solid also. However, since the movie goes more an action route than it does horror, there’s not as many gory scenes as I would have liked to see, especially considering how dangerous and sharp Dourif’s Warbeast looks.

Brad Dourif was, of course, the stand-out here. His character was wacky, yet quite deadly and amoral, and I have to admit, his portrayal here reminds me a lot of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Dourif was just fun in every scene he was in, and his voice was always a pleasure to hear. The two others who really stood out to me were the main actress Ely Pouget and William Hootkins. Pouget does a solid job as the lead character, and Hootkins, though he didn’t have that much screen-time, had a good presence.

There were aspects of this film that didn’t do much for me. The battle suit was a bit too science-fiction for me, and I could have done without all of the fighting sequences. In a related note, this movie runs for just over two hours, and I really think that was ill-conceived. The movie can be fun, but at two hours a pop, who would take the time to rewatch it? I know I probably wouldn’t.

Death Machine is a decently solid piece of 90’s cinema, despite it being more an action science-fiction flick than a horror (make no mistake, though, there are many horror aspects within). But the length strikes me as rather uncalled for (the movie never feels as epic, for lack of a better word, as the length might lead you to believe), and there were a bit too many fight scenes. As it is, it’s a fine movie, just nothing overly special, despite Dourif’s strong personality.

7/10

Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994)

Phantasm III

Directed by Don Coscarelli [Other horror films: Phantasm (1979), Phantasm II (1988), Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998), Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), John Dies at the End (2012)]

A definite drop-off from the first two of this cult classic series, the third entry still has a lot of solid stuff that makes it worth checking out still.

By-and-large, this film isn’t really that far removed from the second Phantasm. It’s another road-trip, chasing down the Tall Man-type deal, with a few new characters thrown into the mix. It is, however, a bit lighter in tone than the previous film. It takes some odd turns (what they do with Jody – and perhaps Michael – was, shall we say, an interesting choice), and feels somewhat disjointed toward the end. Not even the dreamy disorientation such as the first film, but a ‘I have no idea what’s going on’ type thing.

Before that, though, let’s talk cast: Unfortunately, the stand-outs of this movie are pretty much the stand-outs from the last one: Reggie Bannister and, of course, Angus Scrimm. A. Michael Baldwin came back, but I’m not wooed by his acting. And as fun as Gloria Lynne Henry sometimes was as Rocky, more often than not, she came across as over-the-top. The young Kevin Connors did fine enough, but his character struck me as moderately pointless.

So you put together a, on average, less-than-stellar cast with less-than-stellar plot points (those three zombies that popped up multiple times toward the end rubs me the wrong way), and you get a pretty flimsy Phantasm. Which isn’t to say the film is particularly bad – despite the lighter tone, some of these characters can be pretty fun, such as Rocky – but compared to the first two flicks, this has been a let-down each time I’ve seen it.

6.5/10