STEPHEN KING DVD COLLECTOR'S SET
Reviewed by: Jamey Hughton
What's it about
You get four movies (two classics, and two not-so-classics) in this latest box set from the King of horror fiction.
Is it good movie?
Despite not having aged very well, CARRIE still gets under your skin. Everybody knows the story here: tormented girl (Sissy Spacek) with telekinetic powers and a religious fanatic mother (Piper Laurie) becomes the subject of a cruel prank orchestrated by a few classmates (one of whom is a young, bratty John Travolta). But Carrie of course has the last laugh when she unleashes her fury at what has to be the high school prom with the highest body count ever.
Brian DePalma is very hit-and-miss for me. The man likes a constantly roving camera and lots of stylistic touches, and obviously seems to be inspired by the work of Alfred Hitchcock when he’s directing a thriller. DePalma at times doesn’t seem to know whether he wants CARRIE to be an artsy Argento-like horror film or a bloody exploitation movie. Not that there aren’t many cool shots and plenty of moments when he has you in a vice grip... but CARRIE does suffer a bit from style over substance, and you wish a few characters were more fleshed-out.
Spacek is excellent as Carrie, and Laurie is exceptionally creepy as her mother, who has warped the poor girl with her disturbed personal religious agenda of stomping out whatever she finds to be deviant. Of course, Laurie’s warning of “They’re all going to laugh at you” before Carrie leaves for the prom tragically comes to fruition in the movie’s over-the-top climax.
CARRIE paints a pretty disturbing portrait of bullying and social cruelty, and asks some interesting questions about the nature of evil. The last scene made me nearly jump through the roof when I first saw the film, and ultimately CARRIE still has the capacity to scare you and rattle your nerves. Spacek’s moving and memorable performance helps the film to overcome a messy third act and a story that, after all these years, feels a bit incomplete. *** out of ****
The Dark Half
Stephen King likes to have writers as his protagonists, I imagine because he’s comfortable in that head space as one himself.
Timothy Hutton is Thad Beaumont, a college professor and author of many novels that are well-respected by the academic community. But Beaumont also writes graphic, hardcore thrillers under a pseudonym, George Stark. When someone discovers the connection, Thad decides to turn it into a minor publicity stunt and put Stark to rest, literally, with a photo shoot at a cemetery with his wife Liz (Amy Madigan). And then a trail of bodies begin to pile up, and the local sheriff (Michael Rooker) confronts Thad with some startling evidence: his fingerprints are at every single crime scene. Has the alter-ego of George Stark come to murderous life because he doesn’t want to be silenced for eternity?
THE DARK HALF is directed by one of the genre masters, George A. Romero (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD), and there are some effective scenes here (involving flocks of sparrows), but overall the movie walks a tightrope between scary and silly. Mostly it’s the latter. The entire second half is mostly an uninspired slasher film, and the more interesting psychological issues of Thad’s duality are dropped for generic scares. Hutton is quite good here, although less convincing as the supposedly suave and menacing Stark. THE DARK HALF is another Stephen King movie that draws you in, and then drops the intriguing subtext and falls apart completely by its overblown climax. This one is only worth watching if you’re a King afficionado. ** out of ****
Misery is arguably the best of the Stephen King movie adaptations and my favorite of this box set, thanks not only to Kathy Bates’ Oscar-winning turn as psychotic uber-fan Annie Wilkes but also in large part to solid direction from Rob Reiner.
Paul Sheldon (James Caan, great here) is the popular author of a series of historical romance novels featuring a character called Misery Chastain. Feeling chained to the character, Paul has finally decided to move on, and in his latest novel Misery meets her end. Upon completing a new (non-Misery related) book at a Colorado lodge, Sheldon drives his car off the road in a major blizzard, and is rescued by Annie, who proudly declares herself to be his “number one fan”. When Annie discovers the ending of Sheldon’s new Misery novel, she reacts with rage and vows to keep him locked in his room, crippled and completely at her mercy, to finish a new book that resurrects Misery from the grave.
The movie generates a humorous sense of desperation, with Sheldon bed-ridden, helpless and an unlikely captive of a crazy old Annie. There are some scenes of genuine suspense as Paul tries everything to escape from Annie’s isolated country home. Bates totally scores here with a complex, eccentric and frightening performance as a very unlikely villain, Caan is easy to root for, and Richard Farnsworth provides some amiable support as local sheriff Buster.
While I would have liked a bit more of a connection to Sheldon before his torment begins, MISERY remains involving, claustrophobic and is great fun overall, with one of the best “wince and look away” scenes of all time. *** ½ out of ****
NEEDFUL THINGS suffers from what a lot of Stephen King adaptations do: it’s simply too much for one movie. There are too many characters and too many plot threads to tie up, and generally it feels too hurried and chaotic to get into. It’s a classic case of, “the book was better.” Or so I assume. I’ve actually never read the book. I hope it’s better than this.
While the movie as a whole is a fragmented mess, it has its little pleasures. Chief among would be Max von Sydow (from THE EXORCIST of course), effortlessly commanding as always here as Leland Gaunt, a shop owner who has wandered into the town of Castle Rock, Maine to sell its citizens little antiques and trinkets for a small cost.... THEIR SOULS. Gaunt, you see, is really Lucifer in human form, and soon enough has pitted all the townspeople against each other by sending many on hate-filled missions to ensure that Castle Rock destroys itself from the inside out.
Von Sydow is great fun as the movie’s charmingly wicked Satan, and the remaining cast is pretty solid. Ed Harris plays Sheriff Alan Pangborn (the same character from THE DARK HALF, if you take notice), Bonnie Bedelia is the waitress he is smitten by, Amanda Plummer is the town crazy and the late J.T. Walsh is a crooked politician.
The worst aspect of NEEDFUL THINGS is the editing, which does a piss-poor job of streamlining all of the characters and subplots. Director Fraser C. Heston obviously knows how to frame a shot and establish setting (the film is shot in Gibson’s Landing, British Columbia, a beautiful vacation spot) , but it seems to me that the film is so busy trying to sort itself out, it never gets to the real goods. While there are some good and enjoyably nasty moments, it’s generally a mess. ** out of ****
Video / Audio
Video 1:85:1 Widescreen Presentation
Audio English 5.1 Stereo Surround and Original Mono, French Mono, Spanish Mono, and optional French and Spanish subtitles
The Dark Half
Video Standard Full Screen
Audio English Stereo Surround, optional English and French subtitles
Video Widescreen or Full Screen Format
Audio English Stereo Surround, optional French and Spanish subtitles
Video 1:85:1 Widescreen Presentation
Audio English Stereo Surround, optional English, French, Spanish and Portugese subtitles
“Acting Carrie” Documentary Great 43-minute doc discussing the casting in the film, with interviews with pretty much everyone involved with the film.
“Visualizing Carrie” Documentary This one runs 41 minutes and details the look and style of CARRIE, with some interesting scrapped footage.
Carrie the Musical Writer Lawrence D. Cohen and actress Betty Buckley talk about how awesome this musical stage version of CARRIE is. I was hoping for some actual footage, but no such luck.
Also: a 6-minute Animated Photo Gallery, the Original Theatrical Trailer and a three-part written biography of the writing of the book called “Stephen King and the Evolution of Carrie”.
As you will find out, this is the only DVD with anything significant for special features. But it’s loaded with extras.
The Dark Half
Original Theatrical Trailer
Only the film’s Teaser Trailer and great Theatrical Trailer
Once again, just an Original Theatrical Trailer
This DVD set is definitely worth picking up if you’re a Stephen King or horror fan. CARRIE and MISERY are both welcome additions on my shelf, and despite being plagued by the typical problems of King adaptations, the other two have their moments as well.