ABC and Stephen King had a pretty good thing going for awhile there in the 90’s. First they adapted what most call his masterpiece, The Stand, in 1994 to what was overall a positive response (it received fine ratings and the fans, while surely wishing for a big screen R-rated version, generally appreciated the end result). Then ABC gave King (who had never been truly happy with the Kubrick adaptation) the chance to do HIS version of The Shining, and even though opinions on that one were mixed, it still played well to strong ratings (personally, I loved it - I’ve always thought Kubrick’s version was excellent as a MOVIE, but crap as an adaptation). So, when they asked King what else he might like to adapt as another likely successful miniseries, he surprised them by saying that he thought he’d like to attempt his first original miniseries teleplay, or a “novel for television” as he called it. The suits said sure thing, he gave them the script, and in 1999 television viewers were given Storm of the Century for consumption. And honestly, I think a lot of them may have been confused by the end result compared to what they may have expected.
Storm of the Century tells the tale of a small island off the coast of Maine (previously used as a locale in the novel Dolores Claiborne, the main character and incident of which are briefly mentioned here), Little Tall Island, and the few hundred residents who live there. Early on, we are informed that “island people are good at keeping a secret,” even if it seems like everybody already knows about everybody else’s business. Portraying small towns and communities has always been a particular strength of King’s, and that hasn’t changed. We meet the owner of the local market, Michael Anderson (Tim Daly), who also happens to be town constable; his wife Molly (Debrah Farentino), who runs the local day care for the island’s little ones; small-time politician (but no less smarmy and prickish) Robbie Beals (Jeffrey DeMunn); deputy Alden Hatcher (Casey Siemaszko), and probably another ten-odd characters that will be prove to be at least momentarily important over the next few hours of story. You get the feeling that this truly IS a community, one where the residents have known each other for years if not their entire lives. King is at his best here, as are the actors at selling it (the acting in this is uniformly very good and sometimes even moreso).
But that’s not bringing into account the darkness that just rolled into town. Little Tall Island is preparing for a major storm that has the potential to be the worst in recorded memory of the area (hence the title, to get the obvious out of the way), but none of them knew they would have to steel themselves for a different kind of violent terror that could change all of their lives forever. That would be a stranger named Andre Linoge (Colm Feore), who makes his introduction by bludgeoning an elderly woman to death on her front porch with his cane - a thickly wooded piece of work with a heavy silver wolf’s head for a handle. Once Mike Anderson gets Linoge - who has a nasty habit of not saying much at all until he begins to spew out the vilest, darkest secrets, desires and deeds of the various townspeople he comes across - into the small cell in the back of his store, everyone assumes that such a random, vicious act of violence is an isolated incident and that this man (a “mainlander for sure“, they reason), safely confined within his cell, can do them no harm.
This is not, in fact, the case. People begin to do horrible things first to themselves, then each other. With the terrible weather conditions worsening, all communication to the outside world cut off, the residents of Little Tall soon learn that as bad as things are, they can ALWAYS get worse. In the background of it all, written on walls and paper and computers (sometimes in fresh blood), a single phrase repeats over and over: “Give me what I want and I’ll go away.” Before long Mike Anderson and everyone else on the island will find out what that means, and what they choose to do about that may tear apart everything the storm does not.
I have to say that of course, I do like SOTC very much - I’m a King fanatic, and don’t mind the movie’s occasionally slow pace or deliberateness in telling its tale. I could listen to his characters talk all day. But I do understand how some people just don’t like this one that much. Bottom line is that it’s not hugely scary (some of the ideas presented at the end are very much so, however, in my opinion), preferring atmosphere and a sense of creeping dread over gore and jump-shocks. It is also, when all is said and done, a morality tale at its heart - something that Rod Serling would have very much understood, I’m sure. So to sit for roughly four hours expecting some big-bang apocalyptic ending only to be asked to look inside yourself and figure out what the right answer is, or if there even IS a right answer in such a situation. . .well, some people got pissed. And I get that. It’s a fair reaction. But I really dug the story, (most) of the characters, the presentation (fine direction from Craig R. Baxley here, and his crew do a great job with the look and feel of the piece), and even the moral conundrum posed near the end, which is pretty much “what do you do when ALL of the options available to you will hurt like hell?” So understand that this is not a fireworks-laden, monsters and ghosts running amok type fear flick, and you’d have a better chance of appreciating it. Not all horror has to be loud and in your face, and a very few moments of violence aside, this film chooses to take the quiet, creeped-out route (witness Feore‘s performance, which is so scary BECAUSE his remarkable subtlety). It’s effective at what it sets out to achieve, which is why I enjoy it as much as I do - it did what it wanted to do and did it well.
Trimark’s DVD release come to us in full frame and Dolby 2.0 Surround, and looks and sounds fine for a shot-for-television miniseries from a decade ago. The extras are scarce - only a commentary and cast info. But the commentary is occasionally highly entertaining; featuring King and director Baxley (who take turns, having obviously been recorded separately) with only the occasional lull. King’s half is easily the more enjoyable, dealing more with the genesis of the project, the themes of the story and so on, while Baxley’s is more production oriented (I must admit I tired quickly of him pointing out what form of fake snow was used in any given scene) but does have some interesting insights, to be fair.
If you’re a big King fan, you’ve probably already seen this (and have your opinion one way or the other), but if you haven’t, you are also more likely to enjoy it, I should think, but that may not be fair; I see no reason why anyone who appreciates well-done, slow-burn horror tales wouldn’t be able to derive some pleasure (or terror) from this.