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Nightmares and Dreamscapes is a mini-series version of some Stephen King short stories or novellas, produced for TNT and screened in early 2006 for the first time. I would reckon that it is one of the better / more accurate and also relatively professional efforts to turn King stories into moving images. There are some really nice episodes, with others being rather of the “ah well” quality. But you have to give them that the more boring ones have their cause rather in the original story than in the filmmakers’ efforts. This is no Palme d’Or material, but at the end of the day: King is no Nobel Prize material, either, but an excellent read when the latest Rushdie novel turns out to be a bit sulky…

1) Battleground
William Hurt? Indeed! That’s a nice starting surprise for something that I expected to be another boring and uninspired “Film based on a story by the Master of Horror” I never stopped reading every bit of novel and short story he wrote – but I did stop watching these B and C pictures after Children of the Corn came out, I think. Especially since they started producing them for tv. So that was an indication of a mid-budget production, which is something. TNT as a producer, … ah well, why not. And it turns out that the show is fun, that the special effects are not too tacky, that Hurt’s performance is as brilliant as his performances usually are – and that the fact that it’s him (the serious, reflective, quiet guy who likes to mourn and to suffer in all the flicks that we’ve seen, maybe apart from “Spider Woman” 😉 ) provides for a nice break in expectations. Watch him get into the infight, the jungle battle, with the little green ones, see him turn vicious and light the torch…

2) Crouch End
As expected, the quality of the first episode does not quite hold. The story, to be honest, is not the best choice to make a film out of it. It draws too much on the Lovecraftian universe, is more or less an hommage to all the Cthulhu and whatever they’re called myths laid out by the crazy American. They try to have a bit of this in the show, but it only comes down to some street signs and a really ill-animated cgi beast that is eating the ill-performing husband of the ill-performing female (forgot the names). But it does remind me to find out where I put my copy of “Tales of the Cthulhu”, to catch up with latest developments on the mad author (was it Nabukadnezzar?) of the dangerous book calling up unspeakable horrors (what’s its title again? I never thought I would ever forget that!)

3) Umney’s Last Case
Tastes a bit as if too many screenplay authors could not quite agree on which way the story should go, so they had it end in an even more open (maybe arbitrary) fashion than the short story. It is about Chandler, so production design is everything, the hats, suspenders and dresses being more important than the plot. Interesting from today’s point of view is, of course, to see how much fun King developed even some years ago in writing himself (or his alter egos) into his stories and interfering directly as a Deus ex machina – not resolving issues in this case, of course, but causing a big mess. Brilliant as always: Wiliam H. Macy – and again one wonders how they can afford to get somebody like him into a production that has hardly any well-known directors or script writers. Keeps me reminding to check how Hollywood stars earn their money…

4) The End of the whole Mess
Speaking of causing a mess: that’s what they do in this episode big style. Quite a good main actor (Ron Livingston) whom I did not know tells the story about himself and his little brother, who takes the classical path of trying to do good and ending up doing the worst to everybody. That core idea is actually one that King uses a couple of times – unknown side-effects of this or that, slowly creeping into the system and finally creating a bit of disaster. In this case, I have to say my thought was: so what? Everybody seems to be happy, apart from those who did not catch the disease, and this is quite similar to what the layout in “The Cell” was (or in “The Stand” or in “Tommyknockers”, or or or…). Be crazy, be happy!

5) The Road Virus Heads North
Tom Berenger… Platoon, yes, but… anything else? Not that I remember. And I also wonder whether it’s the same Berenger, as the scars in his face seem to have diminished over the last how many – 15? – years. But he’s good. He is another Stephen King alter ego, a writer of great success and lost dignity (not lost, actually, but supposedly crawled up to where there there is no light). He gets entangled with some ghost on some picture he picked up somewhere, and as we never quite learn why him and what that bugger really wants, we don’t take it soo seriously. When threat becomes arbitrary, I guess it looses its thrill, as the escape routes are blocked, anyway.

6) The Fifth Quarter
One of these deviations Mr King occasionally offers from his established path of mystery, thrill and horror. A story about love and crime, about bad guys and worse guys, about live alternating between a trailer and a prison cell, with little hope of interrupting that circle. Crime, however, helps sometimes, and in this case it leads you to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s not a particularly original story, but it’s well filmed (the professional quality of camera and lightning struck me once more – the whole mini-series is on a considerable technical standard).

7) Autopsy Room Four
Nice little gimmick, with the paralysed victim on the autopsy table, fully awake, yet unable to express his thoughts – which basically are: “get the damned scalpel off my body!!!”. Fair enough, and with some moments of retarding elements and suspended action due to romantic interludes of the autopsy doctors, there is the chance for the supposedly dumb assistant to save the day. The main actor is brilliant in his… hm… paralysedness? You have to give him that he is able to sustain many hours of shooting stark naked, with a moderately attractive actress fumbling his genitals. I wonder what an average work day on the set looked like.

8) You know They’ve got a Hell of of a Band
This, I guess, is one of the stories somebody must write at one time: a couple of people plunged into celebrity heaven, or rather celebrity nightmare, as we are dealing with Stephen King. You can reanimate your childhood heroes, but you don’t need to care too much about a plot, because the sensation of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix showing their faces is supposedly enough to make a nice show. I am afraid it was the weakest story at the mini-series’ finale, which is a bit of a shame, but makes it easier to turn to something new…

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