King's Highway pt. 12: Storm of the Century

This mini-series came out in 1999. About smack-dab in that dead zone of tv memory in my head. I spent a lot of time in the 80s and 90s staring into glowing rectangles, a habit I've all-too-much picked up again in the 21st century, but for a few now-blessed years there in the late 90s and early 00s, I'd limited my ocular input only (mostly; I mean, I kept up with 90210, naturally, and The Simpsons and X-Files) to films and video rentals. Which is all just to say - I have no contemporaneous memories of the original run of this at all.

King's blink and you might miss it cameo, as an advertisement on the tv screen in Martha Clarendon's living room.

The story, more or less:

- The community of Little Tall Island prepare for the "storm of the century," predicted to dump 3 to 5 feet of snow and with near-hurricane winds.

- Mr. Linoge, a mysterious and malevolent stranger in the Randall Flagg tradition, arrives on the eve of this storm singularity. He murders a woman and is arrested. He demonstrates supernatural insight into the dark secrets of the townsfolk.

- During his captivity, people begin to die, and, somewhat disturbingly, the message Give Me What I Want and I Will Go Away begins to appear everywhere.

- He busts out, and everyone shares the same disturbed dream. All the townsfolk march off a pier and into the ocean, apologizing in turn to Mr. Linoge for not delivering unto him what he desired. Each has "Croatoan" scrawled on his or her forehead.

- Shortly after, 7 children see a vision of Mr. Linoge's talisman-cane (which the adults cannot see.) Each of the children touches it and fall asleep. Later we learn they are "flying with Mr. Linoge" ... creepy.

Very Freudian? Why start noticing now...

- He tells them, at last, (this is a 4-hour-plus production, and there's quite a bit of "I'll tell you later" going on when it comes to...) what it is he wants.

- They debate giving it to him and come to a decision.

- He goes away?

It is this last question that I think informs the framing narrative (the same voiceover accompanies the beginning and end of this) and the subtext in general. Once you make certain "deals with the devil," do they ever go away?

Julianne Nicholson, also star of the worst movies this side of Joshua, examines this particular part of the subtext early on, but it only becomes really evident in the third hour and beyond.

There are some fun connections to other King works. Little Tall Island, where this takes place, is the setting for Dolores Claiborne, and is separated from the Maine-land by "The Reach," the title of a story from Skeleton Crew. (Also, I guess, just a Maine / coast term in general, but whatever) Ms. Nicholson, aforementioned, references a particular trip to Derry, setting for It and a few others. And the first victim is a woman named Martha Clarendon. Related to "The Beav" Clarendon from Dreamcatcher? I asked the folks on the SK Forum but no answer at presstime.

Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

All in all, this is an intriguing story. Perhaps a tad too long, but who cares? King works pretty well in the mini-series format. Usually. The most distancing aspects of the production are the accents. What is it about the New England accent that invites such wild projections from actors?

Not that there's one New England accent. A Woonsocket, Rhode Island accent is very different than a South Boston accent, and JFK didn't sound like either of them. Nor does much of what you hear once you get up into the areas of Maine King usually writes about. But, as with any regional accent, there's one broad Hollywood shortcut; Storm of the Century only randomly lands there, either.

There's a whole lot of Bible talk in this movie. Some of it is very effective, such as Mike Anderson's rebuttal to his passenger as they drive through the storm re: Job

"...'Why me?' he asked God. And God answered: 'Job, I guess there's just something about you that pisses me off.' (beat. Winds howl. Snow blinds.) 'Does that help you?'
'Me, neither.'"

And is it a coincidence that the plot involves the sacrifice of an innocent child to a cold and vengeful omniscient god? The character of Mike Anderson in particular seems to represent the shift in tone from the Old to the New Testament. Which, so far as the story is concerned, seems hopeful - i.e. what's done is done, but new life is possible. I do not proselytize, just story analysis, fella...

At other times, some of the Biblical back-and-forth seems a little forced, or at least not necessary, such as in Mike's interactions with the Priest. During such moments, I always remember a tidbit from some King trivia site I came across, that he won a prize for scripture memorization as a kid. (Or something like that.) Lots to draw from, there, so no wonder it pads out some of these 4-hour or 1000 page epics.

I was intrigued by the comparisons made by Mr. Linoge (have I mentioned this yet? Like Tim Daly points outs in the film, this name is an anagram of "Legion," a nod to the demons cast out by Jesus in the Gospel.) to "Croatoan."

I was greatly amused when this image with that-cad-Jude-Law came up in my Google search results for 'Croatoan' so, I figure, why argue with Google algorithms, here it is.

The actor who plays Lingoe is Colm Feore, who delivers the standout performance. Tim Daly does a great job, as well, but Colm's accomplishments here are considerable and perhaps unsung. (I've certainly never heard anyone mention them to me, at least.) So, chapeau, Monsieur. Feore.

The hilarious title menu, sadly no video preview available. Anyway, don't judge him just from this; he does a remarkable job.

p.s. Casting-wise, besides that, I appreciate that the production has a "real person" feel and sound; if this is ever remade, I imagine it'll be in the True Blood fashion, where even the schoolteachers spend three hours in the gym everyday. (Except the obvious freaks or victims, i.e. those who die in a furious rebuke of previous eras's tropes and memes.) But this means some of the performances are a little amateurish or, in the case of the Town Manager, inconsistent.

King has spoke and written often of his great admiration for Shirley Jackson. I think we can see a bit of that on display in the third act, here.

Overall - I'll give it 7 out of 10.


  1. I really enjoyed the writing and your views. Excellent!!

  2. I love "Storm of the Century." I think it's the only original film work that King has done so far that can stand (quality-wise) alongside his novels. I mean, I like "Golden Years" okay, and "Rose Red," and even "Kingdom Hospital," but this stands head and shoulders above those.

    Like you, I can't quite remember watching the movie when it aired. I know that I must HAVE watched it, but maybe I didn't watch it live. Odd; my memory is typically clearer where things King-related are concerned.

    You're right to mention the cast, which is excellent nearly from top to bottom. This is maybe one of the big advantages "Storm of the Century" has over, say, "Rose Red" (which has some extremely suspect acting in it). It keeps the production grounded and realistic, and therefore more compelling.

    Good stuff. Reading this post made me want to rewatch it again soon!

    1. Is this the best of the King TV mini-series?

    2. I think so. To each their own, of course, but in my opinion it's not only the best, but the best by a considerable margin.

      In my opinion, all of the rest have major deficiencies which keep them from being as good as they could have been. Example: "The Stand," which has some good scenes and overall does a decent job of capturing the scope of the novel, but also has several genuinely awful performances, and feels as if it had an extremely low budget. Example the second: "Kingdom Hospital," which has a good overall story but features WAY too many detours into attempts at surrealist humor, all of which fail miserably.

      So for me, yeah, "Storm of the Century" is easily the best of King's works for television.

    3. This has been on Encore the last three nights, and I've caught some of it here and there. It's really criminally underrated.

      Why do King fans never seem to like this one as much as we do? It's got everything a King fan wants - and very well done, to boot. I'll deduct a point or two for the damn accents, but poor and inconsistent New England accents are a personal bugbear of mine.

      Colm Feore's performance is really memorable. So's Tim Daly's. Fantastic ending. Great atmosphere. Great script.

      Get a life, anti-Stormers.

    4. I don't get it, either. The only negative things I would say about it is that it is a wee bit slow in places, and that it gets a wee bit repetitive (I could have used a few shots fewer of Linoge baring his teeth while nobody was looking at him except the camera). But those are mild complaints, and they are SO far outweighed by the good elements that I think you'd have to be a weirdo to let them impact your overall opinion.

      Yeah, I with ya -- I think it's great.

    5. True - especially those shots you mention. (King has a thing with teeth, doesn't he?)

    6. Oh nice - I didn't realize Colm Feore played the President of the Colonies in BSG... "Epiphanies," season 2.5.

      No wonder the Cylons were so pissed off... give me what I want and I'll go away!! Frakkin' Linoge...

    7. The only thing I can think of in terms of there being a King-connection in his scenes in BSG is that Mary McDonnell is seen reading "It" in "Donnie Darko." Not that anybody was asking, but there ya go anyways.

      I'm WAY overdue for a complete BSG rewatch. That's a hella-fine show.