Baby, Can You Dig This Movie? Nope? Yeah, Me Neither.
Main Cast: Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald
Director: Mick Garris
In 1978, Stephen King killed the entire world–or most of it anyway–with a super flu known as Captain Trips, and for the next decade a movie version languished in development hell as people tried to figure out how to turn this massive novel into a workable script. Finally, in the early 1990s, ABC-TV offered King the chance to do the adaptation as a mini-series, and thus was born this version of The Stand.
I was 21 when The Stand first aired on TV and I remember enjoying it for the most part, with a few exceptions we’ll get to. What I liked most was how close to the novel’s plot the movie stayed. The accidental release of a biological weapon causes most of the world’s population to die of the flu, leaving the scattered remnants of humanity to come together and figure out what to do next. Many of our main characters converge first on Nebraska and a 106-year-old woman, Mother Abigail. They then move on to Boulder, Colorado and establish the Boulder Free Zone where hundreds of survivors begin the process of rebuilding society.
But a few of our lesser characters aren’t feeling the Mother Abigail love and they head for Las Vegas instead, where the story’s antagonist, Randall Flagg, is setting up shop. His goal: to kill the Boulder group and rule what’s left of the world. And there’s a pretty good chance he can pull it off, because Flagg isn’t just some random survivor with a grudge. Randall Flagg is evil incarnate. He has strange powers that allow him to transform himself into several different forms, including a crow and a demon. He can teleport. He can read minds. He can kill with a touch. But his hubris is eventually his downfall when part of the core of our main characters from Boulder are charged by God to travel to Las Vegas.
Like I said, the mini-series adaptation of The Stand stays pretty close to the novel. There are a few changes notable to anyone who’s read the book, a deleted character here, a re-writing of an action scene there, but for the most part, anyone watching the movie will pretty much have the gist of the novel.
Unfortunately, this means the terrible parts of the book as well. The climactic scene in the novel has always been a sore spot, and its translation in the mini-series was no better. In fact, with 1994 special effects, they’d have been better off just rewriting that whole scene; while it was bad in 1994, in 2017 it’s just terrible.
And the morphing scenes with Flagg and his demonic self … good Lord. Ridiculously bad. And if the morphing wasn’t bad enough, the demonic interpretation is laughable. In fact … look, I’m sure Jamey Sheridan (“Chicago Hope”, “Arrow”) is a fine man, and I’ve liked him in other things I’ve seen him in, but he’s just not Randall Flagg. In the novel, Flagg is the evilest most vile dude you ever want to meet. He’s walking death. He’s hell on earth. In the movie … Sheridan’s horrible long hair–I hope to God that was a wig–and ill-fitting jean jacket … even in the demon makeup, he doesn’t look all that intimidating. And that takes away a good deal of the menace we’re supposed to feel from this character.
Not that many of the other characters were any better.
The cast is made up of notable actors with a few unfamiliar faces thrown in. I liked Gary Sinise as Stu Redman. He’s one of the few who not only seems to have some experience and skill, but gives his performance just the right amount of heart. If only the rest of the cast had followed his example.
I’ve been a fan of Molly Ringwald, playing Frannie Goldsmith, since my childhood of constant viewings of The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, but wow she’s not great in this movie. I mean bad enough to make me reconsider my admiration of her from before. Was she always this bad? Surely not. It had to be the material (which we’ll get to). I mean, come on, this is Molly Ringwald! Still, wow, not a good performance.
Rob Lowe, another face from my childhood, has little to nothing to do here playing the deaf mute Nick Andros. And he gives it his … meh. The Stand had to be the easiest paycheck Lowe ever made.
Bill Fagerbakke plays the dimwitted Tom Cullen, but can we just say out in the open this isn’t so much casting as it is typecasting? I mean how predictable can you get? My biggest problems with choices in this movie were with Adam Storke (playing Larry Underwood), Corin Nemec (Harold Lauder), Matt Frewer (Trashcan Man), and Laura San Giacomo (Nadine Cross).
Storke was the only unfamiliar face to me at the time I first saw this movie, and I can’t say I’ve seen him since. He’s been in other stuff through the years, but if I’ve seen any of it, I didn’t notice him. I had a hard time buying him as the rocker Larry Underwood. Granted, I had a hard time buying the character in the novel as a rocker, so maybe that had something to do with it. But Storke’s performance here has no edge to it, no sense of danger. His Larry Underwood is the most boring and non-threatening rock star in history.
Nemec’s Harold Lauder was totally lost on me. Maybe it was the fake acne the make-up department gave him. Maybe it was the goofy hair or the over-bedazzled motorcycle jacket. There just wasn’t anything about this character that didn’t scream TV MOVIE. And Nemec played it as such.
Matt Frewer as Trashcan Man. God, I knew I was in for a rough ride the second I saw his name in the credits. Frewer killed it as Max Headroom in the 1980s, but ever since then, I can’t take him seriously, ever, in anything. It’s not a lack of passion, his passion shines through loud and clear. But maybe THAT is the problem. He’s just trying too hard. He does that with every role. And it’s distracting. And with a character like Trashcan Man who, let’s face it, isn’t the most believable character to begin with, we need something there, something we can hold onto and believe in. But it’s just missing completely from this performance.
And Laura San Giacomo. I liked her for years on “Just Shoot Me”. I liked her character, her performance. But for me, in this movie, she totally misses the mark. Maybe it’s the bad wig. Maybe it’s the emotional void the Nadine character was stuck in. Or maybe my problem here isn’t the actress. Or rather maybe my problem isn’t with her lack of talent or drive or commitment. Maybe my real problem here is something far worse:
King adapted the movie himself and it’s clear he was going pretty much straight from the book with the dialogue. And that’s not exactly a great thing here. Yes, King writes some terrific horror novels, but he doesn’t always right the best dialogue. In fact, sometimes it’s just plain cringe-worthy. All those Kingisms, those silly phrases, those horrible jokes, the odd, stilted way of talking, it’s all here. But even that might not be the worst sin of this movie. Maybe, just maybe:
Mick Garris served as director on The Stand, and by director I mean he called action and, I presume, cut, but otherwise didn’t lift a single finger in an attempt to make this story, which many still hail as King’s most terrifying (I’m not one of them, but I do love the book), scary.
Could you get any more white bread mediocre tween idea of horror?
Garris has directed a number of King movies in addition to The Stand. There was Sleepwalkers, the TV adaptation of “The Shining”, Riding the Bullet, “Desperation” and “Bag of Bones”. And if you know anything about the King filmography you know these titles are among his most watered down and NOT scary movies. Because Mick Garris doesn’t know how to make a scary movie. Oh, he knows how to do horror, but his horror is weak sauce and doesn’t contain a single threat of being scary. I’d show his horror movies to my 3-year-old grandson without a care in the world. Because Mick Garris is a TV director through and through, and worse, he’s an ABC-TV director who’s big idea of horror is a label in the description that SAYS something is horror, but isn’t exactly prepared to prove it.
Terrible stuff. I can’t believe King, the MASTER OF MODERN HORROR, keeps giving his stories to this guy to direct. Mich Garris’s work doesn’t contain an ounce of cinematic expertise. His shots are boring, his character development lazy, and good God that made for TV score is going to drive me insane. He wrote Hocus Pocus, for God’s sake! Is ANYONE going to confuse Hocus Pocus with horror? That right there should have been a clue: do NOT hire this man to direct your horror movie, even if it IS a TV adaptation. Especially if it’s a TV adaptation, because TV adaptation is all he does and that complacency is just going to drag the rest of the movie down and make damn sure it never even attempts to elevate itself to classic status. There’s a reason most of the people who saw this when it first aired never bothered to go back and watch it again, and it’s not the length, I promise you.
Word on the street is there’s an attempt to remake The Stand as a series of theatrical releases, and I for one hope it happens and I hope whoever is in charge of it knows how to make an actual horror movie. The Stand is a classic novel of horror and dark fantasy and it deserves much better treatment than its gotten onscreen so far. No offense to Sinise or Lowe or Fagerbakke or Ringwald, or even Sheridan, but this movie sucks. As for Mick Garris … he hasn’t directed a King TV adaptation since 2011’s “Bag of Bones” and I’m just going to hope that was the last we see of him.
Skip this and wait for the REAL version.
C. Dennis Moore is the author of over 60 published short stories and novellas in the speculative fiction genre. Most recent appearances were in the Dark Highlands 2, What Fears Become, Dead Bait 3 and Dark Highways anthologies. His novels are Revelations, and the Angel Hill stories, The Man in the Window, The Third Floor, The Ghosts of Mertland and The Flip. He is writing another Angel Hill novel called Return to Angel Hill with co-author David Bain.