[Same intro as last time]

Once upon a time I was a Stephen King apologist. If he
ran over someone’s cat, I’d drive to their house and say “I’m sorry Stephen
King flattened your furry little Obnoxio”. Nowadays, people are running Mr.
King down like it’s going out of style [once] and his last few books have left
me colder than the Overlook in February. I have the audiobook for Cell and every time I try to give it a
chance it leaves me reaching for the latest Lee Child despite reader Campbell
Scott’s best efforts. That’s without
taking his horrendous EW column into consideration. It’s an affront to all that
kept me warm in my youth, be it blankets, the furnace, or Uncle Pat’s dick.

But, I’m at an impasse here you see. I love Nightmares & Dreamscapes, his third
[after Night Shift & Skeleton Crew] collection of bunches of
short stories lumped together. I want the television versions of those stories
to be as good as they were in my head when I read them. Now that TNT is airing
eight adaptations of those stories it’s time to see if they are. As an aside, a
couple of these are from the later collection Everything’s Eventual, but who’s counting? Bottom line: even more
so than the recent Salem’s Lot and Desperation attempts, these suckers are
built for speed and therefore built for episodic television.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on all of
these episodes, so what will follow will be my advance and
somewhat satisfied take on a pretty promising bit of material from an old
master who’s let me down of late. I’m not going to release these by airdate
because my goal isn’t to create some kind of preview for the upcoming night’s
installment but rather keep it free-form and fun. Whether it is fun is up to
you, but by golly I’m in charge of the free-form part…

Installments: Autopsy Room Four & Umney’s Last Case

The idea behind Autopsy Room Four
is a contrivance but the kind of stuff that makes short fiction so much
friggin’ fun; a man is bit by a snake and rendered as close to dead as
possible but not dead. Unzipped from the cold darkness of a body bag he
is the witness to his own autopsy.

It’s creepy and as cool a high concept as Survivor Type,
the King story where a stranded man slowly eats himself one piece at a
time with only the birds and narcotics to keep him company. The episode
stars Richard Thomas and Greta Scacchi and you honestly could not have
crafted a blander cast if you were given all the bland money in the
bland world. Thomas is a King veteran, having filled the margins of the
IT miniseries (CHUD Rerun DVD review here)
with a truly intricate dose of sensational blandness. The kind that
spoils milk and renders druids infertile. I guess there’s nothing wrong
with that but the Dennis Christophers and Loren Deans and Richard
Thomases of the world are good to fill the supporting of a film but if
they’re your lead they’ll put an audience to sleep faster than a
Natalie Merchant record. I like Greta Scacchi. With a vodka creme
sauce. She has aged a little since Shattered and Presumed Innocent.
She has aged poorly. Of course, actresses are not about their looks
alone. They are about their talent and their grace and their presence.
When an actress isn’t known for that, God help us.

They’re seasoned pros, but leads they are not.

is a weird episode partially because it always chooses to err on the
side of comic relief when probing and disturbing suggestion would serve
the material better. The idea of being unable to stop your own horrible
murder is so filled with possibilities but this thing just spends time
on a weird romance between the two morgue attendents and the leading
character’s over the top loon of a friend [acting subtelty in short
supply]. The end result is just plain boring and it makes me feel kind
of silly that I was so pissed when this disc was excluded from the set
when they sent it.

Then it arrived and blanded me to death.

Rob Bowman directed Umney’s Last Case
and that’s why it’s the best looking episode in the series. It’s
gorgeous. It has a really nice, rich noir look and feels like a
substantial production. Having William H. Macy [with a luxuriousl
mustache!] playing two roles doesn’t hurt. We were at the restaurant
The Newsroom in Los Angeles in June and Macy was at a nearby table
chatting up a young blonde and it was cool to see such a great actor
and Mamet weapon in the real world.

It was a lot cooler than how Umney’s Last Case turned out.

Part of the problem with this short story (not one of my favorites) is
that it centers on a writer who inserts himself into one of his own
books. That is hardly new territory for Stephen King, territory that
was much better explored in other short stories and books. The Dark Half for one. Nightmares & Dreamscapes represents possibly the last untapped corner of King’s writing that deserves the semi-royal treatment.

A story of a writer in his own book is less than inspiring, as good as this looks and how solid of a leading man it has. Macy’s good too, basking in the hard-boiled dialogue and looking as dapper as he ever has. The episode is loaded with atmosphere and energy but it’s boring and familiar and the idea of what could have been here in lieu of this story with all this talent makes me long for this series to be a hit so they tackle other, better stories.

Next: Battleground

Until then, please accept my rating for this installment in the series…

For Autopsy Room Four:

For Umney’s Last Case:

Previously: They Got a Hell of a Band, The Road Virus Heads North, The End of the Whole Mess.