Nightmares & Dreamscapes: Crouch End (TV)
Starring Eion Bailey, Claire Forlani
Directed by Mark Haber
As a critic, I’m under the strict belief that anyone reviewing the work of Stephen King should state their level (or lack) of fandom. So here it goes…
I have a deep affinity for King. I read IT in grade school and, in turn, discovered my love of horror. I’ve gone through almost every one of his books and know the running mythology inside-and-out. I even made it all the way to the fourth or fifth episode of "Kingdom Hospital" (no small feat, I assure you). King is simply one of the greatest genre writers of our time and I don’t agree with the claims that the author has somehow "lost it". Sure, there have been a few missteps, but those naysayers obviously haven’t cracked open masterworks the likes of Bag of Bones, Desperation, or The Dark Tower series.
That being said, I’m less than fond of King’s television work. Sure, the format is ideal for his lengthy stories, and we’ve had a few worthwhile entries (The Stand and Storm of the Century), but more times than not, they’re lost in translation (who knew a novel as intense as Desperation could turn into such a boring, preachy exercise?). Maybe its network restraints or lack of talent, but it has come to the point where most of us would rather endure hours of QVC than watch another ABC mini-series event.
This brings us to TNT’s Nightmares & Dreamscapes, a television series based on what ol' Stevie does best: short stories. And it’s about damn time. The writer has a wealth of original shorts – enough to supply multiple seasons - and if done right, a King anthology series could very well be the biggest thing since "The Twilight Zone".
First on the platter is "Crouch End", a classic King nightmare that dives right into the universe of H.P. Lovecraft. The good news is that this entry serves up some good first impressions: The rich visuals, eerie music score, and first-rate production design lend the series a mature, classy feel as opposed to Masters of Horror’s frantic guerilla style. The bad news is that this particular episode falls well short of its potential.
As the story opens, we’re introduced to superstitous Doris (Forliani) and her husband, Lonnie (Bailey) as they arrive in London on vacation. Nearly ten minutes into the episode, the lovers are still staring dreamily into each other’s eyes and are on the verge of dry-humping before the main plot finally kicks into gear: Lonnie decides they should visit a friend out in the town of (yup) Crouch End – the very mention of which spooks the town populace. Against all warnings, they seek out the creepiest cab they can find and head out on their merry way.
The cockney driver gives them the "Johnny Explainer" routine, recounting Crouch End’s sordid past before he drops them in the desolate town square. Realizing they’ve made the biggest mistake of their lives, the couple desperately search for a way out, all the while encountering spooky children, strange creatures, and shifting dimensions. It’s all set-up and for what it’s worth, it’s pretty effective.
But a horror short is only as good as its pay-off, and this is where "Crouch End" completely bottoms out. King has always been sketchy when it comes to endings, but this is one case where the blame falls soley on the execution. After a series of interesting set-pieces, we’re hit with an unbelievably hokey final act - a combination of music video editing, third-grade surrealism, and bargain-basement CGI that completely destroys any trace of atmosphere or tension. In essence, these are the same problems that plagued TNT’s botched adaptation of Salem’s Lot: The script is there, the cast is there, but they’re in the hands of someone (in this case, random television director Mark Haber) with little understanding for horror.
Rest assured King fans, all is not lost. This venture isn’t a complete failure; "Crouch End" simply feels like a weak episode in a good anthology series. As someone who has also seen the first half of "Battleground" (an amazing entry directed by Brian Henson from a Richard Christian Matheson screenplay), I can easily say that Nightmares & Dreamscapes certainly has the potential to become a major success. Should there be another season, let’s hope the network brings aboard more genre-saavy filmmakers.
Hey, TNT…why not hire David Cronenberg to adapt "The Jaunt"? Pretty please?
2 1/2 out of 5
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