For a while I was a huge Stephen King fan and read everything that came out as soon as it was available. The everyman voice he brought to his writing really appealed to me and the scary stuff was super effective for me. Like every other King fan I was disappointed every time one of his works was turned into a movie. It was like a demon curse or something, they were all that bad. Back in the 90s he released two books at the same time The Regulators and Desperation. They were essentially the same book with different settings and different author names, Stephen King and his pseudonym Richard Bachman. They were both tired, cobbled together versions of earlier works, and they were the last King books I read until someone handed me a copy of Doctor Sleep and I was bored so I read that.
The tv movie made from Desperation is also a cobbled together story that looks and sounds a lot like other King movies. Unfortunately, they didn’t pick the best parts of those films. After a promising start with a nice couple driving down a lonely Utah highway getting picked up by an obviously unhinged cop, the movie slows and slows and slows as more characters are added and the otherworldly threat level increases steadily. The show got bad ratings and King complained it was because it was put up against the blockbuster American Idol. Actually, it was because the movie stinks.
You know you’re in television limbo when the actors can’t even pretend they want to be there. Steven Weber, whose star was beginning to wane then, looks embarrassed to be in front of the camera most of the time. Charles Dunning, who has many great movies in his filmography, basically sat around looking confused. Matt Frewer had played an immensely insane person with great verve in The Stand but here just cries and blusters a lot. Annabeth Gish looked familiar to me, and I recalled seeing her in The L Word, but her imdb entry has scrubbed that role, which is somehow fascinating. I wondered if she got religion and decided to make everyone forget she had once played a lesbian?
That would be ironic, considering the very strong religious element of Desperation. Even more than The Stand, this film is In Your Face, Hit You Over The Head, Run You Over With A Mack Truck, relentlessly pro-God. That message is unfortunately (if you’re looking for entertainment) relayed by one of the worst child actors ever. King movies seem to specialize in finding terrible child actors. LIke the redrum boy in The Shining, Shane Haboucha is wooden while saying his often ridiculous lines, portraying the creepy voice of God who is there to lecture and browbeat all the adults into being heroic. Creepy as in he creeps around like the Thorazine Kid, which I guess is supposed to ramp up the tension but had me hitting the ten second forward button on my tablet.
Desperation looks and sounds a LOT like the tv mini-series The Stand, I expect because it’s directed by the same person, and both by a screenplay from Stephen King. I don’t think King spent a lot of time on the script since he recycles so much from other movies, like an abandoned doll on the road (The Stand), morphing underground evil (It), crazy killing dog (Cujo), redrum painted in blood on the wall (The Shining), valiant 12 year old boy (every King work ever), incongruous sex, dead people laying around, CATS and DOGS sleeping together! (Wait, that was Ghostbusters.) At one point there’s a lengthy focus on a bag of sardines being passed from person to person. I had to hit the forward ten seconds ten times! I understand it was a bread and fish metaphor but did we really have to look inside the bag every time someone took a can?
I very nearly enjoyed the movie anyway. Almost. If you’re a Stephen King fan there’s a chance you would like the movie. It’s set in an interesting part of the country, so there’s that. The Molly Ringwald stand-in was cute, and Tom Skerritt did a great impression of Tom Skerritt. As for me, I’m still waiting for a good Stephen King film decades after I first picked up one of his books. Maybe Doctor Sleep will be okay. Guess I’d better check.
Desperation [Stephen King’s] – Trailer (NOTE: You have to log in to watch it to prove your age.)
Desperation [Stephen King’s] – Buy or Rent – YouTube (Go for it if you want.)
CFR: In Addition: This review both made me laugh and feel repulsion towards this movie. Well done, Mildred!!!!!