Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Book to Movie: Crouch End (2006)

Book to Movie: Crouch End
From the made for television miniseries Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King
Teleplay by Kim LeMasters
Directed by Mark Haber
Based on the story Crouch End from the collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes by Stephen King

In the notes section of his book of short stories, Nightmares and Dreamscapes, Stephen King says he wrote this story for an anthology of Lovecraftian stories written by modern authors. In telling his story, King retains his own voice, but does clearly establish a Lovecraft feel and setting. This episode of TNT’s stellar miniseries felt more Serlingesque than Lovecraftian.

The story opens in a British police station with a woman telling a bobby that her husband has disappeared. We then flash back to a very proper and well to do American couple in a posh British hotel, dining at the finest restaurants and enjoying the finest coffee houses, wearing nice clothes and expensive jewelry. They are invited to have dinner with our hero, Lonnie Freeman’s, law partner who handles their British affairs. He lives in a London neighborhood called Crouch End.

The first cabbie they find won’t take them there. They finally do find a cabbie to take them to Crouch End. The cabbie warns them to beware in Crouch End because unusual things happen there. He goes on to explain about thin places in the universe where other creatures leak through. He says druids used to perform rituals in the area they called Slaughter Towen.

They arrive in Crouch End and immediately encounter the two children who appear in the King story. It is broad daylight, but there are no cars or people. The neighborhood looks cheery enough, but it is deserted (which is the major deviation from Lovecraft). It looks like the strange little town that Serling used to show in so many episodes of his show. It’s picture perfect, but something sinister lurks beneath the surface.

From there, the script deviates wildly from King’s conception of how to tell a Lovecraft story. Lonnie is yanked through a hedgerow and disappears into the yard of an abandoned mansion. When he returns, he is a little off. From there, the couple run maniacally through the town which is more dilapidated now, searching for a main road.

The finally come to a tunnel and Lonnie tries to lure Doris in. When she won’t go through the tunnel, he tries to come out, but some tentacled monster grabs him and takes him to another world.

Suddenly, Doris can hear traffic. She runs until she finds an old couple. When she tells the first part of her story, the old man says, “It’s happened again!” and the old woman tells her, “We want no part of you if you’ve been to the Towen.” They point her in the direction of the police station and flee from her presence.

The story ends with her telling her story to the police.

We don’t get King’s revealing ending with the veteran cop filing the report in a special drawer full of missing person cases from Crouch End. reviewers only gave this episode a rating of 6.0. I thought it deserved higher. It had some weaknesses like the three street toughs inexplicably morphing into werewolves in a flash scene and the repeated use of those “flashes” of horror that seemed to have no other purpose than to make one jump and do not serve the plot.

But Eion Bailey’s portrayal of Lonnie after he escapes the mansion yard injects a great deal of uncertainty into the viewer’s mind once you know that we are completely deviating from the King narrative. He seems to be the same Lonnie, albeit badly rattled. Yet, he’s a bit off, becoming irrationally pissed about losing his sport coat while being trapped in a Lovecraftian nightmare. He seems to want to escape, yet there’s something a little off about him.

There's also the transformation of this very stuffy, proper couple at the beginning of the story to the distraught, frantic, and filthy couple at the end. They start the story in beautiful surroundings with beautiful trappings, only to find themselves at the end in a filthy tunnel, surrounded by filth and horrific creatures.

When I say the town was closer to Serling than Lovecraft, that is not a criticism. Lovecraft is an acquired taste. Serling is meat for the masses. I love both and for the TNT audience at 9:00 pm, the Serling look of the town was better suited. The Crouch End of this story was like Lonnie. It had a veneer of normalcy about it, but something was wrong underneath.

The duo who created this episode must have immediately leaped at the chance to work with Stephen King material. The screenwriter, Kim LeMasters, was the executive producer of the television show, Silk Stalkings and his lone genre credit was the abortion of a movie, Wild, Wild West. The director, has a limited Hollywood portfolio with one sci-fi movie to his credit in Alien Cargo.

This series did not have a bad episode. There were many episodes better than this one and Lovecraft fans expecting to see something of their favorite author are going to be disappointed. With its shortcomings, Crouch End still made for decent television and is worth the 44 minutes I invested in watching it.

1 comment:

  1. This could have worked as a two hour movie in my opinion if they had stuck to King's story as Gospel.Cutting back and forth between the pc reading his notes back, interacting with the other pcs, the retelling of the tale by Doris and actually being there with Doris & Lonnie would've filled up the project in my opinion. This story deserves a full movie adaptation. Was not happy with the Nightmares & Dreamscapes TV version.