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Stephen King's Desperation
cast: Ron Perlman, Tom Skerritt, Steven Weber, Annabeth Gish, and Charles Durning

director: Mick Garris

125 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.77:1
Warner DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary
SPOILER ALERT!
It starts well, and interestingly enough, with a promising cast, but this TV movie eventually descends into a ludicrous mess, a tawdry horror that's barely salvaged from absolute hopelessness by infrequent bits of crazy exorcist humour.

A bunch of people driving through Nevada are waylaid and locked up by the state highway patrolman from hell, Collie Entragian (Ron Perlman, Alien Resurrection, Blade II, Hellboy, Last Winter). Seemingly quite deranged in attitude, sociopathic in behaviour, almost Neanderthal in manner, it appears that desert cop Collie has embarked on a killing spree and everyone in the old mining town of Desperation is dead because of him. Coughing asthmatically, spluttering blood, repeatedly ending sentences with the word 'Tak' yet denying that he does it, he's a rogue possessed by something evil or, at least, a fiery caricature of an imbecilic redneck lawman.

Among the town jail's inmates, we find egotistical writer John Edward Marinville (Tom Skerritt), local historian Tom (Charles Durning), the newly widowed Mary (obvious candidate for the heroine, Annabeth Gish is wasted here), and the Carver family: ineffectual dad Ralph (Matt Frewer, in bewildered mode), doomed mother Ellen (Sylva Kelegian, resigned to her fate worse than death), their precocious son David (Shane Haboucha), and murdered daughter Pie (pigtailed Sammi Hanratty, appearing in cute little ghost form). On the outside looking in, Johnny Marinville's associate and roadie, Steve (Steven Weber, from Stephen King's 1997 TV version of The Shining), is accompanied by a pretty hitchhiker, Cynthia (Kelly Overton, whose role demands little more than constant shrieking at shadows and noises), but their overly cautious approach to Desperation allows all the prisoners ample time to free themselves when young David gets brave with soap (for squeezing between the cell bars!) and scrounges up a dead officer's gun to slay one of the bad cop's multitude of guard dogs.

Now, we're told, the cracking blistery flesh and yellow eyes of the dying Collie are weird symptoms of a fatal infection that's clearly of supernatural origin, caused somehow by earth demon 'Tak the magnificent', an ancient entity inadvertently unleashed from one of the town's re-opened mine workings. But first, director Mick Garris (maker of TV's The Stand, Sleepwakers, Quicksilver Highway, Riding The Bullet), finds sufficient time to show us a cycling accident (surely the most pointless flashback scene of the year?), and when veteran Durning finally tires of delivering the muddled nonsense that passes for exposition, and is promptly though savagely killed by a hunting lion, it's then left up to devout little prayer-boy David to involuntarily continue revealing easily guessable elements of the backstory, as when he discovers a scratchy print of surviving historical footage (showing how Chinese miners first exposed the demon Tak's subterranean hideaway), so conveniently spooled up all ready for viewing on an editing bench in a backroom projection booth of Desperation's newly renovated theatre. (Wow, those Warner studio prop guys are fantastically helpful!)

Primal fears of spiders, snakes, and small/enclosed places are all indiscriminately preyed upon, as if chosen at random off the checklist of routine phobias from this famous author's big book of horror clichés. Apart from the heroic Marinville's witty retort ("Donald Rumsfeld commands you to stop. Adam Sandler commands you to stop. Ann Coulter demands you stop.") to the suddenly chatty demon Tak's warning directive during this flaccid flick's inevitable nuke-the-nasty climax, Stephen King's Desperation consists of so many cringe-worthy bits of dialogue that you are likely to wonder if the TV scriptwriter (well, in this particular instance, King himself, and Desperation is based on his own novel) has recently succumbed to early senility. Garris' film is twice as long as it needs to be, and not half as much fun.

And so, two hours worth of poisonously conventional bilge dribbles onwards, with scant regard (or even a professional filmmaker's due consideration) for suspenseful atmosphere, or storytelling veracity, and Desperation feels like 24 hours of rubbing your eyeballs on a patch of the sun-baked rough roadway featuring so prominently in the film's early scenes. So nearly blinded was your reviewer, just by watching this rubbish, that I now dread having to review the series Nightmares & Dreamscapes (adapted from a collection of King's short stories), for a future edition of this webzine.
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