Stephen King’s Desperation

Stephen King’s Desperation is a decent enough TV-movie adaptation made perversely, hysterically memorable by one actor’s performance, which I’ll get to in a moment. It’s based on one of of two Nevada desert set books (the other being The Regulators) he wrote under his pseudonym ‘Richard Bachmann’ that exist in the same demonic dustbowl timeline and they are two of the best things he has written, just not quite as notorious as, you know, books that actually say ‘Stephen King’ on the cover. This is a grainy, leisurely paced but often quite brutal tale of various highway travellers terrorized, imprisoned and killed by a rogue sheriff who may be something more than human. They include an arrogant travel writer (Tom Skerritt), the cavalier roadie in his employ (Steven Weber), a spunky hitchhiker (Kelly Overton), a stranded couple (Henry Thomas and Annabeth Gish), a boozy old timer (Charles Durning) and others. The sheriff is played by Ron Perlman and he is the life of the fucking party here, a completely bonkers, unpredictably psychotic hoot who steals scenes and tramples over scenery like there’s no tomorrow. He’s got some truly perplexing one liners (“I love Lord Of The Rings!”) that make sense once you see that King himself wrote the screenplay for this and kept much of his trademark, pop culture laced bizarro dialogue intact. There’s spooky mythology at work here including haunted mining shafts, demon possession and legions of desert wildlife turning against our band of human survivors in the kind of well staged sequences that would have an army of animal wranglers working overtime. The film is about fifteen minutes too long and lags in places, and has the obvious look, budget and pacing of a very TV affair, but as a grisly little slice of oddball B movie fun, it works and there’s some inspired, Terry Gilliam style camera work that adds to the wonky vibe. It wouldn’t be half as fun without Ron Perlman though, who gives a deliciously deranged turn as one of the weirdest, wildest villains out there and deserves some sort of award, if not his own spinoff film. Good times.

-Nate Hill

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