Sunday, October 2, 2016

Scary Movie Month 2016: Battleground


I wanted to start with a lesser-known and under-appreciated King adaptation, and while this is an episode of television rather than an actual movie I feel it fits the bill nicely. Adapted for basic cable as part of the Nightmares and Dreamscapes anthology series (even though the story is from the Night Shift collection), this tribute to Richard Matheson's Amelia (itself memorably adapted as the final story in Trilogy of Terror, the one with Karen Black menaced by a Zuni fetish doll, the doll even makes a brief cameo here) is a fun, briskly paced tale of suspense.

William Hurt (always awesome) plays a hitman who, in the opening sequence, takes out the CEO of a toy company. When he returns home he finds that he has been delivered a suspicious package that turns out to be a small foot locker filled with army toys. Being a Stephen King story, the toys come to life (l'chaim!) and set out on a mission of vengeance against Hurt.

The silly, pulpy material is played completely straight, which goes a long way toward making it effective. Matheson's son, Richard Christian Matheson, wrote the adaptation and it's directed by someone who knows a thing or two about bringing life to inanimate objects, Brian Henson, son of Muppet mastermind Jim Henson. The special effects are for the most part terrific (some are a little wonky, but what do you want from a decade-old television production?) and they keep the threat escalating in new and interesting ways.

What really makes this stand out is that the story is told without a single word of spoken dialogue, and that choice is quite effective. Lots of filmmakers (particularly modern filmmakers) wouldn't trust their audience enough to tell a story without spoken exposition, and it's a great choice that serves the story well. Hurt is excellent in the lead, and there's never a moment where he refuses to believe what's happening which is a refreshing take on this sort of thing. Having him accept his situation at face value and try to work his way out of it helps the threat feel legitimately threatening and amps up the tension nicely. The pace is terrific, too, this thing really moves.

Nightmares and Dreamscapes as a whole is a well made, satisfying anthology series and absolutely worth seeking out (it's available on DVD for around $10 on Amazon). I may talk about other episodes later on (can you tell I don't have these things mapped out in the slightest?) or I may not, but either way I strongly recommend tracking it down.

I'll be offline for the next couple of days (happy new year to my fellow Hebrews and Shebrews) but I'll be back Wednesday to see what else the King has in store for us. In the meantime, make sure all your toys are put away. Maybe count them to make sure they're all there. Some of them could be missing.

They could be hiding.


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