Anthology series have always been hit or miss. You have the classics of course, The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. You have the really good ones; Tales From the Crypt, Tales From The Darkside (which so needs to be put out on dvd, but that's another rant), and most recently the Masters of Horror series. You also have to take the bad, Freddy's Nightmares and Friday the 13th: The Series anyone? Then there are some that are borderline, they have their moments from time to time but the sum of the parts don't really add up to anything remarkable; or at the very least long lasting. Nightmares and Dreamscapes falls into this category. While a few of the stories included were entertaining, the others were easily forgettable and as a whole, the entire series is one that is good for a visit but you definitely don't need to stay there a prolonged amount of time.
Battleground- A hitman, (William Hurt), is given the task of murdering an eccentric toymaker. Upon completing the job, he receives an unmarked package of toy soldiers who are bent on taking him down whether he agrees to surrender or not.
Nothing new in this one, it rehashes Puppetmaster, Dolls, and most obviously Trilogy of Terror's Prey; (see if you can spot the in-joke for that – it was the only chuckle I got out of this).
Crouch End- Two honeymooners (Claire Forlani and Eion Bailey) are in London when the husband gets a call from a friend to meet them at his house, in Crouch End. The mere mention of the town makes the locals uneasy and once the couple gets inside, the truth reveals itself.
As with Battleground, this has been done many times before – and better. An obvious reference to H.P. Lovecraft, right down to the names in the town, it's been seen before with Stuart Gordon's Dagon to an extent, and even more blatantly with John Carpenter's In The Mouth of Madness, (where the town in that one was called Hobb's End). The CG effects in this were laughable as well, and any tension the show might have had is ruined once those show up; you'll know what I mean when you see them.
Umney's Last Case – William H. Macy stars as Clyde Umney, a detective in 1938 who solves cases with ease and always has quick wit to recite. Things are going great until Clyde realizes he's actually a character in a detective novel and the author chooses to switch places with him; for reasons that should benefit the both of them but end up not quite going as planned.
Of the three on disc one, this is the most grounded story told. While not all that much better than the other two, it at least has a sympathetic performance by Macy and gives a heart to the characters plights, even if it doesn't end up a completely satisfying show altogether.
The End of The Whole Mess – Ron Livingston is Howard Fornoy, a documentary filmmaker whose brother Robert, (Henry Thomas) is a genius. As an adult, Robert becomes obsessed with finding a way to end violence in the world. He believes he's discovered it in the form of a concentrated liquid found in Texas that if dispersed into the populace will essentially cause everyone to get along. What he doesn't anticipate are the side effects which come about rapidly and with horrible results.
This was, in my opinion, the best story of the entire series. Ron Livingston and Henry Thomas give great performances and there's no strangeness to the story, no supernatural element to turn it into something else. It's a straightforward, fairly believable scenario that definitely makes you think and leaves you drained at the end.
The Road Virus Heads North – Richard Kinnell (Tom Berenger) is a horror novelist traveling in Boston for a book signing. After the conference, he stops at a yard sale and picks up a disturbing painting. As Richard travels home to Maine, strange deaths occur at the places he's previously been. Realizing there's a strange connection with the deaths and the painting, Richard tries to destroy it any way he can, but as Stephen King himself said in another novel, "...what you own always comes home to you."
One of the more graphic of all the stories, this one tended to ride a fine line between being a bit scary and a bit silly. Luckily the silliness was tempered, but the ending left me scratching my head.
The Fifth Quarter – Willie (Jeremy Sisto) is about to be released from prison after seven years. Once out, his friend comes to him telling of a plan to find a stash of three and a half million dollars that was supposed to be split four ways. With his friend shot and dying, Willie goes about searching down the other players and enacting revenge while trying to find the money so that his family can start with a fresh new life.
This episode was excellently paced, and very well acted. Since the main action is played out within 24 hours, the pace left me wanting more. This could've easily been stretched out to a longer running time, with the characters fleshed out and situations a little more prolonged.
Autopsy Room Four – While out playing golf, Howard (Richard Thomas) suddenly collapses, by all accounts from a heart attack. What isn't known to anyone but Howard, is that he is still alive and is coming closer and closer to becoming the recipient of his own autopsy. With no way to move or speak, will Howard be able to somehow convince the doctors that he isn't dead and find the answer to his paralysis before it's too late?
An interesting idea, this to me was something that was better executed as a written story. Since Howard is paralyzed, we hear his thoughts throughout the whole thing in voiceover; a technique easy for a reader, but tends to get bothersome for a viewer. Thomas does a great job of playing paralyzed, especially when he's handled as just another dead body by the doctors. However, by about the 30 minute mark I was definitely ready for some conclusion one way or another, so it was able to hold the attention only so long.
You Know They Got A Hell Of A Band – Steven Weber and Kim Delaney are a couple on vacation in Oregon. On the way to their destination they take a shortcut which leads them into the town of Rock and Roll Heaven. What they soon find out is that as easy as it was to get there, it's harder to leave and why is a majority of the townspeople strangely similar to dead rock and roll stars?
Again, an idea that played out better as a written story. Weber is good in whatever he plays in, especially as Jack Torrance in The Shining miniseries, but this was an idea opposite that of The Fifth Quarter. Where that story lent itself to expansion, this was a one note punchline, and once you understood what the punchline was there really wasn't anywhere else to go with it.
All the discs look great. Colors are sharp when necessary, and sometimes saturated on purpose. One thing I can definitely say about all the shorts is that they each have a distinct visual style to them. This works well to keep the series from feeling generic or that they were all shot in the same locations. The discs are dual layer, and appeared to be at 16:9 widescreen.
Audio was in Dolby Digital, which pretty much worked the front and center speakers. Occasionally something might come through the rear channels but nothing that was true surround sound. That was fine for most of the stories, but one area it would've worked well with was Battleground, so it's a shame that wasn't utilized completely.
Not much here. Each disc has little two to four minute segments where the actors talk about their characters and stories they're involved in. From the Mind of Stephen King just shows the principle actors and crew discussing King's work and character motivations. Nothing new here that anyone familiar with King wouldn't already know. The Inside Look are short featurettes that show behind the scenes footage (briefly) and have the actors discuss the material a bit. There's also a brief featurette on the effects of Battleground. None of these extras are all that insightful really, created more for television broadcast as filler than anything else. At least one commentary track would've been nice, or maybe a brief interview with King himself as to what he thought of the project.
An observation that came up in several of the featurettes as well as previous discussions of King's work in the past, is that centered in all of his stories is a wonderful development of character. King has the ability to write his characters flaws in ways that really anyone can relate to on their own level. To a great extent that's always been a key factor in King's success, and a major pitfall in most of his film adaptations. What can be on the written page to motivate or describe a character can't always be translated literally on film, and in losing the translation you lose a lot of King's dynamic. Nightmares and Dreamscapes tried to fill that void of expanding on some of his short stories to bring about more character pieces. I think it was hampered, however, by constraints of broadcast cable tv, some of the stories not really lending themselves well to filmic adaptation, and what's starting to really come about in my opinion – basically going to the King well once too often. My advice would be to rent this, skip the first disc, and watch the other two. Everyone knows the author's name alone will get people interested in a project; film or otherwise. Yet sometimes it's better to let an author's voice come through on the page and not on the screen. Imagination deserves better than that sometimes.