Summer’s newest batch of horror adaptations
For years, the Hollywood library of literary horrors contained only two books: Dracula and Frankenstein. But the rise of astonishingly prolific horror czar Stephen King changed all that; his wildly popular oeuvre has provided entire shelves full of celluloid shivers. And King’s dominion over both the best-seller list and the box office has turned other horror writers into moviegoer bait as well. This week, as King’s The Mangler hits video stores, so do movies based on works by his literary satellites, Clive Barker’s Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, and Dean Koontz’s Hideaway. But can either of these latecomers assume King’s mantle?
Let’s see. Unlike earlier high-profile King adaptations (Carrie, The Shining), The Mangler is hardly a prestige item, yet it’s often icky, high-spirited fun. Adapted from a King short story by director-coscreenwriter Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist), it’s a down-and-dirty gorefest albeit with imaginative images and an absurdist sense of humor. The title, um, character is a giant ironing machine in an industrial laundry that develops an uncontrollable yen for humans. Only the business’ tyrannical owner (Robert Englund) knows what fuels the contraption’s bloodlust, and he’s not telling. So a harried detective (Ted Levine) and his hippie-dippy brother-in-law (Daniel Matmor) drive themselves — and each other — nuts during an evening-long reckoning with the ghost in the machine. While the film’s basic story is yet another King parable on power’s corrupting influence, Hooper pays less than lip service to the author’s moralism and delivers a mixture of shocks and laughs. When The Mangler works, which is only about half the time, it’s an irreverent goof.
Clive Barker is a more fetishistic writer than King, embroidering most of his tales with a lot of S&M philosophy — all that ”unspeakable pleasures” hoo-ha. But the first Candyman (1992), based on his story The Forbidden, downplayed that aspect of his work in favor of an intelligent and scary urban myth — in this case, a reincarnated African-American man (played by Tony Todd), who, equipped with a hook in place of his right hand, returns to life to avenge the wrongs committed against him. Unfortunately, Candyman 2 is merely a mayhem-filled rehash. Story contributor Barker moves the action to New Orleans and plays up the racial aspects of the story (Candyman’s torture after an affair with a white woman is, um, fleshed out), but here it’s just window dressing; as before, everything leads to just one place — the end of Candyman’s hook. Since Barker’s baroque prose visions are too complex for the gore-hound market, they’re bound to be watered down into this kind of bilge.
Dean Koontz has been described as the direct-to-video Stephen King; no fewer than four movies adapted from his best-selling thrillers (1988’s Watchers, 1990’s The Face of Fear and Whispers, and 1991’s Servants of Twilight) were more or less relegated straight to rental status. By contrast, Hideaway got a fairly big theatrical push, although Columbia need not have bothered — the film made a mere $11.7 million at the box office. The premise: Hatch Harrison (Jeff Goldblum), a good man and loving father, resuscitated after spending two hours in the netherworld, finds he has a psychic link with a serial killer. As a result, Hatch gets to experience the killer’s exploits, and eventually the psycho draws a bead on Hatch’s teenage daughter (Clueless’ nubile Alicia Silverstone). A promising idea, and a role that the quirky Goldblum can really wallow in — but ultimately, Hideaway is overblown, overlong, and, eventually, over the top. Director Brett Leonard seems to think that the best cinematic analogues for Koontz’s chest-thumping supernatural crescendos are lots and lots of computer-generated effects, and the result is…lots and lots of computer-generated effects. It’s just one more example of how, more often than not, Hollywood can’t help but dismember a horror pro’s prose.
The Mangler: B-
Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh: C