Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Television Review: QUICKSILVER HIGHWAY (1997, Mick Garris)

Stars: 2 of 5.
Running Time: 90 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Christopher Lloyd (BACK TO THE FUTURE, CLUE), Matt Frewer (MAX HEADROOM, HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS), Raphael Sbarge (RISKY BUSINESS, INDEPENDENCE DAY), Missy Crider (MULHOLLAND DR., POWDER), Silas Weir Mitchell (FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, 24), Bill Nunn (DO THE RIGHT THING, SPIDER-MAN), Veronica Cartwright (ALIEN, THE BIRDS, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS '78), with a cameo by John Landis (THE BLUES BROTHERS, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON).  Music by Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo, THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS).  Based on short stories by Stephen King (CAT'S EYE, THE NIGHT FLIER) and Clive Barker (HELLRAISER, NIGHTBREED).
Tag-line:  "Fright titans Stephen King and Clive Barker send a shiver up your spine!"
Best one-liner:  "If you can't see the black heart of America, you're either blind, or a fool!"

In a familiar, darkened alleyway:

 "So... I just saw QUICKSILVER HIGHWAY..."
–"What's that?"
"It's an omnibus horror flick with stories by Stephen King and Clive Barker, made for television."
–"Awesome!  Is it good?"
"Well, uh... what is it that I always say about Mick Garris?
–"That CRITTERS 2: THE MAIN COURSE is his finest achievement."
"No, besides that."
–"That he's a one-man Matt Frewer employment agency?"
"No, besides that."
–"That HOCUS POCUS is a forgotten masterpiece?"
"Look, just forget it.  Anyway, my point is that this is full of the silly, sloppy storytelling that Garris is well-known for, and feels a helluva lot like a failed pilot episode for an anthology series, which is what it might even have been.  I don't know.  I'm so demoralized, I don't even feel like researching that information."
"On the Mick Garris failure index, it's not as good as CRITTERS 2, SLEEPWALKERS, or his MASTERS OF HORROR episodes, but it is leaps and bounds ahead of THE STAND and THE SHINING."
–"Well, that's not saying much."
"But it is saying something.  Anyway, let's get into the nitty-gritty.  As in most omnibus horror films, there's a frame story.  This frame story involves a manic Christopher Lloyd who is wearing an S&M dog collar, a Sherlock Holmes coat, and a leather peasant shirt.  Also, for some reason, he's looking a lot like Jeremy Irons."

–"Does he bring the crazy?"
"Of course he brings the crazy.  He's doing psychotic facial mugging, improvising some great acting business with a dish of strawberries, and trying his goddamned best with Garris' mealy-mouthed dialogue. In fact, that's the main problem here:  out of a 90 minute runtime, there's probably a half-hour's worth of Garris-scripted frame padding, which has absolutely nothing to do with the work of Stephen King or Clive Barker and is incredibly, needlessly verbose." 

Lloyd is a living legend, but that doesn't discount the fact that 100% of the props and costumes pictured above may have been purchased from the nearest Spencer's Gifts.

–"Lloyd can't save it?"
"Sadly, no.  But he tries.  And it is kinda fun to watch him try.  For a few minutes, anyway."
–"Oh.  So what's the first story?"
"We begin with Stephen King.  'Chattery Teeth,' from the King collection NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES.  'Chattery Teeth' was my favorite Stephen King short story of all time... when I was ten."
–"That's a good age."
"Anyway, 'Chattery Teeth' is the tale of a traveling salesman who stumbles across a ramshackle Route 66 gas station and comes into the possession of a pair of novelty chattering teeth."

–"I had a pair of those when I was a kid!"
"Yeah, me too.  Anyway, the salesman encounters a deranged hitchhiker, and then things get interesting..."
–"Do the teeth come to life?"
"I'm not telling you."
–"Do they start chomping on people?"
"Shhh.  Anyway, we get a nice supporting role from acting legend Veronica Cartwright as a licorice-chewin' proprietress, decked out in trashy Southwestern jewelry.  Along with Christopher Lloyd, Charles Durning in DESPERATION, and Ed Harris in THE STAND, she's probably the best actor to ever appear in a Mick Garris movie."

Veronica Cartwright:  too good for this movie.

–"Well, how is it?  The segment, I mean."
"It's actually not bad, it just doesn't have a lot of 'oomph.'  The story's only 39 pages, and the segment's around 30 minutes, so it's probably got one of the lowest page-to-minute ratios of any King adaptation.  It's very faithful to the short story, but it should have been shorter, and with a lot more flair, especially in regard to the um... 'chomping.'"
–"I knew it!  I knew there was chomping!"
"Yeah, yeah.  Anyway, it should have been a fifteen minute CREEPSHOW piece, is what I'm saying."
–"So what about the next piece– the Barker?"
"Hoo boy."
–"I hate it when you say 'hoo boy.'"
"Aw, shut it.  Now, the Barker segment is adapted from 'The Body Politic,' a taut, bizarre piece of body horror from BOOKS OF BLOOD: VOLUME IV.  It's the story of a man whose hands may or may not have achieved consciousness and are clandestinely plotting a revolution while he sleeps."
"Garris blows it.  Big.  He changes and waters down everything about the story that made it work.  Then he drenches it in bad CGI."
"At least we get a John Landis cameo."
–"Well, that's nice."
John Landis: always up for a horror cameo.

"And Clive Barker even shows up in the same scene, though you're struck with the horrific idea that that his presence here represents some kind of implicit condonation of the proceedings."

Clive Barker:  cool with directors half-assing adaptations of his work.

–"You said something about bad CGI?"
"Yeah.  So, Matt Frewer plays the lead–"
–"As if you even had to say that out loud."
"To be fair, it could have just as easily been Henry Thomas or Stephen Weber."
–"Good point."
"And Frewer's fine–  but, for instance, he's no Bruce Campbell."

–"Ah, but who is."
"Anyway, when his hands decide to, eh, liberate themselves, there's an amazing practical effect–

which leads almost immediately to some of the worst CGI I've ever seen.  A screen-cap cannot do it justice.  It makes that 90s dancing baby GIF look like something out of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES."

"By the time there's an army of the things, you're going to be weeping aloud.  And to think that he should have learned his lesson from his depiction of "The Hand of God" in THE STAND!"

–"So you don't think I should watch this one?"
"Well, I'm sure I'm not going to be able to stop you."
–"Yeah, you're probably right.  I am a glutton for punishment."
"Just have the fast-forward button handy.  In closing, if you're gonna watch an adaptation of a Stephen King short story from the collection NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES that was released in 1997... make it THE NIGHT FLIER."

–Sean Gill


Anonymous said...

Ha, like yourself and most likely everybody else who read Stephen King books in their tween years, I thought that "Chattery Teeth" was awesome, so I was quite delighted to read this and see that it received an adaptation, so it's a shame to hear that it only came to light in a piece of Mick Garris hackery (although the mere fact that I'd never heard of said adaptation probably also says all that needs to be said about it!). Oh well, thanks for breaking the news gently (and who am I kidding, I'll probably watch it anyway, because c'mon, it'll be the best filmed version of "Chattery Teeth" ever, by default!). And there's still hope that someday, somebody will try to film "You Know They Got A Hell Of A Band."

/Does a quick Google search

Oh come on, they actually did? Damn it, Steven Weber!

Will Errickson said...

Garris is a real horror hack, ugh. "The Body Politic" is one of Barker's wittiest, even funniest, horror tales. Not surprised it's all effed up here. Don't think I read King's "Chattery Teeth" though.

Sean Gill said...


Glad to see we're on the same page re: Chattery Teeth– hah! I mean, if morbid curiosity ever moves you to see this thing, you should skip everything but "Chattery Teeth" and definitely don't expect the kind of Grand Guignol finale that you deserve. I'd love to see a proper version of "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band." OF COURSE there's one starring Stephen Weber.


I love "The Body Politic," too. I even re-read it just before watching this movie, which only multiplied my disappointment. Unfortunately, Barker's work has never really lent itself to adaptations, even by Barker himself, though this one is indeed especially terrible.