Stephen King novels haven’t always fared well in TV adaptations, but he’s had better luck with works he’s written directly for the small screen. Case in point: Storm of the Century, a three-part miniseries which premiered on ABC in 1999. It’s set in a quintessential Stephen King location—a small island off the coast of Maine—and is the very embodiment of one of the most basic tropes in fiction: A stranger comes to town. Even better, the story takes place over just three nights in a little corner of the world cut off from everything else due to weather and geography (Agatha Christie would be proud!), and the stranger in question has supernatural powers and a very specific and horrifying demand. So Storm of the Century has the perfect setup for a gripping story, and it does not disappoint.
The town in question is Little Tall Island, which, as Constable Mike Anderson (Tim Daly) informs us, is both part of Maine and also its own separate place:
Folks in Little Tall Island send their taxes to Augusta, same as other folks, and we’ve got either a lobster or a loon on our license plates, same as other folks. We root for the University of Maine’s teams, especially the women’s basketball team, same as other folks….But we ain’t the same. Out on the islands is different….And we can keep a secret when we have to.
The secret he’s referring to is the crux of the story in Storm of the Century. As the story begins, Little Tall Island is preparing for a major storm—predicted to be the “Storm of the Century,” as the title suggests, although some on the island consider that designation to be scaremongering by mainlanders on television. To islanders, storms in winter are part of living in Maine, and they’ve survived many before this one.
There’s a difference with this storm however—it coincides with the arrival of a strange gentleman who later identifies himself at “Andre Linoge” (Colm Feore), who carries a cane topped by a silver wolf’s head and leaves a trail of corpses in his wake. He knows a lot of about the secrets of various townspeople, has a fondness for nursery rhymes, and has a fairly simple demand of the townspeople: “Give me what I want, and I’ll go away.” And what does he want? I’m not going to spoil it, but it’s plenty horrifying, and creates a moral dilemma with no good solution.
Storm of the Century features a classy production with cinematography by David Connell, editing by Sonny Baskin, and production design by Craig Stearns. It was shot on an island in Maine, lending an air of authenticity to the proceedings, and the cast includes a fine selection of character actors, including Becky Ann Baker, Kathleen Chalfant, Debrah Farentino, Jeffrey DeMunn, and Dyllan Christopher. Most importantly, it features a standout performance by Feore as Linoge (his name is an acronym, and you’ll probably figure it out long before it’s explicitly stated in dialogue).
About Feore: he’s a Boston native who grew up in Canada, where he studied at the National Theatre School in Montreal and acted for 17 years at the Stratford Festival. He also had quite a bit of TV and theatre experience at the time Storm of the Century was made, but mostly in Canada, so he wasn’t that well known in the United States yet. In retrospect, however, it’s clear that he’s not only the biggest name in the cast, but also the best actor, who consistently communicates his power by underplaying. In fairness, he also has a huge advantage over most of the other actors: since his character is obviously an outsider to the island, he doesn’t have to lay on a broad Maine accent as they do (with varying degrees of success).
My main criticism of Storm of the Century is that it takes too long to tell its story, with obvious padding in spots, presumably to fill out the contracted running time. But it’s still an enjoyable viewing experience, one that doesn’t break any new ground but skillfully brings to life the kinds of tropes that Stephen King fans expect from his work. | Sarah Boslaugh
Storm of the Century is distributed as a two-disc DVD release by Kino Lorber. Extras on the discs include audio commentaries by King (who has some interesting thoughts to share on writing for television) and Craig R. Baxley, who directed the mini-series, and trailers for the show.