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The Independent Culture
"Once you see the pattern you wonder how you could ever miss it," says Gramps in Stephen King's The Tommyknockers (C4), finally latching on to the fact that there's something nasty in the woods. About time too, frankly, given that Haven, Maine appears to be the Eastern Seaboard Capital of Spooky Intimation - Indian curses, whining dogs, strange metal objects, thunderstorms, and, hey, what's that weird green glow I can see through the trees there? Glow-worms kinda active for this time of year ain't they? As if all that isn't enough, the local sheriff has a collection of malevolent- looking dolls, introduced to us by the soundtrack with a quick shudder running down a xylophone's back. Better watch out for those beady-eyed little suckers.

Gramps is right, of course - down under the pines lies a huge alien spaceship, a cubist spaceship what's more, and one apparently made out of reinforced concrete. All who come into contact with this strange object find themselves oddly elated by the experience, an emotion the television audience will just have to take on trust (your belief is suspended so high already it shouldn't be difficult to winch it a couple of notches higher). Anyway, those on screen feel very chipper and start knocking up useful inventions out of bits of wire and old batteries and reading each other's minds; it's never explained why, with all this febrile inventiveness going around, nobody comes up with a better way of digging up the alien spaceship than shovels and spades, but let that pass.

Jimmy Smits is the odd man out. He plays James, a semi-reformed alcoholic poet (when you hear the poetry you understand why he drinks - he drinks to forget). James has a steel plate in his forehead, a kind of shutter blind against mind control. So, while he just gets unexplained migraines, his girlfriend and pretty much everybody else get hollow-eyed and furtive, and what's untoward in Haven gets even untowarder. Billy the mailman has already been having an affair with his co-worker, a woman who pouts and smoulders as if she's just stepped out of Playboy's Postmistresses of America edition, but after an encounter with the green neon he gets even meaner to his wife Becka. Becka, on the advice of her favourite talk-show host, who has started to address her directly, rewires the set to zap several thousand chartreuse volts through the two-timing swine. Hillman, Gramps's grandson, makes his brother disappear during a backyard magic act and the nice policeman gets totalled by a verdantly malfunctioning soda machine, which finally explains one of the few genuinely intriguing mysteries of the film - why Coca-Cola had passed up the opportunity for some product placement. Eventually the green glow gets mad with James, who ends up with a forehead bulging like a mailman's pants.

Naturally he wins out in the end, telepathically wresting control of the alien craft from its rightful owners (who, despite their fantastic powers, prove strangely vulnerable to a couple of good whacks with a space axe) and blowing it to smithereens high above Maine. In a rather satisfying demonstration of gravitational morality, the characters who were nasty even before they were possessed get brained by bits of debris while those who were nice just end up shaking their heads muzzily, wondering what on earth had come over them. Which was pretty much how I felt myself.

Watching The Day That Changed My Life (BBC2) you were reminded of how pervasive horror story techniques are. This encouraging account of how Mary Williams was inspired by the death of her mother to found a campaign for safer lorries began with a reconstruction of the fateful moment itself. "It was a beautiful day," Mary recalled. Then you cut to the telephone, in a baleful close-up over a low, ominous sostenuto. The monster was about to make its entrance.

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