Stephen King Faces Desert 'Desperation'
On Tuesday, May 23, ABC premieres the three-hour movie "Desperation," director Mick Garris' long-anticipated adaptation of King's 1996 novel about an ancient spirit overtaking the residents of a small, dusty Nevada town. Garris' film shot in southern Arizona, making use of storefronts and an abandoned mine in Bisbee and interior sets built in Tucson.
The cast includes Ron Perlman, as terrifying local sheriff Collie Entragian, and Tom Skerritt, Steven Weber, Annabeth Gish, Henry Thomas, Matt Frewer and Charles Durning as unfortunates who stumble across his path. Shane Haboucha also stars as David, a boy whose faith in God and the power of prayer offers hope for survival.
"I was surprised," Gish says, "in seeing how prominent the faith aspect is of the little boy, especially when you think that the master of horror, it wouldn't be such a theme for him."
But King, who also penned the screenplay, had something specific in mind for "Desperation."
"When I got ready to write the book," he says, "I wanted to do this story about a small town somewhere out in the desert. I started to think in biblical terms, because you're always hearing about people in the desert and people dwelling and being tested in the desert.
"So I wanted to put this evil force out in the desert, and I wanted to set good against it. I said, 'Wait a minute, whenever you see a horror movie that is good against evil, good and the symbols of good -- the cross, the holy water -- they're almost used like Kryptonite.'
"Vampire movies are what I was thinking of. You almost never go to the real Christian spine that is the basis of those symbols. I thought, 'Why don't we give Christianity its real ups in this thing and just take it flat out and use it?'
"So I used the character of David as a guy who has a soul conversion to Christianity, flat out. I'm not trying to sell Christianity the way the 'Left Behind' guys do, or Mel Gibson, for instance, in 'The Passion of the Christ'; that's not my bag at all. What I wanted to do is write something where Christianity got its ups against evil."
King also didn't want to make evil look too cool. "It just seems to me that, in a lot of horror movies, evil is very, very attractive. Evil gets all the glamour shots, and very often good doesn't get that balanced out. ... I wanted to redress that balance a little bit.
"But I'm not trying to sell Christianity. I just think that it's a really great doctrine, and it underlies a lot of the archetypes of the genre, and I wanted to bring that back home."
"That's what makes King so special," Gish says. "It really isn't about the destination; it's about the journey. That's the ride you take in watching this movie as well. There are so many gems and moments of horror or inspiration or community or despair. It's just really fun to watch."
Garris is well-known to King fans for directing the feature-film version of "Sleepwalkers" in 1992 and ABC's miniseries versions of "The Stand" (1994) and "The Shining" (1997). Talk about him directing "Desperation" had been going on for several years before coming to fruition.
"It's been around for a long time," King says, "and like a lot of things, it actually turned out pretty well. It's got a long and checkered history, where we talked about it as a film project, then we talked about it as a miniseries, and finally it surfaced as a three-hour movie.
"It was a difficult shoot for Mick. Mick is known for sweet shoots, and this one was plagued by problems. There was a lot of livestock; some of them got out. There was a fire on the set. They had problems."
Gish, who worked with tarantulas, birds and a cougar, echoes the sentiment but also sees a value in the hardship.
"Mick always keeps it in perspective," she says. "It's always about having a good time and enjoying ourselves, which is helpful when you're at the bottom of a coal mine in Bisbee, Ariz., at three in the morning.
"We had some brutal locations, but that was one of the best things, too. I'm glad we got to shoot in Bisbee because, talk about infusing all of us as actors with some real feeling."
"Desperation" marks the last project King has scheduled at ABC, which has long been the home for many of his movies and miniseries, along with his original series "Kingdom Hospital." King is also a very public fan of the network's hit castaway drama "Lost" and of FOX's thriller "24."
While he's not sure he'd like to write a "Lost" episode, he says, "A cameo appearance would be cool."
King even has a suggestion for a possible "Lost" ending, saying, "You see these people at the end of their story, in kind of a despairing moment, saying, 'We're never going to get to the bottom of this. What is this all about?'
"And you draw back, and there's an edge to the whole scene. You draw back some more, there's my word processor, and there I am, typing away. Wouldn't that be cool?"
As for his future with ABC, King says, "If I came up with something, I'd go to ABC first because I'm a loyal guy, and they've been there for me.
"They've done a lot of my stuff, and we've had a long relationship, and most of it has been successful. I'm very happy for them. I love some of the shows they do.
"I'm like any other TV fan; I go where the action is. And if I don't like what they've got, I'll go to FOX."