The news keeps spilling out like an open wound of dreadful information, people are stuck at home in quarantine, and horror fans are talking about Captain Trips, aka the superflu, aka the man-made virus in Stephen King’s novel The Stand. This coronavirus thus far is nowhere near as deadly as the superflu. But we can see some parallels between real life and fiction: a collective state of anxiety and helplessness, the governments’ responses (or lack thereof), quickly filling hospitals, no known treatments, the dread of the cough. The Stand is basically the worst-case scenario of our current state of affairs mixed with supernatural elements, including one of King’s most notable villains: The Dark Man.
This 1994 miniseries, directed by Mick Garris and written by King himself, is a classic. Some fans love it, some hate it; that is bound to happen with any book-to-screen adaptation. I have a love/hate relationship with the show. There are moments where I find it frightening and thrilling, emotional and, at times, comical. Other times it is completely frustrating and cringeworthy.
The Stand miniseries is six hours long and still, understandably, can’t include everything in the 1152 page uncut book. All that said, I’m not going to compare the show to the book because, despite their relationship, they are two different entities. Rather I will review the show on its own, occasionally pointing out some iotas relating to the novel.
Okay. Enough of my ramblings. Let’s get started.
Everything is fine until it isn’t. On a California military base protected by a razor wire fence and officer Charles Campion (Rick McKinnon) in a security booth, a biological virus has breached. Everyone inside the base is dead. Campion, the only survivor, panics and drives as far away as possible, taking his wife Sally (Hope Marie Carlton), their daughter, and the virus with him.
As Campion travels, the virus spreads rapidly. People die left and right. But the government refuses to acknowledge their fault in the matter, downplaying how serious the disease actually is. Citizens riot, desperate for some kind of response. Only when the government starts losing their own members do they recognize the gravity of the situation.
Campion makes it all the way to Arnette, Texas, where he utters his last breath to Stu Redman (Gary Sinse). For weeks, the military holds Stu and others who came in contact with Campion in quarantine. Only Stu survives.
The hospital puts him under many tests until the entire staff acquires the disease and dies. Stu escapes quarantine and runs outside to a new world. As he lays on the grass, trying to take everything in, he has a vision of Abagail Freeman (Ruby Dee), a 108-year-old prophet best known as “Mother Abagail.” Abagail asks him to come see her, to come home. There’s not much time left.
The Rest of the Crew (So Far)
Larry Underwood (Adam Storke), the vain, egotistical rock star who only sees his mother when he needs money. Living in California, he travels to New York and meets Rat Man (Rick Aviles), whose significance has not yet come to light.
Another of our few female protagonists is Frannie Goldsmith (Molly Ringwald). She is compassionate and strong-willed, living with her father and dealing with the pesky admirations of Harold Lauder (Corin Nemec).
Nick Andros (Rob Lowe), a sweet young man who is deaf, non-speaking, and the constant victim of Ray Booth (Patrick Kilpatrick). Nick is the first to meet Abagail.
Lloyd Henreid (Miguel Ferrer) has a career dedicated to committing crimes. While the cops arrest him for murder, he sees a mysterious man perched on a telephone wire. But that man turns out to be a crow.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar plays the Monster Shouter, a minor character who foreshadows the apocalypse and Larry’s fate.
And, finally, out of the shadows in the middle of the night emerges none other than Randall Flagg, The Dark Man (Jamey Sheridan).
“Folks, I’ve just been ordered by my uninvited fascist guests to shut down.”
I adore (adore!) Rae Flowers (Kathy Bates). Her short scene guts me every time. Though the show does not credit Bates, she puts on one hell of a performance as a sardonic radio host who takes no prisoners. We don’t get to see much of her, but she is so well written that it feels like we’ve known her forever.
The Stand starts out with a bang. After Campion drives away, the camera leads us into his booth where we dive into the security footage and land in the military building. Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” plays as we float over the myriad of dead bodies piled on top of one another. One man kneels against a door, fingers inches away from the handle while a woman sits straight in her chair, neck cricked to the side, eyes white and dead. A game show is on the TV in one break room, the jovial contestants unaware of their future demises. Lunch trays are splattered across the floor, blood drips down the victims’ mouths. Lights in another break room sputter on and off. There isn’t a single place absent of death.
This scene is the perfect introduction to the series: the arrangement of the bodies, the number of deaths, the music. We are seeing the multitude of this man-made virus and the undoubtable aftermath to come:
The world is astronomically fucked.
As with the book, the cast in the miniseries is predominately white and male. One could argue they were recreating what King wrote, but that’s not a good excuse considering creative license exists. And this story is about the apocalypse. You’re telling me all the survivors are mainly white people? No. Just no.
I also want to mention Abagail Freemantle. She is one of the most important characters in the story, perhaps one of King’s most notable ever. And Ruby Dee is amazing in this role. But Mother Abagail as a character is stereotypical towards Black women. (This trait is very common for several Black characters in King’s early works, including The Shining and The Green Mile.) As much as I love The Stand, this stereotype is an issue that is impossible to ignore.
Then there are moments when things get very cheesy. Adam Storke’s acting sometimes leaves something to be desired (e.g. Larry’s reaction when The Monster Shouter tells him “he’s coming for you” looks like Storke just woke up from a nap and forgot he was in a television show). There are some small continuity errors you might catch if you watch very carefully, including the occasional camera in the window.
Oh, and there’s this:
I have some issues with the show, but I still fairly enjoy watching The Stand. There’s something a little bit comforting about the fact that we haven’t gotten as bad as King’s world. It is cheesy, yet also disturbing, action-packed, and exciting. You can watch this episode on YouTube; keep in mind a lot of the music is muted because of copyright (the death montage is completely silent because of “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”).
“The Plague” get’s 3 out of 5 Cthulhu.(3 / 5)
Until episode two, check out what else we’re watching here at Haunted MTL.
First image after cover photo from the graphic novel. All other photos from YouTube.