A morality play disguised as horror, this three-part miniseries should win over a few remaining Stephen King holdouts while reinforcing the devotion of legions of fans.

A morality play disguised as horror, this three-part miniseries should win over a few remaining Stephen King holdouts while reinforcing the devotion of legions of fans. Taken as allegory, “Storm of the Century” is one of the more philosophical and humanistic of his tales; while the all-too-familiar elements (the snowy isolation of “The Shinning,” the prophetic and mysterious newcomer of “Needful Things,” the community spirit of “The Stand”) may be tiring, King has peppered his script with new influences such as Sheila Jackson’s “The Lottery” and even “12 Angry Men” to pose some interesting philosophical questions: What serves the greater good and at what cost would you sacrifice decency? And how does the devil talk you into selling your soul?

Telepic begins, like so many King tales, in a small town in Maine. It’s been nine years since “the big blow,” according to a voiceover that also introduces the tour guide through the story, Mike Anderson (Tim Daly), the town constable of Little Tall Island and the local grocer — an amiable, modest guy who knows his Scriptures and deeply loves his wife and young son.

We’re deposited into the time immediately before the storm, where Anderson’s biggest challenges are fending off the self-important town manager Robbie Beals (Jeffery DeMunn) and helping his wife Molly (Deborah Farentino) through minicrises in her home day-care center.

A stranger, Andre Linoge (Colm Feore), shows up on the doorstep of Martha Clarendon (Rita Tuckett) as the squall gathers force. He beats the old woman to death with a silver wolf’s head cane, takes a seat, finishes Martha’s tea and waits to be apprehended.

Leery of the situation, and fighting Robbie over the protocol for such rare occurrence in this community, Mike struggles to keep things under control. But word spreads quickly of the murder and the storm already has everyone in panic mode. Linoge’s compliancy is deceptive, his motives a mystery, but his message very simple. “If you give me what I want,” he tells Mike, “I’ll go away.”

As he’s being taken to his jail cell, Linoge encounters a group of locals and begins taunting them with all of their darkest secrets. Little Tall, it seems, is full of drug smugglers, pedophiles, gay bashers and numerous philanderers.

The harmony of this community is quickly shattered, and suddenly, despite Linoge’s incarceration, locals are dying as fast as the flakes are falling. The remaining residents have taken shelter in the basement of the Town Hall, and a communal nightmare reveals the town’s fate should they not comply with Linoge’s wish. Come part three, Linoge’s request is not a simple one.

All of the thesps’ performances are top notch, despite the inevitable pitfalls of trying to mimic a Maine accent. Most don’t even try, and that’s just as well. For Daly, working on “Wings” must have been the ultimate test of restraint, since the actor clearly shows range far beyond that which was allowed for on the series. Mike, played earnest without being whinny, is the town’s voice of reason, and when it comes down to the wire, he’s the only one who can comprehend the cost of giving Linoge what he wants.

Feore, as Linoge, pulls off the part of pure evil without much scenery chewing. Editor Sonny Baskin could have trimmed a few of Linoge’s signature snarls and public grandstanding scenes to make for a tighter pic, but there’s an inevitable need for some repetition in a miniseries to keep new viewers up to speed. Farentino’s Molly evolves with each episode, and her transformation into the fractured soul at the mini’s end is very believable.

Translating King’s signature showdowns — usually a battle of good vs. evil, common man vs. some hideous force — has been a problem on previous King TV projects, but director Craig Baxley avoids that pitfall by keeping close reign on the special effects team and leaving most of the burden up to Feore, save for a few hair-raising moments.

That’s not to say anyone skimped on production value. Word is that ABC spent $35 million on this pic, mostly in creating the mother of all storms. Baxley uses these snowy scenes to maximum effect, creating as much menace from mother nature as that from Linoge. Minimal music effectively accentuates every sound, while providing an extra level of tension that carries over three nights. Overall tech credits are excellent.

Stephen King's Storm of the Century

ABC; Sun -Tue., Feb. 14-16, 9 p.m.

Production

Filmed on location in Southwest Harbor, Maine, and Toronto by Greengrass Prods. Executive producers, Stephen King, Mark Carliner; senior producer, Thomas Brodek; director, Craig Baxley

Cast

Mike Anderson - Tim Daly Molly Anderson - Deborah Farentino Andre Linoge - Colm Feore Alton (Hatch) Hatcher - Casey Siemazko Robbie Beals - Jeffrey DeMunn Cat Withers - Julianne Nicholson Ralph Anderson - Dyllan Christopher Melinda Hatcher - Soo Garay Pippa Hatcher - Skye McCole Sandra Beals - Nada Despotovich Kirk Freeman - Denis Forest Jenna Freeman - Nicky Guadagni Henry Bright - Christopher Marren Carla Bright - Jennifer Griffin Frank Bright - Tyler Bannerman Jack Carver - Steve Rankin Angela Carver - Torri Higginson Buster Carver - Stephen Joffe Ursula Godsoe - Becky Ann Baker Andy Robichaux - Richard Blackburn Jill Robichaux - Arlene Mazerolle Martha Clarendon - Rita Tuckett
Camera, David Connell; editor, Sonny Baskin; sound, David Lee; production designer, Craig Stearns; casting, Lynn Kressel.

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