While known primarily as a horror writer, the novel The Tommyknockers was a rare science fiction novel from Stephen King. However, the novel was written while King was struggling with addiction and is packed with metaphors for dealing with substance abuse. The writer said, “The Tommyknockers is an awful book. That was the last one I wrote before I cleaned up my act.” Hey, what better movie to review, right?
Originally airing on May 9 and 10, 1993 on ABC, this mini-series is all about the town of Haven, Maine. That’s where Bobbi Anderson (Marg Helgenberger, TV’s CSI) and her boyfriend, Jim “Gard” Gardner (Jimmy Smits, Prince Leia’s adopted dad) live with their dog Petey. They’re both writers — I know you’re shocked, King protagonists who are writers and live in New England — and both suffering. Bobbi has writer’s block and Gard is an alcoholic. One day, they find a stone object connected to a series of cubes.
Meanwhile, Haven is packed with all manner of quirky folks. There’s postal worker Joe Paulson (Cliff Young, The Hunger, Shock Treatment) who delivers the mail and the goods to his mistress, Nancy Voss (Tracy Lords!) instead of his wife, Deputy Becka Paulson (Allyce Beasley from TV’s Moonlighting). Then there’s Bryant Brown (Robert Carradine, Revenge of the Nerds), his wife Marie, their two kids and her father Ev Hillman (E.G. Marshall, who battled bugs in Creepshow). Then there’s small-town sheriff and doll collector Ruth Merrill (Joanna Cassidy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), who has to deal with state trooper Butch Duggan, who comes from Derry (which we all know is from It).
As Bobbi and Gard find more of the object, everyone in town begins to invent things while suffering from insomnia. Basically, they’re all on alien cocaine, making all manner of stuff that you’d never really need, like letter sorters, a BLT sandwich maker and more, which all glow green when used. Bobbi beats her writer’s block with a machine that telepathically lets her write and the results astound Gard, who thinks that he’s immune to all of this because of the plate in his head.
One of the kids, Hilly, makes a magic machine that makes his brother Davey disappear. Everyone looks for a little while before becoming distracted by their machines. I mean, a BLT maker? That’s a little more important than a child.
Joe Paulson’s wife finally catches him after her favorite TV show talks directly to him. She electrocutes him and starts babbling about the tommyknockers before being sent away. That same phrase is repeated by Hilly before he has a seizure, gets a massive brain tumor and loses most of his teeth.
Ev Hillman learns that the town of Haven is cursed. I can hear your surprise now, a New England town in a Stephen King novel being cursed. But yes, it’s true. Meanwhile, Nancy Voss has seemingly taken on a supervillain air, everyone is busy inventing more things and the town glows green.
Gard gets drunk — because that’s how you deal with these kinds of things — and sees the town gather in a green glow. His wife is seemingly leading them and he manages to convince her that he is part of this whole alien cocaine inventing stuff and then joining the becoming thing. After having sex with her — because again, this is how you deal with things — he sneaks out to their garage where he finds alien technology powered by townspeople and their dog. Ev, still alive, tells him he must find Davey, who is with the tommyknockers.
Digging all night long, Gard finds a UFO filled with mummified aliens and Davey, encased in a green crystal. Gard forces his wife to realize what is going on, which is when an alien attacks them before Gard decapitates it. This, of course, causes all hell to break loose. Nancy Voss tries to get everyone still under alien control to stop the destruction of the ship, but Gard is able to stop them thanks to the sacrifice of Ev, who chokes Nancy out while Bobbi saves Petey’s life. Speaking of sacrifices, Gard makes the ultimate one to save the whole town.
Whew. And ugh. The Tommyknockers is a rough watch but not nearly as rough as the book’s ending, which ends with Gard taking the ship into space, killing nearly all of the changed townspeople and then agents from the FBI, CIA, and more Black Ops groups killing most of the survivors and destroying their inventions. One of those groups, The Shop, shows up in many of King’s books, such as Firestarter, Golden Years, The Lawnmower Man and The Langoliers. It’s also hinted that they may have caused The Mist and they fail to learn what Captain Trips is all about in The Stand.
Originally, the film was directed by Lewis Teague (Alligator, Cat’s Eye, Cujo), but he was replaced two days into filming by John Power. It was written by Lawrence Cohen, who did much better with the It mini-series.
Many have compared this novel to Quatermass and the Pit. This Nigel Kneale (John Carpenter recruited him to write Halloween 3: Season of the Witch) written BBC TV also was about a long-buried spaceship that had a negative impact on anyone around it.
Speaking of negative impacts, that what this movie had on me. It dragged and just seemed ridiculous, but I think that’s the result of its source material. No one has learned anything, though, because James Wan is talking about remaking this in 2019.