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Hulu's 'Castle Rock': A Unique Fling with Stephen King
July 25, 2018  | By Ed Bark  | 2 comments

Screen adaptations of Stephen King’s work long ago entered the realm of countless.

Ah, but Hulu’s Castle Rock turns out to be a frightmare apart from the likes of Carrie, The Shining, It, Cujo, Under the Dome, Pet Sematary, Christine, Bag of Bones, The Dead Zone, The Shawshank Redemption, and Salem’s Lot -- to name just a few.

As the opening credits note, Castle Rock is “based on characters and settings” created by Stephen King. Which means that its story revisits some of his old haunts without otherwise borrowing from one of his previous novels or short stories. It’s, instead, taking pages from FX’s Fargo series, which was inspired by the classic Joel and Ethan Coen film but told all-new stories populated by original characters. The brothers gave executive producer Noah Hawley their blessing and otherwise pretty much stayed away. King similarly is taking a hands-off approach with Castle Rock after giving the go-ahead.

A production team headed by J. J. Abrams (Lost, Alias, and several Star Wars and Star Trek feature films) also hopes to replicate the Fargo motif of new tales and casts each season. Hulu’s first go-around with Castle Rock will have ten episodes, with the initial three being made available for streaming on Wednesday, July 25. TV critics were allowed to pre-screen a fourth episode as well. Based on what I’ve seen, this seems to be another pretty terrific handoff, with Abrams and the writers leaving a number of King-related “Easter eggs” hiding in plain sight while also ratcheting up the atmospheric tension.

The small burg of Castle Rock, Maine has been terrorized by Cujo, the rabid dog, among other things. Hulu also makes King’s famed Shawshank State Prison a focal point. It’s where a hollow-eyed, pale as milk young man known as “The Kid” (Bill Skarsgård, top) is discovered caged in an abandoned basement wing. Who put him there and why? Well, let’s just say that warden Dale Lacy (Terry O’Quinn) seemingly has the answers, but isn’t going to divulge them in the present tense -- as you’ll see soon enough. Lacy then steps in as a narrator, dropping dollops of cryptic intel about what’s infesting Castle Rock.

Meanwhile, Henry Deaver (Andre Holland), adopted African-American son of white parents, has fled to Houston and is specializing in representing death row inmates. As an 11-year-old, he had disappeared for 11 days in 1991 during the height of an unforgiving Castle Rock winter. Town sheriff Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn, right, in present day) had been out searching for reasons of his own when the presumed dead young Henry suddenly materialized. The kid then was suspected of foul play in the death of his minister father.

A grown Henry reluctantly returns to Castle Rock after “The Kid,” who’s otherwise been mostly mute, speaks his name to young prison guard Dennis Zalewski (Noel Fisher). Henry’s mother, Ruth (Sissy Spacek, below, of Carrie movie fame), is now afflicted with dementia and living with Pangborn, who also was a character in King’s Needful Things and The Dark Half. Retired from law enforcement, he looks dried up but retains a dry wit. One of the simple, but highly pleasurable moments of Castle Rock comes in Episode 2 when Pangborn orders an over-priced beer at a hoity-toity hotel bar while trying to warn the new prison warden (Ann Cusack) about her mysterious, newly discovered inmate. “Let’s try the six dollar Coors,” he says sardonically.

Henry’s childhood friend, Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey), also re-materializes as a realtor/developer with a drug addiction. Her straitlaced sister so far is played only peripherally by Allison Tolman, who broke through in a big way as Molly Solverson in Season 1 of Fargo.

Spacek’s Ruth Deaver (left) is more consequential but also almost an afterthought until Episode 4, when she works herself into a snarl via a take-notice scene with her son. “This is my home. I’ll leave it in a box,” she declares. “Don’t you try to take me to Texas. Don’t you dare.”

Holland (left, with Spacek) is solid in the lead role of the adult Henry, who’s played by Caleel Harris in those scene-setting earlier scenes. But it’s Glenn who’s stealing the show with his slow-to-burn disposition and to-hell-and-back mug. Here’s a guy who’s seen things and then very likely covered them up. But what? And why? Skarsgård (Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the feature film version of It) stays completely and convincingly in character as the drama’s perhaps demon-seeded death merchant.

Castle Rock looks to be one of the best King things in years, even though the man himself serves primarily as a roadmap and blueprint. It’s nothing against him -- because without him there’d be no foundation. But damned if FX didn’t turn Fargo into a series that rose to the level of the movie and arguably surpassed it. And now here comes Hulu with a fighting chance to do the same over several seasons to come. Please, though, don’t send in the clowns. At least not this first time.

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Superior post, keep up with this exceptional work. It's nice to know that this topic is being also covered on this web site so cheers for taking the time to discuss this! Thanks again and again!
Jan 28, 2023   |  Reply
For anyone who's interested: the prison scenes were filmed at Moundsville Penitentiary in West Virginia. I was interested in the place because it's mentioned a couple of times in one of my favorite movies--The Night of the Hunter. They are giving tours now, all day, every hour. I recently took one, and it was fascinating. It was supposed to last from 1 to 1 1/2 hours, but it lasted 2 hours, and the time went by really quickly. Anything on Castle Rock doesn't mention where the prison scenes were filmed, but the guide mentioned that in his tour. I had not heard of Castle Rock at the time. They seemed to have a good number of people on every tour, and it is definitely worth checking out. Moundsville is just south of Wheeling, and the prison was built in 1866 and closed in 1995, so it's pretty Gothic looking.
Jul 31, 2018   |  Reply
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