“Late last night and the night before,
tommyknockers, tommyknockers knocking on my door.
I wanna go out, don’t know if I can
‘cuz I’m so afraid of the tommyknocker man.”
The Tommyknockers is a 1993 television miniseries based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King. It was directed by John Power, and starred Marg Helgenberger and Jimmy Smits in the two lead roles.
This mini-series is split into two parts similar to other Stephen King TV movie adapations.
Bobbi Anderson (Marg Helgenberger), a Western fiction writer, and her boyfriend, Jim “Gard” Gardner (Jimmy Smits), a poet, live with their dog, Petey, on the outskirts of the small town of Haven, Maine. Anderson suffers from writer’s block and Gardner is a recovering alcoholic who currently isn’t writing. One day, they stumble over a man-made stone object protruding from the ground. They begin excavating the object and discover a series of connected cubes that are made of an unknown alloy.
There are several other town inhabitants. Postal worker Joe Paulson (Cliff De Young) is cheating on his wife, Deputy Becka Paulson (Alice Beasley), with his co-worker, Nancy Voss (Traci Lords) – only Paulson seems unaware of her husband’s activities. Bryant Brown and his wife, Marie, run a local diner. Marie’s father, Ev Hillman, lives with them and helps care for the couple’s sons, 10-year-old Hillman “Hilly” and seven-year-old Davey. Sheriff Ruth Merrill (Joanna Cassidy) watches over the town when she isn’t spending time adding to her large doll collection.
As Anderson and Gardner unearth more of the object, the local townspeople begin to undergo subtle changes. Insomnia becomes common along with rudimentary telepathy. Some individuals begin inventing wild gadgets using kitchen tools, batteries, small appliances and other odds and ends. Some of the inventions include an automatic letter sorter and a telepathic typewriter. These inventions have a green glow when active. Gardner is astonished when Anderson’s “telepathic typewriter” is able to create a well-written novel. Anderson also begins to compulsively dig around the artefact, revealing more and more of it. Gardner, however, experiences no creative or mental effects, and is deeply worried about her behaviour. Gardner has a metal plate in his head from a skiing accident and Anderson believes that might be inhibiting whatever is “improving” the others.
After several disappearances and murders, Gardner witnesses a large gathering at the local church lead by his wife, Bobbi, in which the townsfolk are discussing their “becoming”. After being prevented from leaving the town by a glowing green force that causes searing pain in his metal plate, Jim is put to work unearthing the huge object in the woods. After convincing his wife he too is going through changes, he manages to get inside their garage and sees a hoard of alien technology, plus missing townsfolk. After a brief conversation with a man, he comes to the realisation that a missing boy (one of the first people to go missing) must be inside the buried artefact.
Anderson discovers Gardner in the garage, but Gardner convinces her that he must descend into the alien object in order to fully “become”. Gardner and Anderson spend the night digging, and uncover a new, glowing octagon set deep into the earth. They activate it, and a portal opens beneath them which takes them hundreds of feet into what is obviously an alien starship. They enter the ship’s command room, filled with mummified aliens. Anderson and Gardner discover an alien strapped to a gigantic wheel-like device. They conclude the alien controlled the ship telepathically, and once linked could not be removed.
Gardner finds the missing child encased in crystal, his mind being drained by the ship. The ship is using Davey’s mental energy as power, and Gardner realizes that it is also draining the life-force from Anderson and the others. After a brief scuffle, a flood of emotion breaks the control over Anderson’s mind. However, their presence on the ship awakens the aliens. Gardner, using a discarded blade, beheads an alien and they free the boy. Bobbi escapes the ship with the boy. Gardner pulls the dead pilot from the control panel, and connects himself to the ship. Back on the surface the other townspeople attempt to break inside the ship but to no avail. Anderson and the child exit the ship. Below the ground, the alien vessel begins lifting off. Much of the alien technology on the surface explodes, forcing Anderson and Brown to flee the garage before they can save Sheriff Merrill. Gardner takes the ship high into the sky, where he causes it to explode.
Everyone in the town is freed from the alien influence and suffer no ill effects. Anderson and her dog are seen later sitting in the forest, looking up at the night sky. Gardner is heard reciting some of his poetry.
Having never read the book it’s impossible for me to make comparisons and say which is better, all I know is that The Tommyknockers is a pretty decent TV mini-series. I’d say it has pretty strong casting and characters, besides Nancy Voss and Deputy Becka Paulson, who’s over the top characters give the episodes a bit more silliness than I’d have liked. Tommyknockers definitely has a creepy feel to it as the story unfolds and you discover the truth behind the nursery rhyme. But, of course there are plenty of negative points such as the weak ending and the poor design of the aliens (which I’m not sure is King’s fault or if it was a design created for the film), then again Pennywise turned out to be a spider so I’m not sure where I expected the story to go. As it was made in the 90’s and also a TV movie you can’t expect too much in the way of effects but it certainly does the job. Overall, The Tommyknockers would make a great rainy afternoon viewing but it’s definitely not one of Stephen King’s best works.