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Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital: The Complete Series

While American TV audiences in 1994 were presented with two new, ambitious medical dramas in "Chicago Hope" and "E.R.," Danish mischief-maker Lars Von Trier also entered the fray in his home country with the quirky and bizarre supernatural hospital miniseries Riget (a.k.a. The Kingdom). When Von Trier's 1997 film Breaking the Waves earned raves in Hollywood, his earlier TV project popped up on U.S. cable networks, in art house cinemas, and on home video, eventually catching the eye of horror tycoon Stephen King. With a number of successful miniseries (The Stand, The Shining, Rose Red) already under his belt, King adapted, expanded, and Americanized Von Trier's original four-hour ghost story into 10 hours (15, if you count the commercials) of mostly entertaining TV, set, like most King material, in small-town Maine. While arrogant chief neurosurgeon Dr. Stegman (Bruce Davison) does his best to terrorize the quirky Kingdom Hospital's staff with his abusive outbursts, the evil emanating from beneath the building proves a more powerful force and steps up its malevolent presence when famous artist Peter Rickman (Jack Coleman) is brought in for treatment following a devastating hit-and-run accident. Rickman's doctor, Hook (Andrew McCarthy), is sensitive to the rise in supernatural events and, when not antagonizing the insufferable Stegman, teams up with a hypochondriac psychic (Diane Ladd) to uncover the mystery of a ghostly girl and her giant, razor-toothed anteater companion haunting the hospital. While King's Kingdom Hospital borrows heavily from Von Trier's original characters, and much of the early exposition and dialogue is similar, there is a lot of new King material (he wrote eight of the 13 episodes; Richard Dooling scripted the other five), including a total reinvention of the underlying ghost story and the addition of several patients and their stories for the ABC series' more episodic approach. While Von Trier fans will certainly miss some of the Danish version's weirdest moments, both McCarthy and Davison are terrific in King's series as the feuding neurosurgeons, and the cast overall is very strong, compensating for weaknesses in plotting. None of the episodic storylines are very fresh or suspenseful, and the overall story arc becomes less compelling the more it is revealed. In fact, the series finale is almost unwatchably terrible, culminating a climax of worn-out flashbacks, foregone conclusions, and insultingly easy solutions. It's a shame, for technically the series is very sharp and watchable, and most of the actors are fun and appealing (Jamie Harrold and Ed Begley Jr. chief among them). For a horror show, however, it favors style over pay-offs to a fault, never developing as real a sense of supernatural menace as it does amongst its human characters, and failing to provide any remotely satisfactory exposition for the specific haunting phenomena, leaving the series in a self-inflicted dramatic Swedenborgian space. Cameo appearances by King, Wayne Newton, and Dick Smothers. Columbia TriStar presents all 13 episodes of Kingdom Hospital in good anamorphic transfers (1.78:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. King is joined by series director Craig Baxley, executive producer Mark Carliner, and effects master James Tichenor for commentary on the first episode. Also in this four-disc set are featurette on the show, the cast, the "Antubis" effects, and the production design. Two dual-DVD slimline keep-cases in a paperboard sleeve.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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