Stephen King maintains there are three ways to scare people. First, and best of all, is to evoke terror (think of the nighttime sojourns to the animal graveyard in his 1984 novel Pet Sematary). If you can't attain those shivery heights, go for horror (a rabid St Bernard in Cujo). Still out of reach? Then fall back on gross (a shipwrecked surgeon eating himself, piece by piece, in short story Survivor Type - - we guarantee you won't want fish fingers again for a while). King's 2001 tale Dreamcatcher contains all three, though it has to be said there's more gross-out stuff than terror in the book. The movie evens the balance.
Jonesy (Damian Lewis), Henry (Thomas Jane), Pete (Timothy Olyphant) and Beaver (Jason Lee) are mates who share supernatural powers - - not least the ability to read each other's minds. In typical King-style, however, their talents are as much curse as convenience...
We meet the foursome as they embark on their annual trip to a cabin deep in the woods of Maine. Planning to slurp beer and shoot deer, the gang's festivities soon turn frosty when a blizzard hits. But that's the least of their problems, Henry and Pete having encountered a frostbitten woman sitting motionless in the snow, a creepy red mark blossoming across her face. Nearby, Jonesy has happened upon a stranger lost in the woods. He, too, sports the strange facial disfigurement - - and both newcomers have a particularly odorous flatulence problem. With good reason: both suddenly find aliens popping out of their anuses.
Taking its title from a netted contraption that's said to snag nightmares above the peaceful slumberer, Dreamcatcher is a good book struggling to escape from 600 fatty pages. Enter director Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill) and screenwriter William Goldman (a veteran King adapter after Misery and, er, Hearts In Atlantis). Stripping away the surplus guff to locate the trim thriller within, they've sculpted a streamlined suspenser that maintains the humour, warmth and schlock-horror of King's book, as well as supernatural elements designed to make you guffaw even as you gasp. And let's not forget those gross-out bits: Kasdan never shies from the novel's gore quota, and the ET shit weasels' birth will be one of 2003's cinematic moments.
As ever, Kasdan also proves himself a master-caster. Okay, so employing Morgan Freeman as a colonel who steps in to take control of the situation is a cinch, but Kasdan's savvy ensures he also nails each of the friends. Lee is particularly good and Brit Damian Lewis (Band Of Brothers) makes a strong Hollywood debut. Special mention too, for an unrecognisable Donnie Wahlberg as a mentally challenged pal of Jonesy and co and the story's pivot.
There are faults - - a stuttering final act and some odd plot twists - - but this is a strong adap that drops pellets of ice down the spine. Catch it.