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Ron Perlman terrorizes in King’s ‘Desperation’

Ron ‘knows how to suck ‘em in, then pounce on them’ says co-star Weber
/ Source: The Associated Press

Bad Collie. Bad boy.

Sheriff Collie Entragian, played by Ron Perlman, is every desert traveler’s worst nightmare: a small-town cop who pulls you over for no reason, plants a giant bag of pot in your trunk and then puts you and your spouse in the back seat of his patrol car for a one-way ride to town.

“Then I’m going to kill you,” adds Collie.

Never mind that the town is already littered with dead bodies, otherwise deserted and called Desperation.

An unlikely scenario in the real world, but this is Stephen King’s “Desperation,” airing Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Collie’s visitors — played by Annabeth Gish and Henry Thomas — get an uneasy feeling, to say the least, as they arrive in the dusty village. Collie wasn’t kidding. Wonder who’s next?

Hint: “I asked Henry, ‘How would you like to be the Janet Leigh of this movie?”’ laughs director Mick Garris.

A classic King tale of good vs. evil and based on his 1996 best-selling novel, the film’s cast also includes Tom Skerritt, Steven Weber, Matt Frewer, Charles Durning and 15-year-old Shane Haboucha.

It’s Haboucha’s character, led by the angelic ghost of his murdered sister, who leads his fellow Collie captives in a “good” fight against the evil sheriff.

“It’s about their drive to keep living and to survive, and help one another get through it as a single unit,” says the young actor.

Haboucha notes that, unlike the other actors in the film, he didn’t read King’s book. “The screenplay,” also written by King, “was scary enough.”

‘King at his finest’And much of that “scary” comes from Collie, who Perlman explains is “possessed by some very unfinished business which had injustice, some spiritual corruption, at its core, and there’s a price to be paid.”

Like many a good King story, the source of Collie’s evil goes unexplained until midway through the three-hour film.

“That’s King at his finest,” Perlman says. “He lands you smack in the middle of a very dramatic interaction and then explains it an hour and a half later. Most writers give you the exposition up front; he just engages you. He places the audience in a situation where they’re reacting, rather than observing. It’s one of the reasons he’s the genius that he is.”

Garris, a veteran of several other King collaborations for television — including “The Stand” and “The Shining” — praises King’s skill in adapting his own work to the screen.

“His books are very cinematic. But books and films are quite different animals — books are internal and films are external,” he notes. “It’s the internal workings of madness and horror that are difficult to depict cinematically, especially in a screenplay. But he’s quite masterful at making the internal external.”

Perlman’s character is wrought with terror and humor, another King trademark.

“Collie’s almost vaudevillian in his desire to entertain himself and others, while being unpredictable, volatile, explosive and dangerous,” says Perlman. “It’s almost like a dance of death, a ballet of violence.”

Adds Skerritt, “You can’t play weird scenes like these without having a sense of humor, that offbeat sense of humor King has.”

Perlman ‘knows how to scare people’But it’s Perlman’s delivery that pushes the combination over the top.

“Henry and I had this sensation of being scared laughing,” says Gish of her scenes with Perlman. “You just didn’t know what he was going to do next. When you see somebody going crazy in front of you, it’s hysterically scary.”

Adds Weber, “Ron understands the genre, he knows how to scare people. He knows how to suck ‘em in, then pounce on them.”

Another major character in the film is the town itself — in this case the adjacent cities of Bisbee and Lowell in southeastern Arizona, substituting for the fictional Desperation, Nev.

“The studio was originally telling us we had to shoot in Canada,” explains executive producer Mark Sennet. “But we were able to convince the business leaders in Bisbee to give us enough breaks so that we could convince the studio to bring our $13 million to their town.”

The notably unbusy-looking Bisbee was the perfect representation for Desperation. Weber describes the town as having “little art stores and artisan shops. It’s this really cool place.”

Its most notable business, though, is still the historic Phelps Dodge Copper Queen, a giant open pit mine located between Bisbee and Lowell that figures heavily in the film’s climax.

“The reality of that place is what affects you,” Skerritt says.

Gish agrees. “Talk about character and energy and a sense of history. And certainly at two in the morning, when it’s quiet and eerie and creepy, you don’t have to look far to get the chills.”