ANALYSIS: Keeping Secrets in King’s STORM OF THE CENTURY (1999)

Kim Morrison celebrates of one of King’s most under-seen 90s miniseries…

Due to the sheer number of pages in a lot of his books, many of Stephen King’s works have been given the mini-series treatment rather than risk losing important details just to conform to a standard film’s runtime. However, in 1999, King decided to skip a step in the process and write the screenplay for Storm of the Century (1999) which would be directly produced for television.

Set in his beloved Maine, though this time on the remote Little Tall Island (also home to Dolores Claiborne), Storm of the Century tackles what happens when a monster comes to town at the same time as a deadly storm, leaving the island residents isolated and fighting for their lives. Much like IT (1990), Storm of the Century looks at a monster that operates somewhat out in the open, using fear and the fact that people are unlikely to believe stories of the encounter to ensure that it can get what it wants without much sneaking around.

The monster in question is Andre Linoge (Colm Feore), an immortal creature who wants something terribly from the residents of Little Tall Island. However, Linoge is clever and rather than tell them outright what he wants, knowing full well they would probably say no, he decides to show off his power first. He sneaks into town while everyone is worried about preparing for the incoming storm and heads straight to the house of Martha Clarendon (Rita Tuckett). After disturbing the elderly resident’s afternoon cup of tea, Linoge beats her to death with his wolf head cane and camps out in her living room.  

Linoge is counting on the fact that this small and tight-knit community will notice something out of place, like Martha’s door standing ajar, quite quickly. He wants to be found and he wants to strike fear into the other residents with how brutally he has chosen to murder one of Little Tall Island’s oldest and most defenceless islanders. He knows this will have more impact than facing off with someone his own age or level of strength.

Town constable Mike (Tim Daly) and his deputy Hatch (Casey Siemaszko) turn up to arrest Linoge, but it quickly becomes clear that this is all part of Linoge’s plan. With the story of Martha’s death spreading quickly through town, Linoge makes his presence even more known by sharing his knowledge of the town’s secrets. He knows about Peter’s (Ron Perkins) weed business, Kat (Julianne Nicholson) running off to Derry for an abortion without telling her boyfriend, and the person Jack (Steve Rankin) and his friends beat nearly to death. 

Linoge’s insider knowledge teamed with the murder of Martha sends the townsfolk into a frenzy. It’s mentioned more than once that the island knows how to keep a secret, and while they view themselves as a tight community it’s clear they’ve all been keeping secrets from each other. And the fact that Linoge is an outsider makes him knowing these secrets even worse. 

This is when Linoge decides to really show off his power, right when the worst of the storm hits and the Islanders find themselves completely cut off from the mainland… and any chance of outside help. The residents think themselves safe because Linoge is locked up in the tiny island jail, which also doubles as the town’s store. With the weather seemingly as bad as it’s going to get, they go to the town hall and hunker down together to ride out the snow. However, this is exactly what Linoge wants, for everyone to think that they’re fine and he can’t possibly harm them so that his powers will hit all the harder when he strikes. 

Over the course of the night Linoge causes several members of the town to apparently take their own lives, though the audience knows they were all under his control at the time. As each resident is discovered, we see they have all written an apparent suicide note stating “Give me what I want and I’ll go away”. But still, Linoge isn’t ready to tell the town what he wants. He needs them in a certain state of panic, and he needs them to really believe in what he can do before he plays his final hand.

Proving being captured was always his decision, Linoge finally breaks free of the jail cell and wanders out into the storm. As the residents sleep uneasily in the town hall, Linoge ensures that even those not touched by the earlier deaths are fully aware of his power by giving them all the same dream: the storm over, mainland emergency services turn up to discover all 200 residents of Little Tall Island have disappeared. Only Mike is shown Linoge’s real plan – if they don’t give him what he wants, he will force them to walk into the sea.

Later, as the townsfolk gather to watch their beloved island lighthouse be swept into the waves, Linoge strikes, snatching several people before disappearing into the whiteout. The only one to return is Angela Carver (Torri Higginson), who claims she was flying with Linoge above the island while others fell to their deaths. Linoge let Angela live so she could return and tell the community to be ready for a town meeting which everyone must attend. And – in a final blow – Linoge causes the island’s eight youngest residents to fall into an unwakeable sleep, where not even their parents can reach them.

After two days of terror and confusion caused by both the worst storm the island has ever seen and Linoge’s presence, he finally tells Little Tall Island what he’s been seeking all along: he wants a protege to pass his work onto, and he requests that they give him one of the eight sleeping children who are currently flying with Linoge in their dreamstate, one slip of the hand away from seemingly falling to their deaths. 

He cannot take a child – he needs to be given it – but if the town refuses they will all end up in the sea, as Mike saw in his dream. It’s a terrible choice for everyone involved, however Little Tall Island has been backed into a corner. No one wants to lose their child, but the choice is either give one away to live a long life with a monster, or kill all eight along with everyone else. The island pulls together one last time, and decides they need to give Linoge what he wants so they can finally be rid of him.

Only Mike disagrees, but when his wife Molly (Debrah Farentino) overrules him he finds himself pinned to the ground, unable to do anything about it. Linoge frames the decision as a game of chance, with each parent drawing a stone, and the one who draws the black stone having to give up their child. Molly draws last, and reveals her stone last, which – of course – is black. Linoge claims the game was straight, but he’s had an unnatural interest in Mike and Molly’s son Ralphie (Dyllan Christopher) since he first laid eyes on him. 

“You tricked us!” Molly screams as Linoge leaves with Ralphie. “Perhaps you tricked yourselves”, Linoge remarks, leaving the entire island doubting the decision they were so sure of only moments ago. 

And that’s the most terrifying thing about Storm of the Century, and its villain. It’s clear Linoge has power, because we’ve seen the things he can force people to do. Many on the island lost their lives because of Linoge. However, having the ability to cause an entire town to walk into the sea would take a tremendous amount of power, and maybe that would have been a struggle for him. However, once the idea was planted in everyone’s head, it was hard for them to risk calling his bluff. 

Billy (Jeremy Jordan) is the only person we see fight against Linoge’s influence, and he is promptly murdered by Kat moments later, so no-one knows if it’s possible to fight back. Mike suggests that the island teams up and says no to Linoge as a combined force. And while fear has pushed everyone else past the point of logic, it seems as though Mike’s plan may have worked. 

In the end, Linoge isn’t afraid to hint that the whole thing may have been a massive bluff on his end, because by this point he has what he came for. He knows the island residents will never tell their story because – by involving the entire town in the decision to condemn Ralphie to a life with Linoge – they are as guilty as he is. He framed giving a child away as the town’s only logical decision, and they agreed and  went along with it.

As the storm clears, so does the hysteria of the past couple of days, and Little Tall Island has to live with what they’ve done. While there’s no denying that Linoge is an incredibly evil villain, there’s a huge chance that he’s also a very successful con man who flies off into the night, knowing he will never face any repercussions, because the Islanders know how to keep a secret.

Kim Morrison

Looking for more King content? Our podcast mini-series on the films adapted from his work is available here, or we also have a series of think pieces – including another take on Storm of the Century – here.

5 responses to “ANALYSIS: Keeping Secrets in King’s STORM OF THE CENTURY (1999)”

  1. I saw Storm of the Century when it first aired and it really blew me away-more so, I think it frightened me on a much deeper level than any other horror film I had ever seen. The great Stephen King is right to think it one of the best things he’s ever done. It is, hands-down.
    But a curious thing is how Storm of the Century has been comparatively forgotten over the years. For instance, this morning I Googled the title looking for a good article to read, and had to scroll past much light, inconsequential ephemera before I finally got to your very solid appreciation, Kim (thank you, by the way). By contrast, if one Googles any other King title, well, let’s just say it’s a good thing for the environment that so much information today is virtual. Otherwise, entire forests might vanish.
    But I already know the answer to this paradox-Storm of the Century is forgotten because it just disturbs people too much. And for the very same reason that it disturbed me so much almost twenty-five years ago-namely, the presence, within King’s narrative, of the Christian conception of good-and-evil, with it’s inevitable concomitant- the possibility of one’s eternal damnation.
    That cannibal mother waiting to devour her son’s eyes for all eternity, well, let’s just say that this isn’t fun, and is disturbing on a level far deeper than just some gross-out gore. Nietzsche’s nihilism once posited man’s ‘bad conscience’ within a nexus that encompassed, for him, The Death of God-a hundred-odd years later, in our porn-saturated-school-shooter fentanyl-OD present, man’s ‘bad conscience’ is now a trace memory of that very same God-though no longer dead, and very much alive. And awaiting us, in judgement.
    “Hell is repetition!” I get chills just typing that.


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