Turn Back the Clock

Horror / Suspense / Thriller


Written By: Dean Koontz

Published By: Bantam Publishing

Aired On: Fox Television in 1997

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            Around Halloween, I think back on all of the horror films and novels I have read in the past.  Which ones were the scariest?  Which ones had me looking over my shoulder later/  Which had me captivated from beginning to end, on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next?  That last question is easy to answer - Intensity by Dean Koontz.  This Turn Back the Clock review is about both incarnations of Intensity - the made-for-television movie and the novel it was based on.

            I had already been a Dean Koontz fan when it was announced that a version of his novel, Intensity, was going to be aired in a two-part special on Fox Television in 1997.  I had yet to read the novel, but was set on watching the movie.  After all, it was based on a Dean Koontz novel, so how could it possibly be bad.  I had a feeling that I wouldn’t want to miss a minute of this film, so I ended up setting the VCR to tape it.  Thank goodness I did!

            Intensity revolves around the character Chyna Shepard, a survivor of sorts.  The key to her survival - never let anyone get too close and when the going gets rough, you get going.  She survived physical and emotional abuse from her alcoholic mother and her criminal boyfriends by hiding and running away.  This method has never let her down and has helped her on the long road to earning her degree in psychiatry while working various jobs to make ends meet.  So, when co-worker and friend Laura Templeton asks Chyna to come to her house for Thanksgiving dinner, the initial response is no.  

            Somehow Laura finds a way to talk Chyna into it and Chyna is actually quite pleasantly surprised to find that she is enjoying herself.  After a fun time with Laura and her family, especially her talented pianist brother Jack, Chyna decides that she possibly could live a normal life despite her past.  Her mind believes differently and she suffers a nightmare linked to events in her childhood.  She wakes up to discover she is about to take part in a new nightmare.  An intruder has entered the home.  To avoid discovery by this intruder, Chyna immediately reverts to childhood, hiding under the bed. 

            The intruder seemingly leaves and Chyna begins to look for the Templetons.  The horrific discoveries she makes terrify Chyna, but upon finding Laura seriously hurt but alive and learning that the intruder is still on the property, Chyna vows to find away to rescue her friend.  Unfortunately, she spots the intruder carrying her friend away and loading her into a mobile home.  Resolved to help Laura, Chyna secretly boards the mobile home only to discover that her friend is dead and she is now stuck in this mobile home headed to parts unknown with a murderer.

            When the murderer stops to refuel, Chyna makes her move, exiting the mobile home and attempting to get help from the attendants at the gas station.  What she learns there as the murderer takes two more victims is that he has kidnapped a young girl named Ariel and has been holding her hostage for some time in his home.  After seeing a photo of the girl, Chyna finds herself drawn to her plight, relating to her as someone who has suffered abuse as a child.  She resolves to find this girl and rescue her from this serial killer.  But when Chyna is captured by the serial killer himself, can she survive the rescue attempt?

            Now, we all know that not all movies are as good as the book and vise versa, but Intensity is one of those rare novels that makes for a great movie.  When you think made-for-TV movie, you think melodrama like some Hallmark films or the kind of stuff you find on Lifetime, but I promise you that these films are nowhere in the same caliber as Intensity

            Molly Parker stars as Chyna Shepard in this film, portraying a character who is haunted by her past, struggling to survive an intensely horrific present.  Her expressions and vocal tones lend truth to the terror she is experiencing.  The viewer can’t help but root for this character, the underdog of life.  In the end, her character learns to stop running from life and to start running toward it.  This is perhaps Molly Parker's best dramatic role.

            John C. McGinley, best known for his comedic portrayals, is the murderer, Edgler Foreman Vess.  For someone who can make you laugh until tears are streaming down your face, McGinley is most amazing in this dramatic turn as a psychotic madman who enjoys heightened senses and finds happiness in breaking the psyches of others.  Things get even more interesting when we learn just who Edgler Vess actually is and why he’s been getting away with what he has for so long.  McGinley’s portrayal of Vess is definitely scary, making him almost too believable in this role.   

            Ariel Delane is portrayed by Tori Paul, a young actress we never hear form again, despite her excellent portrayal of the psychologically tortured girl.  Katie Stewart is terrific as the young Chyna Sheppard.  You just want to hug this girl and tear her away from all the suffering she is made to endure.  Deanna Milligan is extremely charismatic as Laura Templeton and although she only appears in the beginning of this four hour miniseries, you can’t help but feel sorry when you discover she is dead at the hands of Edgler Vess.

            This movie was such an intense rollercoaster ride that I immediately set out to buy the novel.  Of course, the novel is not exactly like the book.  There are some definite differences between the two.  Koontz gives his readers the idea that Vess is a bit more powerful on the sensory perception side of things than in the film.  The novel goes deeper into Chyna’s past psychological trauma and her present emotional state, which I see as a plus.  The ending of the novel and the movie are vastly different.  I prefer the movie ending over the novel ending, but in truth, I loved Intensity in both formats.

            It is highly unfortunate that this movie has never been released in DVD format.  I would love to purchase it as the taped version I have of the movie has been watched so many times I doubt it will survive another viewing.  I’m sure that there are hundreds of fans of this film out there thinking the same thing.  At least the novel is still available for those who would like to get a taste of the rollercoaster of horror and suspense Intensity supplies.  This is a movie I can watch over and over and a book I have definitely read more than once.  A perfect read around Halloween, when tales of bloody horror and suspense seem to be a necessity.


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