Gramma (1986)



Main Cast: Barret Oliver, Frederick Long

Director: Bradford May

Back in 1986, there was probably no other television show I liked more than The Twilight Zone.  The reboot didn’t last long (3 seasons), but I never forgot it.  So I’m wondering now why it is I can’t remember seeing the Stephen King story Gramma on there.

Gramma is an adaptation of a story from King’s second short story collection SKELETON CREW.  I haven’t read the story in over 30 years, so I’m not sure how faithful the adaptation was, but I do know that was some of the creepiest 20 minutes I’d ever seen, especially from a television show.

Little George has been left alone with his ailing grandmother while George’s mother goes to see his brother who is in the hospital with a broken leg.  George tries to hide his trepidation beneath a guise of not being a baby anymore, he’ll be fine, Gramma will be fine, yes if she calls for her tea, he’ll bring it to her, God, Mom!!!

But once his mother is gone, George’s head is full of doubt.  Gramma not only isn’t well, she’s also scary as all hell.  She wheezes and coughs and makes all kinds of godawful noises.  George has long suspected–judging by the talk of the adults when they don’t know he’s listening–that there might be more to Gramma than just liver spots and false teeth.  Gramma just might be a witch.

She calls for her tea and George brings it in, nervous and, scared. When Gramma reaches a hand out for her cup, George screams and drops the tray, spilling hot tea all over the floor.  He runs from the room, then realizes the tea wasn’t pooling; it was seeping into the wooden floorboards.  Maybe, he thinks, there’s something under there.  Maybe Gramma’s secret spell books.

He sneaks back into the room and, with his pocketknife, pries up a board.  Red smoke pours from the open space and George finds a bundle of books hidden beneath the floorboards.  One of them is Gramma’s own journal, while the other one has a title he has a little trouble sounding out: Ne-cro-no-mi-con.

His mind runs rampant with the stories, recalling an uncle suggesting Gramma may be getting weak because there have been no deformed babies born lately.  Whatever Gramma is, George would probably be better off not knowing.  And then she begins to call out, but she’s not calling for George and she’s not calling for tea. Gramma begins to call out words George had just seen in her book, words he didn’t know how to pronounce, “Cthulhu, R’lyeh.”

Gramma is a pretty simple story.  The adaptation is enjoyable thanks to Barret Oliver’s (THE NEVERENDING STORY) performance, especially his voice-overs.  Only 13 at the time, he carried the weight of the entire segment.  But the real star was Gramma.  While only seen very briefly toward the end, it’s the voice that does it.  That’s some super creepy work by Frederick Long, and some amazing sound design. 

I liked the tie-in to other King works (when George thinks Gramma is dead, he tries to call an ambulance, but Henrietta Dodd, mother to the late Frank Dodd, is on the party line and he can’t get through), and I liked even more that Harlan Ellison wrote the adaptation.

I felt the climax and ending gave up a large amount of the earlier creepiness in favor of going for full-on scares, and while I would not have wanted to trade places with George, it just wasn’t as effective as the earlier moments when Gramma is calling for her tea.

As King adaptations go, Gramma is pretty simple stuff, although still effective.  You can order the entire season one set on DVD if you need to add this one to your Stephen King collection, but if you’re just curious to see this one segment, it’s available for viewing free on YouTube.

King on Film

Carrie (1976)

‘Salem’s Lot (1979)

The Shining (1980)

Creepshow (1982)

The Boogeyman (1982)

Cujo (1983)

Disciples of the Crow (1983)

The Woman in the Room (1983)

The Dead Zone (1983)

Christine (1983)

Children of the Corn (1984)

Firestarter (1984)

Word Processor of the Gods (1984)

Cat’s Eye (1985)

Silver Bullet (1985)

Srazhenie (1986)

The Dark Half (1993)

The Tommyknockers (1993)

Needful Things (1993)

The Stand (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

The Mangler (1995)

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

The Langoliers (1995)

Sometimes They Comes Back … Again (1996)

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)

Thinner (1996)

The Shining (1997)

Ghosts (1997)

Chattery Teeth (1997)

The Revelations of ‘Becka Paulson (1997)

Trucks (1997)

The Night Flier (1997)

Chinga (1997)

Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)

Gerald’s Game (2017)

1922 (2017)

The Stand (2021)

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