The forecast: a chilling Stephen King miniseries ahead

There's always a moral to Stephen King's best work. He may tell his tales in the horror genre, but sometimes the pop mythmaker manages to scratch the surface of his own ideas and let compelling ambiguities evolve into powerful moral arguments.

"Storm of the Century," his gripping new made-for-television epic (the six-hour miniseries on ABC airs Feb. 14, 15, 18; 9-11 p.m.) has its problems: It's too long by half, and it does indulge some very grim moments. But in the end it thoroughly succeeds as a cautionary tale.

The story concerns a little town on an island off the coast of Maine. A huge snow storm is brewing, backed by hurricane winds, so the townsfolk prepare, setting up a shelter in the basement of the town hall.

But just before the storm hits, a terrible stranger, Andre Linoge, shows up and murders a helpless old woman. When a town manager comes to inspect the scene, the stranger is still there and tells him what fate awaits the manager in hell. Linoge is arrested and put in the local jail, but everyone knows it can't really hold him. And every time another person dies by supernatural violence, a note is found with the victim, that says, "Give me what I want, and I'll go away."

What does Linoge want? It isn't too difficult to figure out after Part 2. (We don't want to give it away.) And the only one in the entire town to hold out against Linoge (obviously an anagram for "legion," a biblical term for Satan), is the part-time sheriff, Mike Anderson (Tim Daly), who knows his Bible better than the preacher - or anyone else in town.

"Stephen King always wanted to do a story about the price of integrity," says producer Mark Carliner. "He feels that whatever it costs, and sometimes it can cost everything, it is still less expensive than other alternatives."

The ending of the film is sure to spark debate - should the town make the choice it makes or not?

"There was a raging debate among ABC executives after the screening of the film about the ending," Mr. Carliner says. "It is about good versus evil." But, he adds, not everyone will read the ending the same way.

Thirty-five movies (features and TV) have been made from Stephen King books and short stories. Carliner says he believes - and King believes - that "Storm of the Century" is one of the best films made from a King story. King wrote the screenplay, which gave him control over its content.

One of the best things about "Storm" is the struggle one man wages against evil. "Stephen wanted to study the sense of community. There is a difference between a town-hall meeting and a lynch mob, but they are both expressions of community," Carliner says. Linoge has made everyone terribly afraid, and he has seduced them into believing him.

"For me, it's such a great character study," adds director Craig Baxley. He points out that his choice to restrain the scenes of violence is an important one. "I wanted to make an elegant thriller - we've all seen enough [gore]."

Adds Carliner, "This is the Stephen King who wrote 'The Shawshank Redemption' and 'Stand By Me.' There's less blood in this [film] than in the average cop show.... It's about flaws in character bringing men down."

But there's still plenty of illustrated and implied carnage, meaning the show is not for every viewer. The tone of the piece is dark - and too scary for most children.

It is surprisingly thoughtful for a thriller. Yet given its supernatural premise, why should the divine not be just as evident as the devilish?

"For me personally, God is never absent," Mr. Baxley answers. "I can't speak for Stephen, but for me, God is there with Mike Anderson."

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