Adapting Stephen King's The Revelations Of 'Becka Paulson: The 1997 Outer Limits Episode Is Hard To Find, But Worth The Hunt
Catherine O'Hara shines in this Stephen King adaptation.
Stephen King’s passion for the horror genre runs exceptionally deep, as it has been a passion of his from a young age. As noted in his non-fiction books and innumerable interviews, he was captivated by fiction of the terrifying variety in all of its forms, including books, films, comics and television. On the small screen, a show he was particularly enthralled by debuted when he was 16 years old, aired Mondays on ABC, and ran for 49 episodes across two seasons: Leslie Stevens’ classic anthology series The Outer Limits.
In his 1981 non-fiction meditation on his favorite genre, Danse Macabre, Stephen King dedicates a whole section to The Outer Limits, even going as far as to elevate it above the “damn near immortal The Twilight Zone” (to which it has always been compared. Stressing how Stevens’ show put a greater emphasis on actual horror, King wrote,
The Outer Limits obviously began and ended long before Stephen King became an established writer, but the series was revived on Showtime in the mid-1990s, and fate saw to it that it would adapt one of the author’s short stories – namely “The Revelations Of 'Becka Paulson.” It was made and released as the fifteenth episode of the third season, first airing in June 1997.
Steven Weber, who was fresh off of starring as Jack Torrance in The Shining miniseries, was given the opportunity to make the episode as his directorial debut (in addition to playing a key supporting role) – and its legacy is as one of the most underrated Stephen King adaptations, if not especially because of how hard it is to legally watch it. It’s certainly worth hunting down, however, and this week’s Adapting Stephen King is an explanation why.
What “The Revelations Of 'Becka Paulson” Is About
“The Revelations Of ‘Becka Paulson” has a unique history in the canon of Stephen King in that there are two distinct versions of it that are both legitimate in their own right. The original is an independent short story that was first published in the July/August 1984 issue of Rolling Stone, but years later the piece was reworked and altered to be one of the many vignettes featured in the 1987 novel The Tommyknockers.
The short story version has actually never been included in any of Stephen King’s many collections, though it is included in the 1991 multi-author anthology I Shudder At Your Touch, which is described in its subtitle as “22 Tales of Sex and Horror.”
As it was originally written, “The Revelations Of ‘Becka Paulson” is a story that echoes the fascinating true tale of Phineas Gage: an American railroad construction foreman who, in the mid-19th century, survived an incident that saw an iron rod go straight through his head. He lived for 12 years after the shocking event, though he reportedly had a completely different personality – which was almost surely caused by the damage that was done to his brain.
‘Becka Paulson doesn’t experience anything quite as extreme as an iron rod penetrating her skull, but she does begin the story by accidentally shooting herself in the head with a gun while doing some spring cleaning (in June). When she regains consciousness, she doesn’t quite remember what happened, but she is fascinated by the new hole in her head that is so deep that she can stick most of an eyebrow pencil in it.
She puts a small bandage on it and tries to put it out of mind – which isn’t terribly hard to do because of the other issues in her life. The biggest is the fact that her husband, Joe, is not only emotionally abusive, but is having an affair with his new co-worker, Nancy Voss. It’s a source of sincere distress… but then she finds a new, supportive friend in the form of a 3D portrait of Jesus Christ that sits on her television and begins talking to her.
Jesus has all kinds of dirt on ‘Becka’s friends and neighbors, but that’s not all, as he also has plans for some neat innovations. The dullard protagonist gets inspired to begin building, starting with an Electrolux vacuum that can pilot itself around the house, and then moving on to some changes inside the television that will deliver Joe a real shock.
How The Outer Limits' “The Revelations Of 'Becka Paulson” Differs From Stephen King’s Short Story
The short story that Steven Weber’s “The Revelations Of ‘Becka Paulson” is based on may be set in the middle of summer, but it feels utterly appropriate that it’s the adaptation of the week for this column given that one very early change it makes is switching the setting to the holiday season, and having the titular protagonist (Catherine O’Hara) getting out Christmas decorations instead of doing her spring cleaning late.
Staying on the subject of setting, the adaptation also switches out one beloved fictional Stephen King township for another – though it’s somewhat excusable as they are written to be geographically close together, and both are mentioned in the original text. The short story is set in Haven, Maine, which is the primary setting of The Tommyknockers, but The Outer Limits episode moves the action over to Derry, the home of the Losers’ Club and Pennywise The Dancing Clown from IT.
Those are extremely minor changes compared to some of the bigger liberties taken with the material – the most significant being Jesus Christ getting replaced as ‘Becka Paulson’s sounding board. It was perhaps considered too controversial for cable television to have the religious figure slowly coax the brain-damaged “hero” into murdering her husband (John Diehl), so instead the 3D art is replaced with an 8x10 frame that still holds the photo of the model (Steven Weber) it was sold with. It's a comical twist and subtly adds to ‘Becka’s personality in a weird way (what kind of person buys a frame and then doesn’t immediately put something personal in it?).
The adaptation also expands the source material with a number of original scenes, which is pretty essential given that the vast majority of the short story follows the eponymous character alone in her house talking to her imaginary friend. The encounter with the passive aggressive Flo (Marilyn Norry) when ‘Becka is out shopping for stocking stuffers is original to the Brad Wright-written teleplay, and provides some of the most unnerving moments in the adaptation.
On the other side of the spectrum, there is also a great deal of comedy injected into the Outer Limits episode beyond what is included in Stephen King’s prose. A great example of this is the scene where ‘Becka goes to see Doc Fink (Bill Dow), the local veterinarian, to get her wound looked at, and there is this excellent exchange:
Doc Fink: ‘Becka Paulson, as I live and breathe. How long has it been?
‘Becka: Oh, I guess since my cat Ozzie died.
Doc Fink: Oh, yeah. How is Ozzie?
Doc Fink then ends up popping up again later in the episode while ‘Becka is entranced by a soap opera – one featuring a plot line involving a woman who survives a bullet to the brain.
Is It Worthy Of The King?
Perhaps the most shocking thing about The Outer Limits’ “The Revelations Of ‘Becka Paulson” episode is the fact that it is Steven Weber’s only credit as a director. Given a great script by Brad Wright, he demonstrates an adept skill at balancing tones – knowing when to let the material be funny, and when to let the material be scary.
In the grand scheme, the episode does lean more toward the former than the latter, but it does succeed in getting under your skin. As alluded to above, there is a great moment when ‘Becka has one of her schizophrenic episodes while shopping with Flo. ‘Becka imagines her unfriendly neighbor going on a blunt tirade about Joe’s affair, and as the camera focuses on Catherine O’Hara’s face, you can see out of focus in the background that Flo’s words don’t sync with her mouth, and it’s wonderfully creepy.
Speaking of Catherine O’Hara, she delivers a spectacular turn as ‘Becka Paulson, which is not an easy part. Her remarkable comedic timing invites the audience to laugh at the ridiculousness of the circumstances, but there is an undercurrent of fear in the performance that keeps ‘Becka and the material grounded. It’s fun to watch because the bullet in the character’s brain spins up her id and subconscious desires, and we like it because we don’t like seeing her treated badly by Joe – but at the same time we recognize her as an innocent person who is acting against her own wishes, and it makes the ending perfectly tragic.
I’ll further add that it is vastly superior to the version of the story that is featured in John Power’s The Tommyknockers miniseries – and I say that while acknowledging that Allyce Beasley’s Deputy ‘Becka Paulson is one of my favorite parts of that adaptation. It too replaces 3D Jesus in the plot (with a game show host talking directly to ‘Becka and feeding her worst instincts), but overall the premise with the bullet in the brain is just vastly more interesting than the telepathic aliens who have been underground for centuries waiting for someone to dig them up.
It was reported in the summer of 2020 that The CW is developing a remake of sorts, specifically a potential new series with the working title Revelations. It will reportedly be quite a bit different than both the short story and the Outer Limits episode –‘Becka Paulson gets shot in the head with a nail gun and is recruited by Jesus to stop the apocalypse – and I’m keeping my fingers crossed it can capture the same kind of energy from the material that Steven Weber did. If it can, it will have a lot of potential to be one of my favorite small screen Stephen King adaptations.
How To Watch The Outer Limits' “The Revelations Of 'Becka Paulson”
Given that “The Revelations Of 'Becka Paulson” isn’t included in any of Stephen King’s short story collections, trying to find a copy to read is challenging enough, but far more depressing is the fact that it’s much harder to track down a copy of the excellent adaptation. The 1990s reboot of The Outer Limits isn’t available to stream anywhere online (it has not yet made its way into the HD era of home entertainment), and while the show did get a DVD release from Alliance Entertainment a few years back, the Season 3 set that includes the discussed episode is out of print and extremely hard to find sold by itself. Your best option to get your hands on a copy at this point is by getting a bundle that includes all seven seasons of the show (opens in new tab), but that’s really only recommended if A) You really love the Outer Limits reboot and/or B) are desperate to build the Ultimate Stephen King collection.
As we gently slide into 2022, Adapting Stephen King isn’t adjusting its gate, as I’ll be back next Wednesday to ring in the new year by examining what is the second remake in this long cinematic history – namely Chris Thomson’s TV movie Trucks, which is based on the short story of the same name and was previously brought to the big screen in the form of King’s Maximum Overdrive. While you wait for that feature to arrive in the CinemaBlend TV section, click through the banners below to discover all of my previous columns.(opens in new tab) (opens in new tab) (opens in new tab) (opens in new tab) (opens in new tab) (opens in new tab)
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NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.
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