The surreal story of a haunted high-tech hospital plagued by child ghosts, eerie psychics and freaky forces of nature, as seen through the eyes of America's most popular novelist and master of horror, Stephen King.
Based on the cult Danish miniseries The Kingdom, from Europe's most distinctive contemporary filmmaker Lars von Trier, Kingdom Hospital weaves a dark, terrifying tale threaded with stunning visual effects, macabre mysticism and twisted humour.
"It's dark and spooky, but you'll also have some tremendous belly laughs," says Executive Producer Mark Carliner, who has worked on King's television projects since 1995. "One of the greatest defences against fear is laughter. Black comedy is a rare and exotic form for network television."
The series also draws heavily from Stephen King's own personal near-death experience in 1999 when he was nearly killed by a van while he was walking near his home in Maine.
Kingdom Hospital is a frightening and shocking tale of a hospital built over the site of a great fire that killed many children over 100 years ago.
The curse and the past disaster now haunts the present establishment. In these shiny new surroundings of today, old secrets have begun to surface as doctors who have put their faith in science and technology are dismissing the unexplained mysteries and unseen powers they probably shouldn't ignore.
The genesis for Kingdom Hospital occurred in 1996 when King was in Boulder, Colorado while shooting the miniseries The Shining. There, during a browse in a video store, King found a subtitled video of the Danish miniseries The Kingdom.
"I was immediately knocked out by how scary it was, how funny it was, and how universal it was regarding the world of medicine," he said.
Von Trier, who is a huge fan of King, was excited by the prospect of the author adapting his work. Carliner claims that Kingdom Hospital replicates the original project on one level, while adding a completely original project on another tier. "It's an homage to von Trier's work but it represents a real collaboration from these two distinct talents. So the outcome is truly unique."
Although progress on the project was initially slow, King became more invigorated by the idea as a result of a painful, grueling incident. During a walk down a Maine country lane in 1999, he was hit by a driver who had several drink/driving offences. That accident, and his arduous recovery, put him in the hospital for extended stays, giving him ample opportunities for first-hand introspection and in-depth examination of the atmosphere, medical care, varied denizens, ailments and healing that go on there.
King's renewed take on The Kingdom also tied in with his high regard for the British miniseries, Dennis Potter's widely-acclaimed Singing Detective. In that genre-bending production, Michael Gambon plays Philip Marlow, a mystery writer confined to a hospital bed. His stay prompts wild fantasies in which he plots out a murder tale as both a big band singer and private eye.
Carliner says, "The accident and Stephen's extensive hospitalization gave him a more profound insight into Lars' material. These things only happen to Stephen King."
Kingdom Hospital is closely linked thematically to King's other recent works in his exploration of good versus evil. He pioneered the 'novel for television' format with 1999's Storm of the Century, which he considers one of his best works.
Kingdom Hospital is an extension of that format, allowing King the luxury of a multi-episodic structure to develop characters while, in a sense, making - as Carliner describes it - "one giant movie."
King calls it "the Über story," or one overall arc, but also includes several plotlines - some creepy, some sweet, some funny - that service stand-alone episodes.
Origins: The Kingdom
Kingdom Hospital owes its origins to a 1994 Danish Miniseries called just The Kingdom. Created by eccentric Danish auteur Lars von Trier, it told the story of a hospital cursed by its original founder, who was planning a return from hell.
The new version, while radically different, is remarkably faithful to the spirit of the original. Many character names are the same (Mrs Drusse, Mary, while Steg Helmer becomes Dr Stegman). You'll find many haunting images in both - Dr Hook's graveyard, the hospital fraternity, and the otherwordly dishwashers.
But there's a lot unique about the original - the story's satisfyingly different enough, and there are quite a few shocks and surprises that haven't made it to the US version - such as Mrs Drusse's truly unsettling hearing test.
The original version of the Kingdom is available in the UK on video and DVD. A second series was made - but this is annoyingly unavailable.