Like many TV miniseries based on Stephen King's writing, The Stand gets increasingly ridiculous as it works into the later installments -- in part because the author's most unfilmable ideas usually appear near the end of his epic works (see the It miniseries for a particularly egregious example). However, the first chunk of this one is both spooky and tense, as over 99 percent of the world's population vanishes from a fatal strain of the flu called Captain Trips. In his second of an eventual half-dozen King projects, director Mick Garris captures attention right away with a chilling opening sequence in which the camera weaves in and out of cafeterias, control rooms, and hallways of a disease center full of dead bodies, stopped in their tracks by the virus. Blue Öyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" is the perfect soundtrack accompaniment to this ominous display. As the dozen or so main characters negotiate the sudden disaster, it's an utterly portentous examination of the breakdown of modern society. However, as the story grows more mystical, it outstretches the resources available to a television movie, particularly in the special effects department, gradually worsening up to the ludicrous finish. For every Rob Lowe, Gary Sinise, and Bill Fagerbakke well cast in their roles, there's one too many of Molly Ringwald or Corin Nemec to undercut the seriousness of the project. Jamey Sheridan does do a good job personifying the grinning evil of King's most terrifying villain, Randall Flagg, which his previous work wouldn't have predicted.