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1408: Finally, A Scary Good Time With King

June 20, 2009

There was a time many, many years ago when a new Stephen King horror movie adaptation would interest me.  But those many years ago seem like lifetimes ago, really.  Of all of the King “horror” adaptations that I have seen, only The Shining, Cujo, Christine, The Dead Zone, Children of the Corn, Riding the Bullet, The Night Flyer and Pet Sematary really work on multiple levels.  They include sympathetic figures, suspense, supernatural elements, and interesting dialogue.  A few of them are still considered classics today, and the blood flowing like an ocean from the elevator in The Shining is the reason, I believe, that I have spent 32 years with the genre.

history of horror

history of horror

If you have read any of King’s novels, you are already familiar with the difficulties they present to scriptwriters and directors.  The genius of most of King’s stories is that he is a master of inner dialogue.  His characters come to life through their thoughts and most secret desires.  I have read in their entirety The Stand, Needful Things, The Dark Half, Misery, The Green Mile, and most recently The Colorado Kid; and I have read parts of lots of others including The Tommyknockers, Salem’s Lot, and Lisey’s Story. 

With the exception of  Misery and The Green Mile, which exist in a category of their own along with such beauties as Delores Claiborne, Stand by Me, and Apt Pupil, none of these movie adaptations worked.  They are not scary; they are not interesting.  It is widely known that King will sell for 1 dollar the rights to any story that a filmmaker would like to make.  Admirable, of course, but the number of poorly crafted, disappointing visions has created a cesspool of garbage atop a small treasure trove of gems.

And this brings me to the most recent King adaptation, 1408.  In spite of the lure of John Cusack and some decent word of mouth, I ignored it.  I wish I hadn’t.  1408 is a scary, well crafted horror movie that,  like Misery, Cujo, and The Shining, benefits from its claustrophobic setting, constant threat of death, and strong acting from Cusack. 

The premise is a simple one; Cusack’s Mike Enslin is a writer looking for his next story.  He wishes to stay in the infamous room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in New York City for inspiration.  In spite of rediculously strong warnings against it from Samual Jackson’s hotel manager Gerald Olin, which includes a file 5 inches thick of bloody, unexplainable deaths  that have occurred in this room, Enslin will not relent.  In an effort to create a sufficient reason for Enslin’s irrational and rediculous decision, Cusack works hard to make us believe that he is desperate, strong, and stubborn beyond the norm.  Enslin sees it as a challenge, a game, and is willing to overlook the 50 or 60 gruesome deaths in exchange for a moment of inspiration.

Yes, it is rediculous, and with Saw IV about to start and Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer already in my DVD player, I was ready to go.  But then we follow Cusack’s character to the 14th floor.  He walks slowly toward his room while leafing through each gruesome photograph depicting body after body.  We see the room numbers as he walks by 1401, 1403, 1405, and then suddenly, the elevator opens.  How did he end up here again?  He wonders along with us.  And just like that, I am hooked.  Once inside the room, the insanity begins and Cusack plays it perfectly.  

The game starts small.  The toilet paper mysteriously refolded into a point , the radio turns on by itself, the air conditioner doesn’t work, a ghost walks past, and then the clock goes haywire and like a stop watch, sets the countdown at 60 minutes.  You see, no one survives in room 1408 for more.  And this is where 1408 gets King right.  We are in Cusack’s head, and the power of the movie is that the room is actually terrifying.  Cusack shows us a character reacting to an environment that is truly inescapable.  We would all do what he did, we would all go as crazy as he goes, and it is one of the scariest times I have had with a movie in a while.

This is one of those movies when the question, “Why would he…,” almost ruins the whole experience, but the answer is simple, “Who cares.”  If you are willing to overlook the motives, the premise, and the emptiness of the overall story, then you will appreciate 1408 for what it is, a scary, thrill ride that takes you inside a room, that not since “The Shining,” has presented such an alluring mystery.  In some ways, it is a movie about the Overlook Hotel’s room 237; and in many ways, it is a welcome exploration of the unexplored horrors from one of the most influential movies of all time.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 9, 2009 9:48 am

    Re: This is one of those movies when the question, “Why would he…,” almost ruins the whole experience, but the answer is simple, “Who cares.” If you are willing to overlook the motives,

    As Hannibal Lecter says, motive is incidental.

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