Trivia While addressing his audience at the book signing, Mike says "Stay scared." This is a phrase traditionally used by director George A. Romero, a friend of Stephen King's
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8th Mar 08
John Cusack plays Mike Enslin, a writer who makes his money investigating alleged hauntings and debunking them, all the while just maybe hoping to find a genuine one to confirm that there is an afterlife. With this being Stephen King territory, Enslin doesn't just do this for the fun of it, he does it because he lost his daughter and has yet to come to terms with it ((SOB)).
Enslin receives an anonymous postcard, saying "don't enter 1408", which prompts him to visit room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in New York. Denied a room reservation for 1408, Enslin finds a loophole to which the hotel begrudgingly concedes and lets him have the room. Upon arriving, he thinks that the speech the hotel's manager Gerald Olin gives him is all part of the standard spiel to psych up anyone venturing into room 1408 so does not heed the warning and books in. Note! If a guy that looks and sounds like Samuel bleedin' Jackson tells you not to book the room, you DON'T BOOK IT!
Not long after settling into his room, he is subjected to repeated listening of the Carpenters song 'We've Only Just Begun'. And if that wasn't frigging unnerving enough, other things start occurring that not only test his sanity, but also sees that Enslin gets to mess his hair up BADLY.
Review 1408 was well received by critics upon its release in August 2007 and went on to do very well at the North American box office, grossing $71.9million from an estimated $25million. On just its gross profit, and not factoring in for inflation, 1408 is presently the most financially successfully horror movie adapted from the work of Stephen King.
The Green Mile took well over $100million back in 1999 so is probably the most successful overall but isn’t really horror, even with Tom ((shudder)) Hanks in it. The success did not transfer so well across the rest of the globe with just a piffling $27.3million bringing its worldwide gross just shy of $100million.
Stephen King adaptations are a mixed bag. The tendency seems to be that anything of his that isn’t of a horror bent transfers with better results to the big screen – take for instance the following The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Men. When his horror novels / short stories are pitched at celluloid, for every Kubrick’s The Shining there’s a Dreamcatcher, Graveyard Shift and a Pet Semetary to tarnish his on-screen transferability.
Adapted from a Stephen King short story found within his Everything’s Eventualanthology, this was a story that he very nearly didn’t write. The genesis of 1408 came about when King put together some text for his book on how to write books ‘On Writing’. He came up with a few pages to emphasise how to go about revising a first draft. King found he couldn’t let the premise go and ended up completing it with his alleged inspiration coming from the escapades of a real-life parapsychologist Christopher Chacon.
To make King’s horror transfer to the screen successfully it takes a director of some repute – DePalma for Carrie, the aforementioned Kubrick, Rob Reiner for Misery. 1408 is helmed by Swedish director Mikael Håfström who despite a promising start with the exceptional Evil (2003), kind of derailed himself, with um, the Jennifer Aniston vehicle Derailed (2005).
Håfström has made a competent, rather than a spectacular movie, which plays out like The Shining-lite - there are some thrills early on but it’ all ruined when it… we’ll come back to that later. Critics generally applauded 1408 and some considered it the best horror offering of 2007. Their feeling was that in a glut of more extreme horror pictures, Håfström’s PG-13 rated and gore-free spook-fest came as welcome reminder of good old fashioned thrills in place of spills.
So why has the movie only been awarded just a two star rating given the general critical consensus? Firstly, the movie is more effective building up the event rather than sustaining it. This is a shame as for the first hour or so it ticks all the right boxes, with an abundance of ‘boo’ moments – a man swinging an axe appearing out of nowhere; a spectre jumping out the room’s window – that all work. It’s then that the movie takes a big turn for the stupid!
Håfström heavily tips the audience off at a very early stage that a certain surfing accident is going to figure again later in the movie. It is so contrived that when the plot does deviate back to this, you emit a loud heavy groan and much of the good work achieved up till that point quickly dissipates. When the plot gets back on track all goodwill has vanquished and the viewer sits feeling cheated that such a promising film resorted to a cheap device normally to found in bottom-shelf atrocities at the local Blockbuster’s.
The director has badly judged the build-up and pay-off with the scenarios Enslin faces within the room veering off from the realms of ‘has he been drugged?’ / ’Is this all in his mind?’ to ‘here’s an ocean of water pouring out of a painting’. Also Cusack is better when faced with the possibility of losing his mind as to when he actually is pulling his hair and squealing - a routine that becomes tired very quickly.
The movie succeeds elsewhere with its neat asides to other work by King by design, such as a victim of the room being called Grady – the former caretaker in The Shining – and also by default, King can’t help making the lead character in his stories a writer; um, The Shining again, Misery, even up to more recent tomes such as Lisey’s Story which has the general thrust again about a writer.
There are also a number of references throughout the movie to the number ‘13’ – 1408 is 13 if you add the four separate numbers together - so if you do get bored by the events unfolding on screen, you can knock yourself out by spotting them. Here’s a couple to keep you going, pay attention to the numbers on the room’s key lock and note the year that the first death in the room occurred.
So what’s different with the Director’s Cut of 1408? For a start it’s around three minutes longer and contains the original ending that test audiences considered to be a downer. I’m not one for spoiling things so as to what this ending entails - that’s for you to find out. As to whether it is worth your while as a rental, if you haven’t seen the film then yes. If you have already, chances are that you’ve forgotten how it ended anyway and wouldn’t care either way so best leave it on the shelf.
EXTRA FEATURES John Cusack webisode – this is one of those little clip things where the actors explain their character and the plot. Don’t expect any insights into the movie or the making of it
Inside Room 1408 webisode – more of the same as above but nice to see footage behind the scenes at Pinewood
Theatrical trailer – the third feature and also the third to show the little girl tell John Cusack that ‘everybody dies Daddy’. These extra features are beginning to feel grimmer than the film
5 deleted scenes with optional commentary – much talk about how films can be re-cut and re-cut again and its fun watching John Cusack in a lop-sided room struggle for the door but that’s about it
The Secrets of 1408
- The Characters featurette – Much better. Is a little congratulatory in terms of what everyone brings to the film, the behind the scenes stuff is always interesting to see – more please!
- The Director featurette – Self explanatory and redundant. Watch as John Cusack struggles to describe the man calling the shots
- Physical Effects featurette – a five minute feature that again regurgitates what has already been shown elsewhere in the extras, wasting half its meagre running time showing how they filmed a scene that didn’t even make the film!
- Production Design featurette – At the end of this mini feature, you’ll be pulling your hair and going insane much like Mike Enslin in the film
Audio commentary by director Mikael Hafstrom and writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski – By now I had gotten bored with the repetition of detail in the other ‘special’ features and decided to give it a miss.