Tuesday, October 12, 2010

31 Days Of Horror Day 12: 1408

All right, let’s get this out of the way…

“I’m tired of all these Motherfucking Ghosts IN MY MOTHERFUCKING HOTEL!!!

1408 stars Cusack as the author of a series of gimmicky haunted house books, the type seen at every book store impulse rack. When he’s tipped to the haunted room 1408, he pulls some serious strings to get there, and very quickly wishes he hadn’t.

1408 is a pretty great little horror movie, well structured and paced. Taking time to build tension and character. The rumor of 1408 is allowed to build gradually. It’s nearly fifteen minutes into the film before the room is even mentioned. Forty before anything untoward happens. 1408 uses this time to build characters who you actually care about, and would like to see not die. I know crazy right? It also actually build it’s tension rather instead of dissipating it at every possible opportunity with cheap boo scares. Bizarre.

This technique climaxes with the conversation Cusack and Jackson (at his best and most understated. Only giving it the full "SAMUEL JACKSON" once) have in Jackson’s office. It’s a top notch piece of work. Exposition as entertainment in a way you rarely, if ever, see. By the time Jackson leans in and gravely intones “It’s an evil fucking room.” It’s like reaching the peak of a roller coaster and feeling a rather agreeable turn of the stomach as we wonder if the drop is really as far down as it looks.

Like Secret Window it practically becomes a one man show (Len Cariou also carries over in an effective one scene role). And Cusack proves more then up to the task. And he’s given very good material to work with. Able to work in his trademark dry humor and charm, whilst still freaking the fuck out.

While Pet Semetary took a book with an angry core of grief and loss and drained it of all it’s richness. 1408 takes the opposite approach and takes a story with virtually no subtext and fills it with an aching human core. The Short Story "1408" collected in "Everything Is Eventual", is a efficient, functional little ghost story. But doesn’t really rise above OK. It was originally a few disconnected passages used as an exercise in "On Writing". And it’s the result more of King hating to leave stuff half done then any real passion for the story. There's is little to recommend it past the neat central conceit that the haunted room is not a den of vengeful spirits, but a kind of temporal venus flytrap.

1408 isn’t just creepy it’s creative, never resorting to boilerplate haunted house imagery, instead coming up with sickly personalized ways to torment Cusack. Both as a character and an actor. In the film’s most darkly funny moment, a hotel created doppleganger gets to employ that Lloyd Dobbler puppy dog sincerity based charm that has so long been his bread and butter for a remarkably sinister effect. Hell we’re talking about a film that makes the Carpenter’s "We've Only Just Begun" creepy (one can imagine some maid with a transistor radio pushing past 1408 and the haunted room thinking “Bloody hell. That’d be Perfect!”)

Look 1408 isn’t what you’d call traumatizing, no one’s ever going to confuse this for Martyrs. But sometimes you don’t need that. Sometimes what you need is a little, but genuine, scare. And 1408 more then fits the bill. 1408 isn’t just one of the better Stephen King Adaptations, it’s one of the few that actually improves on it’s source material.


Klod said...

it reminds me "in the mouth of madness"..i don't know why.. maybe because the man is a writer who suffers from hallucinations and some scenes repeat themselves endlessly.. i don't know.. maybe these features are common to many horror movies..

Bryce Wilson said...

Very true. The trick is knowing how to use them well.

Paul said...

I'm surprised this movie isn't as well known or liked by horror movie fans. I watched it for the first time late at night in my empty apartment and, as a seasoned horror movie fan, was shocked to find myself getting creeped out. (I had a similar experience recently with the movie House of the Devil).

You forgot to mention the ambiguous ending where you're not sure whether or not he made it out of 1408.

le0pard13 said...

This is one of the few Stephen King adaptations I've not seen. I remember the short story well, though. Because of your review, I will rectify this. Thanks, Bryce.

Neil Fulwood said...

I approached '1408' with low expectations, given how average the short story is (a decent first half followed by a swift descent into disappointingly pedestrian writing), and was pleasantly surprised.

No; scratch "pleasantly". The film genuinely is creepy and worms its way effectively under your skin.

Good on yer for singing the praises of a truly underrated film.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Paul: I first saw it in a pretty packed theater. Works well with a crowd to. I went with my sister and cousin, who said she didn't like horror movies. I figured she could handle a PG-13 one. She covered her face with her hand's from Samuel Jackson on. Still Hasn't forgiven me.

I didn't mention the ending mostly because I don't interpret it that way. Though I certainly think it's valid.

Interestingly enough the director's cut make it very clear that he DOES escape room 1408. Albietly not in corporeal form.

@ Le0pard: Looking forward to hearing what you think man.

@ Neil: Many thanks Neil. It is amazing how this one grows on you. It doesn't do anything particularly special. It just does everything right.

Marcus said...

It definitely deserves to go into the good Stephen King adaptation file, which is sadly so sparse. I'm totally digging you doing a Stephen King week, but then again, that's probably not suprising seeing as how I'm almost as big a SK fanboy as you are

Bryce Wilson said...

Many thanks sir. Here's hoping I get to read your own take on Peter Quince someday.

Budd said...

this really was a great movie.