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.
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