Joe’s Blog

1408 (2007)

January 16, 2009 2:20 am

 

1408 poster

So what was the last decent Stephen King adaptation?

Most people, I imagine, would be inclined to say The Green Mile, but since I’ve no desire to see a three hour Jesus allegory with Tom Hanks discussing erectile disfunction, I’ve managed to find a spare day in which to watch it.

This was, of course, preceeded by the Greatest Film Ever Made (according to imdb users), The Shawshank Redemption. The problem with both of these is, they don’t feel like Stephen King films. It’s like saying the best Wes Craven film is Music of the Heart (Meryl Streep struggles to teach violin to inner-city Harlem kids… I’m not making this up).

Despite the occassional low-key triumph (Apt Pupil, Dolores Claiborne) there hasn’t been a great Stephen King film since 1990’s Misery. So one wonders why film studios still wet their pants over him, and even hunt out older stuff to adapt.

1408 was originally a short story in an audiobook collection first released in 1999, so why nearly ten years later it should be dredged up for a big-budget, high-profile movie is beyond me.

¬†Anyway… John Cusack is a writer (in a Stephen King story? You don’t say!) who is cynical, sarcastic and generally quite rude. His work consists of crappy tour guides of haunted places, of which his latest is a book on haunted hotels.

He lives a reclusive life and over the course of movie we discover ‘what made him this way’. I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that he left his wife a year before following the death of their daughter.

One day he recives an unsigned postcard from the Dolphin Hotel in New York telling him NOT to stay in 1408. His interest peaked he decides to do the complete opposite.

The hotel manager, a superb cameo from Samuel L. Jackson (Note the word CAMEO, despite what the poster and credits may have you believe), tries his best to dissuade Cusack. he regales him with tales of suicides, accidental death and one guy who slit his own throat and then tried to sew it back with a darning needle. Oh, and the guy who drowned in his soup. Spooky…

Most people, he claims, never last longer than an hour. So there’s our ticking clock.

Undettered, Cusack checks in and within about ten minutes it’s all gone crazy-ape-shit-bonkers: a murderous woman appears, Cusack sees a reflection of an evil doppleganger, he sees his father and dead daughter, Sam Jackson appears in his minibar.

If this all sounds ridiculous, well, it is.

The first half an hour was excellent. The build up to Cusack checking in rachets up the tension superbly. Jackson’s hotel manager stays just the right side of knowing camp, and you feel he genuinely is scared of the room (it’s explained that no-one is allowed to use the room and Cusack only gets access after threatening legal action!).

The turning point comes with the first shock: yes, it’s that old staple the radio that turns itself on at an obscenely high volume… gets ‘em everytime! But more terrifying than that is the fact that it’s playing The Carpenters. I shit myself. The clock radio then proceeds to inform us of how much longer Cusuack will have before he dies. So we now, literally, have a ticking clock.

Speaking of old staples we also get bleeding walls, paintings that change, mysterious voices and visions, and the classic crying baby noise (which I do find very unsettling).

Cusack is very good, basically carrying the film for 80% of it’s running time. It’s just him and the room. But there is a tendancy for his character to drift in and out of cynical mode. At one stage he is so traumatised by what he’s experiencing he tries to escape through the air vent only to be confronted by some zombie (looking oddly similar to the nazi zombies in Shock Waves). After dispatching the zombies jaw, he falls back into the room only to deliver a clunky one liner about how it’s good to be back.

You’re probably thinking, why doesn’t he just leave the room? Ah, well they’ve thought of that. You see, as Jackson explains, this room “is an evil fucking room”. When does try to leave he finds the door locked, and the key breaks off in the lock. OMG!

But it’s OK, cos he’s a modern guy, despite still using an old fashioned tape dictation machine. Hooray, he’s got a mobile phone! It only takes him half the film’s running time to finally decide to try and use it (the room’s phone, obviously, just connects to a cheery but sinister reception desk from hell), but he forgot that Jackson had already explained that “electronics don’t work so well in … 1408″. Surprising then that he manages to get his laptop to work and manages to have a slightly fuzzy video conference with his estranged wife, who seems more concerned with arguing with her clearly distressed husband, than helping him out.

The whole ‘Shining in a hotel room’ just doesn’t work. Whilst The Shining was never going make a satisfactory two hour film and be faithful to the book (personally, I love the film because it doesn’t try to make an authentic adaptation work), 1408 has barely enough going for it to cover a two hour film.

It’s a Twilight Zone episode, a Tales of the Unexpected story (particularly it’s drearily predictable and ridiculous last scene) at best. It’s impressive start is blown away in seconds and you then spend an hour being bombarded with noise and effects.

Hotel-based horror is better served recently by the low-rent (in budget, setting and cast) Vacancy.

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