Yep. I went to see a horror movie. That’s spooky right there. It’s based on a Stephen King short story of the same name, which I’ve never read, because to be on the safe side, I’ve always assumed Stephen King was too scary for me. He’s even scary in real life, apparently — I once knew a guy who grew up with Stephen King, and it sounds like that whole town was seriously creepy.
Yep. I went to see a horror movie. That’s spooky right there. It’s based on a Stephen King short story of the same name, which I’ve never read, because to be on the safe side, I’ve always assumed Stephen King was too scary for me. He’s even scary in real life, apparently — I once knew a guy who grew up with Stephen King, and it sounds like that whole town was seriously creepy. But I really like John Cusack, and I survived The Messengers all right, and though I try to avoid seeing reviews before picking out a film, I couldn’t help but realize just how bad Evan Almighty was. So 1408 it was.
John plays Mike Enslin, a writer who, after turning out one of those “stunning debut novels” that “heralds the arrival of a powerful new voice”, sinks into the realm of the new age section and the bargain tables, churning out book after book on hauntings: the 10 Scariest Hotels, 10 Scariest Graveyards, etc. He’s never seen a ghost, or indeed anything that really required explanation, apparently, but he gives his readers what they want — stories about strange atmospheres and eerie noises.
But he himself wallows in depression, drinking a lot (which you’d think might make him see a few things right there) and wearing his cynicism and annoyance with the world like a suit of armor. He lives like a beach bum in California, and dresses kind of like a regular bum, though I did like the baseball cap that read “Paranoia is total awareness”. It’s all to help him forget the pain of the daughter he lost. When he gets a postcard of the Dolphin Hotel in New York, telling him not to go to room 1408, it’s all just part of the job to him, another place trying to build up their business with a good ghost story.
Samuel L. Jackson (Gerald Olin, manager of the Dolphin) is billed in this movie also, which is actually kind of strange. He has one really good long scene with John at the beginning, before things get creepy, and then one odd little scene later, and that’s it. He’s really intense, as always, and scary in his own right as he tries to persuade John not to stay in the room, but it seems like something of a waste of talent. Tony Shalhoub (Men in Black and TV’s Monk — he’s from Wisconsin, just like me!) is also here, but don’t go for popcorn, or even blink hard, or you’ll miss his bit of exposition.
You know that John ends up in the room, though, in spite of Mr. Jackson’s best scares. Even a thick file folder full of pictures of all the gruesome deaths, stretching back 95 years, doesn’t dissuade him — not because he’s particularly brave, but just because he doesn’t believe in anything anymore.
This was, overall, a pretty creepy movie. But it’s more creepy in the sense of a drunk’s visions while in the grip of the DT’s, or someone having a really bad trip. It’s a tour of John’s subconscious, really, and the horror there is different than the standard horror movie stuff– it’s all more psychological horror, except for a few instances when the film lapses into slight silliness. The “Claw Hammer Maniac”, for instance, really wasn’t as scary as you might expect from the name — he made me jump, but only because he popped up out of nowhere. The really frightening things were much more subtle — mints appearing on the pillow out of nowhere, the TV blaring to life for no apparent reason, and the scariest thing of all: repeated playings of “We’ve Only Just Begun”, by the Carpenters. Yikes.
But aside from a few effects that just didn’t work out as they should have, it was pretty good. I’m giving this one three and a half idols. The film’s almost wall-to-wall John Cusack, which is fine with me — he’s a really good, low-key actor, which is what this movie needs. He plays a great cynic who suddenly finds out there’s more left in the world than he thought — not necessarily such good stuff, but at least more than he’d had before. And the moral of the movie is simple: When Samuel L. Jackson tells you not to do something, you listen to the man. Seriously.
Originally posted June 2007. Would you believe I’ve entirely forgotten the Claw Hammer Maniac part? You’d think that would have stuck with me better.