Tuesday, October 16, 2007


What a pleasant surprise this movie turned out to be. I normally hate haunted house movies, as they almost always suffer from some pretty crippling flaws, so I was not too optimistic about this one’s chances, particularly with it starting off with a pretty major strike against it, in that it’s a horror movie based off a Stephen King story. Those almost never turn out well, to be kind. Despite that, this one manages to run a close second to The Changeling for my all time favorite haunted house movie (okay, haunted hotel room, but it works out the same), and may be second only to Carrie for my favorite of King’s horror movies.

Part of the credit for the film’s success goes to John Cusack, who stars as Mike Enslin, a bitter and jaded writer who goes around the country to check out spooky locations and writes up a bunch of drivelish copy about them for idiots like myself to eat up (Hey, if the shoe fits…). After getting a tip on a hotel room in Manhattan, he bludgeons his way into room 1408 at the Dolphin, where, after being extensively warned by hotel manager Samuel L. Jackson in a nicely understated role (for Jackson, anyway) about the numerous deaths in the room’s history, and how nobody has ever survived more than an hour, he manages to get his room key and enters the room. While the room’s actions are the main thrust of the story, it must be said how well done the backstory to the room is. This is an important part of any haunted house story, and King understands that well, piling on death after death so thickly that, by the time Cusack and Jackson part ways, we’re almost choking on them.

But back to the room. Cusack is of course studying this room so he can write about it later, and so upon arrival he immediately scours it, recording everything to the smallest detail. This is great on a second viewing, as pretty much everything he names, from the paintings to the windows to the pillows, will later try to kill him, so his first look around the room and subsequent annoyed “This is it?!” are that much better to watch. As mentioned earlier, nobody has ever lasted more than an hour in the room, so shortly enough the clock by the bed flips to 60:00 and begins counting down, as the room starts pressing its attack. While the room goes after him physically quite a bit, slamming windows down on his hand, sending phantoms to attack him with knives, altering the temperature to unbearable levels, and more, the psychological assault is much more terrifying, as it gets into his mind and finds his past family tragedies, and digs at him through them. I won’t reveal exactly what happens, because that would be unfair to those who haven’t watched it yet, but I will say that, for anyone who has lost a daughter like I imagine I will someday, it is very painful.

This is not a perfect film, but for a haunted house movie, it’s about as close as you can expect to get. If you’re in the market for a more psychological type of horror, one that gets under your skin rather than just disemboweling people for your amusement, than you can’t go wrong with this one.

Rating: *** ½

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