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"This is it?"
- John Cusack as Mike Enslin, upon entering the titular hotel room.
Hello one and all.
Horror movies in the 2000s had grown quite stale in my opinion. Gone were the genuine chills and thrills of the 60s, 70s, and 80s yester-year when filmmakers cared about their audience. Films that were about flesh and blood characters going through their worst fears and putting us through Hell and back were gone. Ghosts, vampires, kids-with-freaky-powers, psycho-killers, werewolves, witches, sharks, demonically-possessed-children, flesh-eating-parasites, beasties, gremlins, and sickos were a mainstay in each of those decades. The previous decade just decided to reboot or remake some of those horror movie memories, thinking that CGI and slick panache would do the trick. Or, just as bad, they'd take some of the best horror movies from Asia and Americanize them, thinking that the same story would work here in the states. Some of them may have worked: The Grudge is one example. Some didn't: The Ring is one of those examples.
The 90s did give us a few memorable gems: The Silence of The Lambs, Misery, Interview With The Vampire, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Se7en, Scream, The Craft, The Sixth Sense (in the queue) and The Blair Witch Project, to name a few. But, the 2000s did give us two gems in 2007, both from the name synonymous with unbridled, who-gives-a-flying-shit terror: Horror master Stephen King. One of them was The Mist (sadly, not queued this year) which was one of the best films adapted from one of his short stories. But, Mikael Håfström's 1408 wins the grand prize for taking us through another Stephen King story set in a hotel and making us beg for young Danny Torrence to rant ad nauseaum: "Redrum! Redrum! Redrum!"
Yes, 1408 is that distant second cousin to King's own story The Shining (squeezed in my 'Thon somewhere!). This one stars John Cusack as a jaded horror writer named Mike Enslin, who's trying to get some actual proof of the paranormal. His subject? Haunted hotel rooms. Every one he's been in has been a total dud and has not given him any reason to write legitimately about his experiences. His press release at a book store is so grossly unattended and he gleefully condescends to his few faithful readers. His one fan who brandishes his one honest fiction novel is also brushed to the side. After thumbing through his mail, he gets a mysterious postcard from a sleek, posh NYC hotel called The Dolphin telling him (or inviting him, perhaps) to NOT check into Room 1408.
The 2007 Movie Poster
To say Enslin is intrigued is an understatement. He is ecstatic! He immediately attempts to book the room, only to be told repeatedly: "Unavailable." He's persistent. He calls his agent (Tony Shalhoub) who is able to lawyer-deal his way in. The hotel manager, Gerald Olin, (Samuel L. Jackson who just can't NOT be entertaining in everything he's in!) is accommodating to a fault. In one of the film's best scenes where the bantering dialogue is indeed the star, Olin (Jackson) attempts to dissuade Enslin repeatedly, almost forcibly, to NOT check into Room 1408. In his word's: "It's an evil fucking room." Enslin will not budge; despite all the facts about the room and the room's massive body count, he relishes the idea of staying in the room overnight to test the theory that the room will indeed be the literal death of him. After wearing him down, Olin relents and gives him an actual silver key to the room. Enslin couldn't be more pleased. He's minutes in and growing bored. Then, lights flicker. The old digital clock radio keeps the Carpenter's "We've Only Just Begun" as its one-and-only playlist. He has a window pane slam into his hand. His mind goes into a near state of off-the-cliff insanity and he is soon ready to check out. That is, until the door handle breaks from the inside and...
Basically, it's the old cliche: "Be careful what you wish for..."
In closing, 1408 is a terrific supernatural horror film that doesn't talk-down or condescend its audience. It goes for the scares and earns them rightfully. Cusack plays his character with his typical wry sense of humor until he checks into the room and finds the truth to be more than he's able to handle. Jackson, as I mentioned, entertains by his mere presence and even more so when he goes into his soliloqual rants. He doesn't tell Enslin to not stay in the room for his own health and much less because he cares; but more so, to prove that once a man makes up his mind, he has only himself to blame for the horrors that he traps himself with.
Fun Little Fact: Both Cusack and Jackson reunite for another Stephen King adaptation from his novel Cell. That one bombed at the box-office.
Next Up: A boy with a scary gift — the ability to see the dead.