1408 - 5/31 Days of Halloween
No spooky movie marathon is complete without at least one work by the undisputed master of terror, Stephen King. Technically I filled that quota with yesterday's review of Creepshow 2, but I didn't think you'd all mind if we gave ol' Steve another go, would you? Personally, I think King did his best work in the 70s and 80s. His works have always been hit or miss for me, and it's become obvious that there isn't an editor alive with the cojones to stand up to him and tell him when he's wrong or that a book has gone on far too long. That said, when he hits, the King hits hard. Nothing makes me roll my eyes at a King story like his favorite lazy plot device: telepathy and/or telekinesis. But today's spooky tale is completely devoid of that tired trope. Let's check in to the 2007 chiller, 1408.
As the film opens, we meet jaded author Mike Enslin, played by John Cusack. Enslin travels the country visiting and debunking haunted locations. After a particularly disheartening bookstore signing, Enslin returns home to LA and, after a minor surfing accident, checks his mail. He receives a postcard from the Dolphin Hotel in New York City. The message on the back of the card is short but sweet: DO NOT ENTER 1408. Noting that the numbers add up to 13, Enslin is amused and intrigued by the note and calls to reserve the room, thinking it will be the perfect final chapter for his new book. When the staff refuses to grant his request, Enslin invokes a little-known civil rights law that prohibits hotel staff from denying an unoccupied room to a patron should they request it. When he arrives at the Dolphin, Enslin meets privately with the manager, Mr. Olin (played by Samuel L. Jackson). Olin attempts to dissuade Enslin from entering 1408, insisting that it is simply "an evil fucking room." Enslin is amused by Olin's efforts, taking the speech as an attempt to build up the room's reputation in his mind. Undeterred, Enslin checks into the room, at first finding it unremarkable, but he soon realizes he's made a mistake when the room takes hold of him and refuses to let go.
1408 (based on the short story of the same name) is not the only time Cusack and Jackson have headlined a Stephen King adaptation. They would be reunited for the critically panned Cell in 2016. I haven't heard anything good about that film, which is a damn shame, because Cusack and Jackson both shine in this movie, having excellent chemistry during their single scene together. This same scene features one of my all-time favorite pieces of movie dialogue. When asked by Olin if he drinks, Enslin replies, "Of course! I just told you I'm a writer."
It's hard to talk about what Enslin experiences in room 1408 without spoiling the experience, so I won't even try. I recommend you experience it for yourself. I will say, however, that 1408 is a visceral psychological roller coaster. The film does a fantastic job of chronicling Enslin's rapid descent into madness. As a writer, I particularly appreciate Cusack's performance. I've seen some pretty craptastic depictions of writers in film and television, which is rather ironic because... well... they were written by professional writers! Every writer can see themselves in Enslin, from the soul-crushing bookstore events to that one story they regret writing. Cusack gets two thumbs up from me. The movie has four different endings with the DVD and blu-ray releases differing. Personally, I prefer the DVD version, which is the one I own.
Overall, 1408 is a fun, freaky film that breaks the humdrum Stephen King mold and gives us something fresh. This is definitely one to watch with the lights off.