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Another Portland Blog

Wednesday, June 27, 2007



Like many people my age, I spent a good portion of middle school parked in front of a Nintendo or Stephen King's entire catalog. With a few exceptions, I'm sure I conquered everything he published between the early '70s and the early '90s during those three years. While I get the occasional itch, I've managed to stay on the wagon since sometime in high school.

That's not to say I sneer at all of King's stuff these days. I'm still convinced that The Body (AKA Stand By Me) should be taught in every remedial Sophomore English class in the country. I've also been unable to avoid the movie adaptations. Not only have I sat through that incredibly cheesy remake of The Shining with the guy from Wings, I've seen the even cheesier version of Desperation that aired on ABC last year. While watching 1408 over the weekend, it finally dawned on me why no one can successfully adapt King's horror stories for the screen: the elements of his novels are way too over-the-top to be portrayed literally.

In one scene in 1408, John Cusack opens up a minibar in his evil hotel room and finds himself arguing with an hallucination of Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the hotel's manager. On the page, (the movie shares little in common with the King's short story, according to Wikipedia, but stick with me here) it might work but actually looking at this hotel manager standing in a refrigerator as he laughs manically? The best special effect in the world can't make something like that work and it undermines everything else. No amount of ghost kids or nightmare scenarios in elderly care facilities can wash away the image. It's the same thing that doomed the '90s version of The Shining when the producers attempted to visualize Danny's invisible friend and a similar adaptation of The Langoliers. The thought of little round balls with sharp teeth eating the entire world is scary on paper but not so scary when slapped together with half-hearted CGI.

That's not to say 1408 is a bad movie. Cusack does the best job an actor could while spending an hour of screentime fighting an evil hotel room. The film delves into real-life horrors likely to cause more sleepless nights than a family of axe-wielding hicks or any number of sadistic east European millionares. An earlier scene between Cusack and Jackson is probably the best I've seen in a film so far this summer.

I'm trying to think of another film to that pits a single man against a single entity (ghost? demon? whatever?) in a battle royale to the death but nothing's springing to mind. I guess this means 1408 is like nothing else I've seen. That should count for something.

Still, there's that scene with the refrigerator that keeps 1408 on a level below another King adaptation about an alcoholic author slowly losing his mind in a hotel. The hat trick Stanley Kubrick pulled with the first adaptation of The Shining was to keep things ambiguous and the stuff that couldn't work off camera. 1408's biggest flaw is its stubborn willingness to spell out everything. The ending, with a slight tweak, could have been fantastic and as classic as that creepy B&W image of Jack Nicholson at the New Year's party. Sadly, the producers decided to leave little room for interpretation.

On a related note: here's a photo of King's house in Maine. For some reason, I've always pictured a disarming farmhouse on a large piece of property up a long driveway. Still, it makes perfect sense for the world's most famous horror novelist to live in a place like that. I wonder if the spiderweb gates came with the house when he bought it. Now I wonder where H.P. Lovecraft spent all his time.

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