Friday, October 9, 2009

30 Days of Fright - 08: 1408

Anyone who visits the cinema on a regualar basis understands that Hollywood dishes out disappointment all the time. There's nothing worse then going to see some flick you've been looking forward to for ages only to realise half way through that it's muck. Last night, Hollywood introduced me to a whole new level of crushing disappointment - the Director's cut of a film that makes it worse then the original release!

1408 follows John Cusak as author Michael Enslin who writes trashy books about haunted hotels, motels, cemetaries, castles, etc. After releasing another of these books he receives a postcard from a hotel in New York that bares the cryptic message "do not enter 1408". He contacts the hotel and is told that he cannot stay in that room. Enslin, believing this to be an elaborate publicity stunt, gets his publisher to lean on the hotel and book him into the room for the night.

Enslin travels to New York, which is where he used to live with his wife and daughter, before the little girl died of some unnamed illness. At the hotel he is greeted by the manager (Samuel L. "Snakes on a Muthafuckin' Plane" Jackson) who does his level best to dissuade Enslin from staying in the room, telling him about the large number of deaths that occurred there. Enslin, it turns out, is the biggest skeptic in the world ever, despite making his living off creepy travel guides, and doesn't believe there's anything to be afraid of.

Upon entering the room, a few odd occurrances make him reconsider his position on the supernatural, and over the course of an hour in the room he is subjected to a terrifying ordeal that not only makes him rethink the paranormal, but nearly costs him his sanity as he is subjected to an array of horrors, some of which are from his own past.

I hate getting a room in a hotel right above the Nite Club too!

1408 introduced me to a strange phenomenon. The first time I saw this movie, I saw the theatrical release that has one of the best horror endings to a movie I've ever seen. I won't go into details for fear of ruining it, but it was spectacular, especially as the first hour twenty of the film is lackluster at best, going through the motions of what passes for horror.

The directors cut, I thought, can only be better, maybe add in some atmospherics, or tidy up some of the cliché scenes that litter the forty five minutes of Cusak sat in a hotel room. But no! The durty bastards totally change the end! The last ten minutes of the movie are totally different and totally fucking shite!

Some research revealed that audiences in the US felt that the original ending was too much of a "downer" so it was re-shot - the big surprise is that they were right! The original ending is the one on the directors cut. The revised ending was the one I first saw and really really liked. Not so down, but far creepier! Sometimes, not often to be sure, but sometime test audiences are right!!!

As for the rest of the film, well it's kinda dull. Cusak is a decent actor and I've loved him in films like High Fidelity and Grosse Point Blank, but he can have difficulty picking scripts and tends to play the same type of cynical, introverted, understated character all the time, just like he does in 1408. Samuel L. (Snakes on a Muthafuckin' Death Star) Jackson is his usual functional self but he does give the game away a little when he comes into the movie - in fairness, if you turn up at some hotel and Samuel L. (Snakes on a Muthafuckin' Tarantino) Jackson is the manager, then you know you've got trouble coming! The acting highlights come from the girl playing Cusak's daughter who has a couple of great scenes and from Mary McCormack - not that she was anything special, I just like to see her get some work from time to time, the poor cow.

1408 is based on a Stephen King short story, thus explaining why it's not great. Why Hollywood likes Stephen King so much is a mystery - sure there have been a couple of huge hits off the back of his work, but for every win there are at least ten losses, everyone remembers The Shawshank Redemption but what about Needful Things? or The Mist? or Dreamcatcher? Stephen King's work tends only to frighten children anyway and the subplots and attempts at commentary on American life never hit the mark they way they should - it's time to let someone else take a crack at scary movies.

One last thing. What is Hollywood trying to say about families that only have one child? In 1408, the Enslin's only have their daughter and when she died it caused Mr and Mrs Enslin to split up. Fair enough, you might say, but isn't that roughly the same thing that happened in Minority Report (though it was a missing (likely dead) child in that case)? Is there some notion that only children are able to hold people together and once they're out of the equation then it's splitsville for mum and dad? For me, that's the real downer in 1408.

Two Thumbs Firmly Down for the Directors Cut of 1408.

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