My Top 10 Favorite Scary Movies Number 07: “1408”

 

The Original Source Material

 

        Yes I love Stephen King and all of his work.

        I think it’s pretty clear by the amount of time I spend salivating over his body of work in these essays that I am a devoted disciple of the modern master of horror. I’ve said on many occasions that THE STAND is the single best book I’ve ever read and that THE DARK TOWER SERIES is my Lord of the Rings and Star Wars times eleven. THE SHINING is the scariest book ever written and ON WRITING is one of the single most influential tomes I’ve ever had the privilege to read. So of course at least one (hint there are two more) Stephen King adaption would be on this list.

        But…

        I don’t really care for the short story 1408.

        Wait a second, where the hell are you going? Just sit your ass back down and listen to me before you take off in a huff and lay waste to the local Hardees or your local Carl’s Jr. if you are one of those freaks from the Western States. I want to explain my statement and hopefully frame it in a way that serves to inform why I love the movie version so much.

        1408 the short story is a fine and serviceable tale. As a ghost story it does its job in a workmanlike manner. I have no actual complaints about it as a story, the problem I have is it’s caliber as a Stephen King story.

        I am sure there is no one reading this meandering bit of conjecture who is unaware that love him or hate him Stephen King is the is the most successful English speaking writer of the last fifty years. I am almost as sure most of you actually consider him a good novelist. I don’t ask my readers to worship at the feet of King and treat him as the newest incarnation of the Buddha like I do. What you may not be aware of is my belief that Stephen King is the greatest short fiction writer ever.

        EVER!

        Unfortunately 1408 is not his finest hour. Like I said above it’s a GOOD story, I would even say it’s a scary story. It hits all of the beats you want a ghost story to hit but in the end it falls a little flat. Ironically it makes a better transition to Audiobook format than a lot of his other, far superior, short stories.

        In any event I suggest reading the story AFTER watching the movie. But if you are lazy like me I have, of course, provided a Wiki pull for you.

       

1408 (Short Story) - Wikipedia

"1408" is a short story by Stephen King. It is the second tale in the audiobook collection titled Blood and Smoke, released in 1999. In 2002, it was collected in written form as the 12th story in King's collection Everything's Eventual. In the introduction to the story, King says that "1408" is his version of what he calls the "Ghostly Room at the Inn", his term for the theme of haunted hotel or motel rooms in horror fiction. He originally wrote the first few pages as part of an appendix for his non-fiction book, On Writing (2000), to be used as an example of how a story changes from one draft document to the next. King also noted how the numbers of the title add up to the supposedly unlucky number 13.
 
 
Plot summary
As in many of Stephen King's works, the protagonist of the story is a writer, Mike Enslin, who writes non-fiction works based on the theme of haunted places. His book series, Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Houses, Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Graveyards and Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Castles, prove to be best-sellers, but Enslin internally reveals some guilt and regret at their success, privately acknowledging that he is a believer in neither the paranormal nor the supernatural elements he espouses in these books.
 
Nonetheless, he arrives at the Hotel Dolphin on 61st Street in New York City intent on spending the night in the hotel's infamous room 1408, as part of his research for his next book, Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Hotel Rooms. At first Enslin is unfazed by 1408's morbid history. According to the hotel's manager, Mr. Olin (who has purposely left it vacant for over 20 years), room 1408 has been responsible for at least 42 deaths, 12 of them suicides and at least 30 "natural" deaths, all over a span of 68 years. While remarking that he doesn't believe there are ghosts in 1408, Olin insists there is "something" that resides inside, something that causes terrible things to happen to people who stay within its walls for anything but the briefest periods of time, something that affects various electronic devices, causing digital wristwatches, pocket calculators, and cell phones to stop functioning or to operate unpredictably. Mr. Olin also reveals that due to the superstitious practice of never recognizing the 13th floor (the room is listed on the 14th), it is a room cursed by existing on the 13th floor, the room numbers adding up to 13 making it all the worse. Mr. Olin pleads with Enslin to reconsider, believing that a skeptic such as he is even more susceptible to the room's curse. Enslin is shaken, but his determination to follow through with his research and to not appear frightened before Mr. Olin wins out. Olin reluctantly leads him to the 14th floor, unwilling to accompany him farther than the elevator.
 
Enslin's problems with Room 1408 begin before he even sets foot through the door; in fact, the door itself initially appears to be crooked. He looks again and the door appears to be straight - then again, and it appears to be crooked again (though this time leaning to the right instead of the left).
 
As Enslin enters and examines the room, and begins dictating into a hand-held tape recorder, his train of thought immediately takes unwelcome and chaotic turns - he compares it to "being stoned on bad, cheap dope". He begins experiencing what may or may not be hallucinations; the breakfast menu on the night-stand changes languages; first it's in French, then Russian and then Italian. After that, it simply turns into a picture of a wolf eating the leg of a screaming little boy. That picture then shifts into the menu again, this time in English. When this ends, Enslin sees that the pictures on the walls have shifted into frightening visions (a still life of an orange becomes Enslin's severed head, Enslin sees pictures disappearing and reappearing, Enslin's feet sink into the carpet like quicksand, paintings come alive, etc.), and Enslin's thoughts become bizarre and incoherent. He tries to make a phone call, but only hears a nightmarish voice on the end of the line chanting bizarre phrases, for example, "This is nine! Nine! This is nine! Nine! This is Ten! Ten! We have killed your friends! Every friend is now dead! This is six! Six!"
 
Enslin finds a book of matches and sets himself on fire, which breaks the spell of the room long enough for him to escape. As he collapses, on fire, outside the room, another hotel guest who is getting ice from the ice machine sees him and is able to put out the fire. The other guest looks inside the room and something about it is tempting him to enter, but Enslin warns him not to. When Enslin mentions that the room is "haunted," the door to 1408 slams shut.
 
In the aftermath, Enslin gives up writing. He has various problems stemming from his night in the room. These include sleeping with the lights on "so I always know where I am when I wake up from the bad dreams", removing the house's phones and closing the curtains at sunset, because he cannot stand the shade of yellow-orange that reminds him of 1408 before he saved himself.

 

 

The Movie

 

        John Cusack was robbed by the 2008 Oscars. You heard me right. That he wasn’t even nominated for his work in 1408 is a crime against the art of acting. The man may be the greatest actor of my generation and his skills are on full display in 1408. He goes toe to toe with an actor like Samuel L. Jackson and not only holds his own but actually tops the man in some of his scenes.

         

        I saw 1408 the Saturday it opened with my wife and one of my best friends, Sanford, who was down from Detroit visiting. Sanford and I are both King fans and we’d been looking forward to the movie. Sanford went in with high hopes, he’s a big fan of the short story, and I went in hoping for a good solid film.

        We were both surprised.

        Sanford thought the movie was a letdown. He didn’t hate it and theses days his opinion of it has softened but on the day he was less than pleased with what we saw on the screen. I on the other hand loved the fuck out of it. There was nothing about the movie I didn’t love in the theater and still love today.

        The setting, the acting, and the cinematography were of the highest caliber. The chills and scares were real and in the end. Before you go to my wrap up go watch the movie, or at the least read the Wiki pull I’ve provided for your convenience.

 

1408 (Film) - Wikipedia

1408 is a 2007 American psychological horror film based on the Stephen King short story of the same name directed by Swedish director Mikael Håfström, who earlier had directed the horror film Drowning Ghost. The movie stars John Cusack, but also includes Samuel L. Jackson and Mary McCormack. The film was released in the U.S. on June 22, 2007, although July 13 is mentioned as the release date in the trailer posted on the website.
 
The film follows Mike Enslin, an author who specializes in the horror genre. Mike's career is essentially based on investigating allegedly haunted houses, although his repeatedly unfruitful studies have left him disillusioned and pessimistic. Through an anonymous warning (via postcard), Mike eventually learns of the Dolphin Hotel in New York City, which houses the infamous "Room 1408." Interested, yet skeptical, Mike decides to spend one night in the hotel although manager Olin (Jackson) warns him strongly against it. Mike has a series of bizarre experiences in the room.
 
Plot
Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is an unprosperous, skeptical author who, after the death of his daughter Katie (Jasmine Jessica Anthony), writes books appraising supernatural events in which he has no belief. After his latest book, he receives an anonymous postcard depicting The Dolphin, a hotel on Lexington Avenue in New York City bearing the message "Don't enter 1408." Viewing this as a challenge, Mike forces the hotel to allow him to book a stay in the room, referring to a law that any hotel room in New York can be requested as long as it is up to standards. The hotel manager, Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) tries to dissuade Mike from checking into the room, explaining that fifty six people have died in the room over the past ninety five years, and that no one has lasted more than an hour inside it. Mike, who does not believe in the paranormal, insists on staying in the room, and asks Olin if he thinks it is haunted; Olin replies that it's not haunted; it's just an evil room.
 
Once inside the room, Mike records on his mini-cassette the room's dull appearance and its unimpressive lack of supernatural phenomena. During his examination, the clock radio suddenly starts playing "We've Only Just Begun", but Mike assumes this is a trick of Olin's. At 8:07, the song plays again and the clock's digital display changes to a countdown starting from "60:00". Mike begins to experience supernatural events, including the window slamming down on his hand, the hotel operator calling about food he didn't order, and spectral hallucinations of the room's past victims as well as of his family, particularly his daughter. Mike's attempts to leave the room are in vain; the doorknob breaks off the door, climbing through the air ducts prompts an escape from the corpse of a former room victim, and climbing onto the window ledge reveals the windows of the other rooms are gone. The ledge scenes have a lot of similarities to King's short story "The Ledge".
 
Mike uses his laptop to contact his estranged wife Lily (Mary McCormack), but the sprinkler system shorts out his laptop. The room temperature drops to subzero when the laptop suddenly begins to work again, and Lily tells him the police have entered 1408, but the room is empty. A doppelganger of Mike appears in the chat window and urges Lily to come to the hotel herself, giving Mike a diabolic smile. The room shakes violently and Mike breaks a picture of a ship in a storm, flooding the room. He surfaces on a beach, the result of a surfing accident earlier in the film, and after returning to a normal life and reconciling with Lily, he assumes it was all a dream. Lily persuades him to write a book about it, but when visiting the post office to send the manuscript to his publisher, he recognizes a construction crew as the hotel staff, and they destroy the post office to reveal Mike is still trapped in 1408, the walls now burnt and broken. A vision of Katie appears to Mike, and after some reluctance, he embraces her before she crumbles to dust. Mike hears the clock radio begin to play and looks for it in the rubble, seeing it count down the final seconds. When the countdown ends, the room is suddenly restored to normal, and the clock radio resets itself to 60:00.
 
The "hotel operator" calls Mike again after the clock resets. When Mike begs to be released, she informs him that he can relive the hour over and over again, or utilize their "fast-checkout policy;" Mike sees a hangman's noose and has a vision of himself hanged, but refuses. Mike uses a bottle of cognac he received from Olin to make a Molotov cocktail and sets the room on fire. The hotel is evacuated and Lily is prevented from entering. Mike then throws an ash tray at the window, causing a back draft. Fire fighters enter the scorched room, and pull Mike to safety. In his office, Olin quietly says, "Well done, Enslin. Well done." As Mike recovers with Lily at his bedside, he tells her about Katie, but Lily doesn't believe him. The two reconcile and Mike moves back in with Lily. During the move, Lily finds a box of items retrieved from the rubble of 1408. Mike retrieves his tape recorder and after some tinkering, gets it to play. As Lily unpacks their stuff, he replays the conversation with him and Katie. Lily overhears the recording and drops the boxes, staring at Mike in horror. Mike stares at her grimly, as the scene blacks out.
 
Alternative endings
 
The Original Ending
Director Mikael Håfström has stated that the ending for 1408 was reshot because test audiences felt that the original ending was too much of a "downer". The original (alternate) ending, which did not make it to the final cut, saw Mike dying in the fire, but happy to see the room destroyed. During Mike's funeral, Olin approaches Lily and Mike's agent where he unsuccessfully attempts to give her a box of Mike's possessions, including the tape recorder. Before being cut off, Olin claims that the room was successfully destroyed and that it will no longer hurt anyone else. He later listens to the recording in his car, becoming visibly upset when he hears Katie's voice on the tape. He looks in the car mirror and sees a glimpse of Enslin's burnt corpse in the backseat. Olin places the tape recorder back in the box and drives off. The film ends at the gutted room, with an apparition of Mike looking out the window and smoking a cigarette. He hears his daughter calling his name, and disappears as he walks towards the room's door. A sound of a door closing is heard and the screen blacks out.
 
This alternative ending is the default ending on the Blu-ray release and two-disc collector's edition. Canadian networks Space and The Movie Network, as well as U.S. network FX, broadcast this version of the film; although, Space did broadcast the original ending version on July 23, 2012. This ending is also used on the U.K. and Australian DVDs, and the U.S. iTunes and Netflix versions of the film.
 
Alternative Ending #2
Another ending takes from both above endings, as Mike dies in the fire, as per the original ending, and Olin is seen in his office chair saying, "Well done, Enslin. Well done." Then, instead of the funeral scene, we only hear a faint voice over of the funeral for a few seconds (to establish that Mike died) over establishing shots of LA, and then we find Lily in her LA residence sorting through Mike's boxes with Mike's agent, who says, "Well, at least he went out in a blaze," drawing a disapproving glance from Lily. Mike's agent offers to stay and help her but she tells him she'll be fine. The agent goes back to his New York office, sorting through his mail, and in his pile of mail he discovers the actual manuscript that Mike sent him about Room 1408 that Mike wrote when Mike thought he awoke from his dream. As the wide eyed agent reads the story, audio scene flashbacks are heard from Mike's tale and the movie ends with the agent's office doors slamming shut as Mike's father's voice echoes, "As I was, you are. As I am, you will be."
 
Alternative Ending #3
In an alternative addition to the main ending, Mike is alive, living with Lily, as per the main ending, but when he plays the tape where he hears his daughter calling out to him, this time Lily continues working in the house, not hearing what Mike hears. And as he "hears" his daughter, as recorded from Room 1408, Mike closes his eyes and clutches the tape recorder to his chest, as if it is something special that only he can feel.

 

 

The Wrap Up

 

        1408 is my favorite Stephen King movie ever made. Once more listen to me before you storm away and declare war on some random fast food chain. I am not saying 1408 is the best adaptation of a Stephen King story to screen, that honor will probably always go to The Shawshank Redemption. What I am saying is that it is simply my favorite.

        The movie is scary, entertaining, and heartbreakingly touching. In the end it’s the tale of a man who has been pushed beyond what he believes he can endure and comes out clean in the end (like Shawshank ironically) Mike fights the pervasive evil of the Dolphin hotel and defeats it. It has one of the only nihilistic endings I have ever enjoyed.

        And that brings two final questions before I let you go today.

        The first is a question unique on this list to this movie alone. Which ending do I prefer? To be clear, and by clear I mean crystal, I am a fan of all three endings. But when the bullet hits the bone I prefer the original ending. In that one we get the awesome scene with Olin, the jump scare with Mike, and the touching final scene with ghost dad and daughter. For all of its awfulness, cause you know Mike died and all that shit, this ending is the happiest. Mike died on his own terms, he defeated the room, and he was reunited with his daughter and made whole once more.

        And the second question is of course, does it hold up? Of course it holds up, are you high? Watch the damn movie and then feel the shame you deserve for even thinking to ask me that question.

        Shame on you, what would your granny say?

 

 

- Josh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Josh Hilden

When I was born on August 3, 1976 in the great state of Michigan the hills shook and the sky was swept with fire. These were portents of the greatness for my future that was written in the stars ... I'm still waiting for that greatness. My name is Josh Hilden and I am many things. I am a husband, a father, a son, a friend. These are all important things but at my core I am an artist and the medium that I work in is words. I am a writer of Horror, Science Fiction, Drama, and Role Playing Games. I worked for Palladium Books (www.palladiumbooks.com) and Third Eye Games (www.thirdeyegames.net) before striking out on my own and founding a small press publishing company Gorillas with Scissors Press (www.gwspress.com). I also work for Fat Goblin Games (www.fatgoblingames.com). In the everyday world I can be found spending time with my family and friends. I have been married to my lovely wife Karen since 1996 and we have six amazing children. We tend to be a family of unabashed geeks and gamers who were geek before geek was chic. If you are really interested in me I am very active online with a personal and a writing blog along with a plethora of social media outlets. If you have any questions or just want to chat hit me up!