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Monday, September 3, 2012

Day 247: Misery

If this was made today, he'd be a blogger

Some of the scariest horror movies ever have no monsters in them. Movies like Psycho, Silence Of The Lambs, Audition, and Cape Fear have terrified audiences for years without the need for anything supernatural. Sure, vampires, zombies, and demons can give us jolts and make us worry about darkened corners, but Man is usually the scariest villain. By having a human as a horror films antagonist, it creates a sense of realism that no amount of makeup or special effects can equal. Of course, it doesn't hurt when Stephen King is doing the writing.

Based on the novel by Stephen King, Misery is a 1990 psychological horror movie starring James Caan (The Godfather, Rollerball) as famed novelist Paul Sheldon. Paul's series of novels based on a character named Misery Chastain is highly successful, but Paul feels the need to branch out. After finishing his new novel in Silver Creek, Colorado, Paul starts to drive back to Los Angeles when he gets caught in a blizzard. The white-out conditions cause Paul's car to go off-road and crash. He is rescued by a nurse named Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates, Titanic, Fried Green Tomatoes) who claims to be his biggest fan. She takes Paul back to her isolated home to care for him since he has broken both of his legs. He wants to call his publicist and his daughter, but Annie tells him the phone lines are down. Initially, Annie appears to be friendly, if a little quirky, but her harsh nature is soon revealed. After purchasing Paul's latest book, Annie has an angry outburst after reading that Misery has been killed off and locks Paul in his room. Meanwhile, the local sherrif, Buster (Richard Farnsworth, The Grey Fox, The Straight Story) investigates Paul's disappearance, discovering his snow-covered car. While others believe Paul died somewhere in the woods, Buster believes that someone pulled him from the car and rescued him. The next day, Annie reads Paul's latest manuscript and is not happy. She forces Paul to burn it, insisting that when he is better, he can rewrite something worthy of the Misery series. Fearing for his life, Paul begins to write a new story and tries to stay on Annie's good side. One day when Annie leaves the house to go into town, Paul manages to escape his room and steals painkillers from a closet. He tries to drug her with a glass of wine, but she spills it before she can drink any. During another escape, Paul discovers a scrapbook of Annie's filled with newspaper clippings describing infant death's at a local hospital and Annie's subsequent trial. Knowing that Paul will never love her the way she loves him, Annie breaks Paul's ankles in brutal fashion. How will Paul be able to escape and will Buster find him before it is too late?

It could be worse. I could've been in the Rollerball remake

Misery takes what is essentially a very simple story and crafts a thrilling and horrifying tale. The characters are all believable, which makes truly scary. Paul's vulnerability throughout the majority of the movie and his dependence on Annie create a palatable anxiety. Without her help, Paul will die, but her brand of “help” is just as dangerous. The movie gets to the point quickly and keeps the excitement going with a fast pace. Annie's insanity isn't obvious at first, but we get enough of a drip so that the horror grows exponentially. There are a few traditional jump-at-you scares, but most of the fear comes from knowing that Paul is helpless. He is surrounded by an atmosphere of dread never quite knowing what will happen, but sure that something will happen. The audience wants to help Paul escape, but we are just as helpless as he is. While a majority of the movie is based on psychology, there are still some very violent scenes. Annie “hobbling” Paul with a sledgehammer is extremely vicious and difficult to watch. We may not see blood and gore, but we're given just enough to be completed horrified, with the rest left to our imagination.

It's true that the story is good, but it's the execution that puts Misery over the top. James Caan and Kathy Bates are absolutely fantastic, together and separately. The majority of the movie is just the interaction between both of them. With lesser actors, the movie would not have been able to succeed, but they are so incredibly strong in their roles that nothing else is really needed. There's a good reason why Kathy Bates won an Academy Award for her role as Annie. She is so incredibly good that it is almost hard to separator her from the role. She is able to flip the crazy switch at a moments notice, going from loving caregiver to raging lunatic in a split-second. James Caan is equally as great in his role. He is essentially the audience's avatar and he is able to convince us to feel the way he does. Every painful movement, every fearful glance just increases the horror and fear. Director Rob Reiner (When Harry Met Sally, Stand By Me) is incredibly comfortable in a movie that is outside his usual comfort zone. His direction is smart with no scenes being wasted or unnecessary. 

Hammer time!

Misery is a movie that grabs that audience and never lets go. It is a thriller, a chiller, and a psychological horror movie all wrapped in a neat, disturbing little bow. No supernatural creature is needed to make this movie scary as a human being is scary enough. The story is simple, but compelling with good scares and action. There isn't a lot of violence compared to other horror movies, but what violence is shown is extreme. Kathy Bates and James Caan are both superb and I feel that the movie wouldn't have been as good without their talent. Rob Reiner creates an intense atmosphere that compels the audience to keep watching and hoping for Paul's escape. While it may not be one of the first movies to come to mind when thinking of all-time great horror movies, Misery certainly belongs there. From start to finish, it is scary and entertaining.


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