Misery (1990)


Main Cast: James Caan, Kathy Bates

Director: Rob Reiner

“Annie, whatever you’re thinking about doing, please don’t do it.”

In all of the King on Film reviews I’ve done, MISERY (1990) is the one I was looking forward to the least and the one I put off doing the longest.  Not because it’s a bad movie but because it’s 1) a great movie, and 2) everyone has seen it.  MISERY, for me, really marked the beginning of a mainstream crossover success for Stephen King movies.  It’s a very King story, but there’s none of the supernatural stuff most people attribute to King’s work. 

MISERY was really a hit for fans and non-fans alike, resulting in an Oscar win for it’s lead co-star Kathy Bates as the murderous Annie Wilkes.  And everyone saw it.  Hell, I’ve probably seen it a dozen times myself, which is yet another reason I was in no hurry to watch it AGAIN for this review.  But finally I decided to stop procrastinating and get it over with.

And you know what?  I’m glad I did, because it’s still a hell of a movie.

In it, James Caan (THE GODFATHER) plays Paul Sheldon, a famous bestselling author, who is returning from a snowy mountain retreat where he superstitiously also goes to finish his novels.  New completed manuscript on the seat beside him, Paul heads down the mountain to return to civilization.  Unfortunately he finished his novel just as a blizzard is hitting, and his car goes off the road.

Paul is rescued by ex-nurse and local girl Annie Wilkes who not only has the knowledge and equipment to fix him up, but also claims to be his #1 fan.

At first things are okay but tense.  Paul wants to communicate with the outside world, but Annie says the storm has made that impossible.  But as soon as he’s well enough she’ll take him to town.  Meanwhile she not only makes him burn the only copy of his latest book–too much profanity, Paul is better than that–but also goes into a fit upon reading the latest novel in Paul’s Misery series when she discovers he’s killed off her favorite character.

That’s when things go south.  Annie hasn’t contacted anyone or told anyone where Paul is, or that he’s even alive.  And as far as the world is concerned, Paul died when his car when off that cliff.  No one’s looking for him and no one knows where he is.  So he’d better do what Annie says, or else.  And what Annie says is that Paul has to write a new Misery novel.

Not an easy feat when he just killed her off.

With a screenplay by William Goldman (THE PRINCESS BRIDE) and directed by Rob Reiner (STAND BY ME), MISERY has “win” written all over it.  Goldman is an expert at distilling a novel to its core pieces and getting across so much story with very simple dialogue, while Reiner’s sense of pace and tension are pitch perfect.  He knows how to endear you to even the most intimidating characters, and he knows how, with just a simple thing like a camera angle, to increase the amount of suspense in an otherwise unassuming scene.

Credit also to Caan and Bates who inhabit these characters completely.  Paul’s determination to survive his ordeal is made obvious without a word spoken about it, simply through Caan’s expressions and the actions his character takes.  Bates’ portrayal of Annie Wilkes feels so spot-on. Certain changes were made to the novel, obviously, but as far as I can tell, every one of those changes worked to the benefit of the movie as a whole. 

It’s not the movie that is best representative of King’s work overall.  It’s not even the best King movie made.  But you take away that King name and view MISERY on its own and it’s a damn-near flawless movie anyway.  The conflict is plausible, the characters relatable even if you’re not a famous writer or an unpredictable ex-nurse, and the way each scene leads so smoothly into the next is the obvious work of many masters of their crafts working together to form a more perfect whole.  Great stuff, highly recommended.

King on Film

Carrie (1976)

‘Salem’s Lot (1979)

The Shining (1980)

Creepshow (1982)

The Boogeyman (1982)

Cujo (1983)

Disciples of the Crow (1983)

The Woman in the Room (1983)

The Dead Zone (1983)

Christine (1983)

Children of the Corn (1984)

Firestarter (1984)

Word Processor of the Gods (1984)

Cat’s Eye (1985)

Silver Bullet (1985)

Srazhenie (1986)

Gramma (1986)

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Stand By Me(1986)

The Lawnmower Man (1987)

Creepshow 2 (1987)

A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

The Running Man (1987)

Sorry, Right Number (1987)

Pet Sematary (1989)

The Cat From Hell (1990)

The Graveyard Shift (1990)

IT (1990 Mini-Series)

The Dark Half (1993)

The Tommyknockers (1993)

Needful Things (1993)

The Stand (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

The Mangler (1995)

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

The Langoliers (1995)

Sometimes They Comes Back … Again (1996)

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)

Thinner (1996)

The Shining (1997)

Ghosts (1997)

Chattery Teeth (1997)

The Revelations of ‘Becka Paulson (1997)

Trucks (1997)

The Night Flier (1997)

Chinga (1997)

Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)

Gerald’s Game (2017)

1922 (2017)

The Stand (2021)

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