Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday Flashback: Misery (1990): One Big Bastard Of A Movie!

In keeping with our winter horror theme, we're going back to 1990 for a great film with a snowy setting, and a storm that figures in centrally to the story line.

An absolutely virtuoso performance by Kathy Bates highlights one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever made.  Rob Reiner lends a careful eye to detail and keeps the fluff to a minimum in this at times chilling yet always entertaining film.

Paul Sheldon (James Caan, also fabulous here) is a multi-million dollar selling novelist whose fortune has come from penning sappy historical romance novels with a main character named Misery Chastain.  He's disgusted with himself, tired of selling out to Misery's success and ready to try out a new genre. He is back at the Silver Creek Lodge as per his usual course of action when he's finishing up his latest manuscript. This time though, it's a departure from the romance he's been doing.

Proud of his work and excited to turn it in to his agent, he starts off for home but gets caught in a menacing blizzard and goes over an embankment and into a deep snow bank.

Lucky for him, someone has been following him and hence treks down through the snow to rescue him from certain death.  Enter Annie Wilkes (Bates).  Paul Sheldon's Number One Fan.

At first, Paul thinks he has to be the luckiest man in the world. Imagine your luck, wrecking your car in a major snowstorm. Easy to imagine it would be your last hours on earth, waiting to slowly freeze to death and perhaps not being found until the spring thaw.  But Paul is found, carried out (yes!) to safety by a big brute of a registered nurse. He's then driven to her humble abode and tucked into a nice warm bed. 

When he awakes, Annie is at hand with pain meds and an explanation of the severity of his injuries, including compound fractures of several bones in both legs, rendering him utterly helpless.
At first, all seems well.  Annie is a very attentive nurse, always ready with food, comfort, and stories of just how much she loves Paul's books.  What a crazy coincidence!  Snowbound at a house where someone doesn't just love his books, she lives and breathes them.

They get along like gangbusters for a while, with Paul even agreeing to allow Annie to read his unpublished manuscript (which she conveniently managed to dig out of his wrecked car as well), which makes her so excited she can barely contain herself. Annie also assures Paul that once the storm stops and the phones are up, she'll get in touch with both his agent and his daughter. She even introduces him to her pig, Misery.

There is a creepy moment of clarity however, when the two are discussing Paul's new novel -which Annie doesn't like in the least due to excessive profanity - and she flies off the handle, spilling hot soup on Paul.  Though she profusely apologizes, Paul gets a first hand look at the other side of Annie Wilkes.  And it's not pleasant.

Unfortunately, the final Misery book is released during Paul's extended stay at Annie's isolated farmhouse. Naturally Annie grabs up the first copy of the novel while shopping in town and digs in.  One night, Paul is awakened by a very pissed-off Annie, who has finally gotten to the part where Paul killed off Misery Chastain. And then, things get really (in Annie's words) oogy.

The local sheriff Buster (Richard Farnsworth), meanwhile, is following leads and doing his own investigating in an attempt to locate the missing author. Paul's agent (Lauren Bacall) also fears the worst as she tries to track him down as well.  He finds some newspaper articles about a trial that involved Annie and several dead infants at a hospital she was employed at. He matches one of her quotes from the trial with a line from one of the Misery books and presto!

But Annie isn't letting Paul get away with killing off Misery.  She exacts a revenge custom suited to her needs by forcing Paul to first burn his unpublished manuscript and then setting him up with a typewriter to write a new Misery book - one that will bring her back from the dead.  For inspiration, she puts on her Liberace records. 

But Paul isn't just going to lay down and give up.  He's getting stronger every day, and when Annie makes trips to town, he ventures out of his confinement and attempts to find a way out that he could manage while still in a wheelchair.  Sadly though, this idea ends badly when Annie finds out Paul has been out of his room. If you've seen this film, then you know what comes next. 

Misery doesn't shy away from showing how bad an unhealthy obsession can get. The film is torturing us just as Annie does the same to Paul, physically.  Paul's struggles to get out mirror Annie's struggle to keep him there at her house forever. When she admits she's never called anyone - that no one is coming to get him, and that no one even knows he's there - it's probably the most frightening moment of the entire film.  When you realize just how bat-shit crazy she really is, it's too late. You're completely engrossed. And loving every minute of it.

Like I said, Kathy Bates was so excellent, portraying what is now known to be one of the scariest horror villains (male or female) in all of movie history.  Put Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter with Kathy Bates here and you have a set of horror bookends that's hard to beat. And they have the Oscars to prove it.
At times it's hard not to feel a little bit bad for Annie- she's obviously a sad soul -but then you have to shake it off, remember that she killed a bunch of babies, and is more than one fry short of a Happy Meal.

But that's what makes Misery so deliciously good!

"The rain. Sometimes it gives me the blues. When you first came here, I only loved the writer part of Paul Sheldon. Now I know I love the rest of him, too. I know you don't love me, don't say you do. You're beautiful, brilliant, a famous man of the world and I'm…not a movie star type. You'll never know the fear of losing someone like you if you're someone like me."
~ Annie Wilkes

1 comment:

Marie said...

I adore this movie