1408: Two-Disc Collectors Edition – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Director:

Mikael Hafstrom

Cast:

John Cusack .Mike Enslin
Samuel L. Jackson .Gerald Olin
Mary McCormack .Lily Enslin
Tony Shalhoub .Sam Farrell
Jasmine Jessica Anthony .Katie

The Weinstein Company and MGM present 1408. Written by Matt Greenberg, Scot Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. Based on a short story by Stephen King. Running time: 104 Minutes. Rated PG-13 (for thematic material including disturbing sequences of violence and terror, frightening images and language).


The Movie

Full of cheap thrills and dead bodies, that’s the horror we love (or loathe). As far as quality such movies are a dime a dozen. But there will always be a market, especially for teenagers with disposable income. They can’t get enough DTMs (dead teenager movies) it seems. However, the hardcore incarnations, the torture-porn craze that began with Saw and its sequels, is quickly fading. A film like 1408 is a welcome departure. For a PG-13 rating — a rating that some may consider a cop out to the horror genre — this film is a renaissance. It harkens back to the days of less is more, where the greatest scares are those conjured up in the viewer’s mind and not necessarily seen.

Based on a short story from Stephen King, a man who is no stranger to misery or needful things, the title refers to a room at The Dolphin Hotel in New York, NY. The saying “you can check in, but not out,” is appropriate for such a room. More than a few dozen have had untimely demises during their stay in 1408. Natural and unnatural complications abound. Some have died descending fourteen stories to the two-lane blacktop below. Others fit themselves with a noose. It’s an evil room that’s always vacant and never occupied.

A précis of the room, our protagonist is someone who has a common affinity to the short story author. John Cusack plays Mike Enslin, a once-promising writer of fiction. This is a character King has written many times before — in The Dark Half and Secret Window for instance. His The Shining is about a haunted hotel driving a writer to insanity. Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic interpretation may have strayed from the original source, but Jack Nicholson, his demeanor and the atmosphere of the film are the piece de résistance.

Mikael Hafstrom’s adaptation of King’s story is of a man who makes his living writing about supposedly haunted hideaways. Such a life, writing a book about locations plagued by quasi-supernatural forces. Mike Enslin is a man actually looking for ghosts and goblins; he wants to get spooked. Enslin has suffered a loss that is unbearable, leaving him empty and out of sync with the rest of the world.

Upon publishing his latest haunted expose, which reads like a compilation of restaurant reviews with different grades of spooky, Mike gets a postcard from The Dolphin Hotel. The message: Don’t enter room 1408. Researching the hotel and the room, he becomes interested. He is drawn to the mysterious room-for-rent domicile with those little creature comforts like a mini bar and pillow mints. Of course it is in the best interest of the Dolphin’s manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) to not let Enslin spend one minute in 1408, let alone an entire night. Olin warns the writer that no one has ever survived more than one hour inside the room. Well, this only makes Mike that much more stubborn and unyielding to gain access. Soon the author is on his way to the fourteenth floor, along with his tape recorder and the manager’s bargaining chip: a vintage bottle of liquor.

Director Hafstrom and his creative staff have their work cut out for them. Rarely can a film revolve around a singular individual. But Cusack, always the versatile actor — he’s gone from aspiring kick boxer to freelance hit man to instigating a runaway jury — is able to draw us in. A tortured soul, he must overcome one physical test after another. His odyssey includes freezing temperatures, the chance of drowning, and stark flashbacks of the family he had. Cusack has a gamut of emotions and delivers a great dramatic performance. He is both cynical and someone who is perceptible to paranoia. He is a one-man horror show, able to preserve our attention for an hour and a half.

But the ending, while playing off the notion that false surprises are an integral part of the horror genre, is not shocking or liberating. And the story structure is a bit hackneyed. The terror works for the most part, but the resolution is a down note. Yet successive replays may work in 1408‘s favor, however.

Avoiding the conclusion, this is still an enjoyable feature. Hafstrom is able to bring King’s short to life, and Cusack’s three-dimensional portrayal of a writer passed the brink of sanity may just be the performance of his career. Now Genius Products has unleashed a two-disc DVD package that has solid audio and video and extras that are to die for. We get two versions of the film, one of which has an alternate ending. So, even if you won’t spend much time in room 1408, at least know that you can never go home again.


The DVD

A/V QUALITY CONTROL

The presentation is excellent. No blemishes detected in the transfer, which is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16 x 9 televisions. Hafstrom’s use of color, especially the style choices for room 1408 is worth noting — the muted greens and the look of an old apartment you’d see in classic film. Facial tones are solid, as are blacks.

Along with a French dub, the audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. It hits all the right notes evoking a certain mood. If watching in a darkened room at home, you may start to have a feeling of claustrophobia; dread sets in while the audio trembles away. But the music and sound effects don’t impede on the dialogue. They are able to coexist, never trying to out-perform the other. While viewing 1408 you also have the option of selecting English captions or Spanish subtitles.

SPECIAL FEATURES

In the abovementioned review I hinted at a director’s cut. It is located on the second disc with most of the supplemental material. Disc 1 is a little light; the only extras included are two webisodes and the theatrical trailer. The webisodes are entitled “John Cusack on 1408” and “Inside Room 1408.” Both are a little over two minutes each and are very promotional in nature. I’ll give a slight nod to the second webisode because at least we get a glimpse at the special effects trickery, with footage of hydraulic lifts and a water tank.

The second disc has Haftstom’s extended cut of 1408, which is about eight minutes longer, and it is presented with optional commentary from the director and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. Don’t expect any radical changes. There is a bit more character development with little asides, including a new scene where Mike visits his father. The alternate ending (or the original intended one) is much different than the one in theaters. No spoilers, but it is more satisfying. The ending is not abrupt. This is probably the section of the audio commentary in which to listen. Get a better understanding from the creators as to why this ending was not included in the theatrical version.

The rest of second disc includes features we have come to expect: deleted scenes and short featurettes. There are five clips with the director and screenwriters again providing optional commentary. “Contacting Lily,” “Wrought With Guilt,” I Warned You About 1408,” “Tilting Room & Lily Pleads At Door,” and “Arriving At The Dolphin” are scenes that failed to make it into the director’s cut. Listening to the creators, you’ll get a better understanding of why they were omitted.

The short collection of featurettes each highlights one specific aspect of 1408. The segments include “The Characters” (7:59), “The Director” (5:14), “The Physical Effects” (4:17) and “The Production Design” (5:24). I guess a feature on Stephen King was too much to hope for. But his presence is well documented in featurettes found on other King-related works. These tidbits are not as promotional as the webisodes, but the likelihood you’ll visit them more than once is slim.

THE INSIDE PULSE

Mikael Hafstom’s direction, John Cusack’s great performance and the production design. If you find fault in any of these areas, well maybe you need to spend another hour inside 1408. Good scares and suspense help to further torment Cusack’s Mike Enslin character. Call it thriller or horror, this still is a film that shows the subconscious is a nightmare all unto itself. False closure and an abrupt ending may not leave you satisfied, but the presentation of the DVD sure will. Two cuts already make this rental worthy, but the top-notch video and sound dynamic will appeal to home theater buffs. And if you are a fan of Cusack or Stephen King, definitely check this out.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for 1408
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

7.5
THE VIDEO

9
THE AUDIO

9
THE EXTRAS

6
REPLAY VALUE

6
OVERALL
7
(NOT AN AVERAGE)