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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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This Stephen King tale could use a revision
But 1408 has potential: It's from King, after all.
By Steve Persall Times Film Critic
Published June 21, 2007
Review 1408 Grade: C+ Director: Mikael Hafstrom Cast: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack, Tony Shalhoub Screenplay: Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski, based on a short story by Stephen King Rating: PG-13; violence, terror, scary images and profanity Running time: 94 min.
Stephen King's stories are so filmable that even first drafts can become movies.
King originally imagined 1408 as nothing more than a textbook exercise; he wrote the beginning of it as an example of how to make revisions in his instructional book, On Writing. Eventually he expanded the idea to a novella, lit-speak for something between a long short story and a very short book.
The movie version of 1408 plays like another kind of tutorial, skillfully employing the rudiments of screen terror: isolated confinement, unexplained forces, shocking edits and sonic stings. It feels like the first cut of what could be a scarier film, a sturdy foundation that only minor frights are built upon.
John Cusack is practically a one-man show, spending most of 1408 losing his mind and avoiding things that go bump in the night. The title refers to a hotel room where dozens of people have met untimely deaths. Cusack plays Mike Enslin, a guidebook author who specializes in paranormal places for thrill seekers. Room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel could fill a book, not just a chapter.
Mike's cynicism about his subjects is briskly defined. All it takes to abruptly shatter his scepticism is a minor injury and a haywire clock radio eerily playing a Carpenters song. "We've only just begun," the song promises. Mikael Hafstrom's movie seldom reaches beyond that starting point.
Through Mike's eyes, we see ghosts and bleeding walls. We hear strange noises. We are reminded that it's not a good idea to crawl through air-conditioning ducts during danger. Like every other tormented author King has written about, personal demons are at the root of whatever is happening to Mike's psyche. Like so many modern fright flicks, it involves a dead child.
However, 1408 has two things going for it: a finely frantic performance by Cusack, who usually won't stoop to such pulpish material, and a sincere respect for classic movie chills instead of the gruesome revulsion so often mistaken for terror these days.
Hafstrom and three screenwriters to adapt a novella? concoct plenty of chances for tension. A crack production team makes them real, if a bit disjointed, like a carnival ride jerking us one way for a shiver and another for a scream.
Some stunts work, and others don't.
Cusack's natural wryness and Samuel L. Jackson's too-brief turn as the hotel manager who knows the score add comic relief even when there's little to gain relief from.
1408 knows the procedures that used to work and half-heartedly tries to make them topical again. But we're too far past naivete for anything approaching sophistication to frighten anybody.