The latest adaptation of a Stephen King short story, 1408 stars John Cusack as scribe Mike Enslin, a hardened cynic who writes tour guides reviewing the spookiest spots across America. After suffering a personal tragedy, Enslin spends lonely days on a book tour seeking solace in spirits of a different kind, the only kind he believes in, until he receives an anonymous postcard touting Room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel in Manhattan as prime ghost-hunting territory. A determined Enslin sets off on another debunking mission, but initially has trouble reserving the room. It turns out that hotel management has closed off Room 1408 since the 1980â€™s due to 56 deaths, including a parade of jumpers, a man who slit his own throat and tried to sew it back up with a knitting needle, various self-inflicted eye gougings, and patrons stricken with a nasty case of insanityâ€”all within an hour after checking in. To summarize, â€œitâ€™s a fucking evil room,â€ says Samuel L. Jackson as the hotel manager who implores Enslin to stay away with no success. (â€œI donâ€™t want to clean up the mess,â€ he explains.)
Cusack is terrific as the increasingly desperate protagonist at war with the roomâ€™s special effects, including bleeding wallpaper, morphing paintings, extreme temperatures and, most chillingly, a digital clock-radio that blares the Carpentersâ€™ â€œWeâ€™ve Only Just Begunâ€ at the most inopportune moments. Itâ€™s scarier than it soundsâ€”I guess â€œHotel Californiaâ€ would have been too obvious?â€”but if this were all that it was about, the film would quickly turn tedious. What gives â€œ1408â€ its edge and distinguishes it from scores of other haunted house special effects movies is the psychological component: Enslin is forced to confront the most frightening creatures of allâ€”yep, those pesky inner demons.
In contrast with Kingâ€™s other hotel horror masterpiece The Shining, which evoked a sense of dread from its isolated snowbound setting, Kingâ€™s story manages to wring genuine chills despite its mid-Manhattan setting, mostly in everyday objects found in typical hotel roomsâ€”no easy feat. All in all, this is a smart, above-average horror flick definitely worth checking out.
By Mercurio D. Rivera for Senses Five Press