Thursday, September 27, 2007

Movie Review: 1408

Some supposedly cheery things are actually quite creepy: clowns, for example, puppets, certain nursery rhymes. Add to the list Karen Carpenter warbling We've Only Just Begun on a crappy clock radio.

Who would have thought such a sweet and tender voice could resonate with such foreboding? It turns out to be one of the more effective hair-raisers in this old-school gothic horror, based on a short story by Stephen King , whose short works always seem to adapt well to the screen.

Though 1408 is set in an eery old hotel (the title refers to a suite where dozens of guests have checked out, often via the window) and the central character is a writer ( John Cusack ) slowly driven mad during his stay, it's got more in common with gritty King classics like Christine than the slicker The Shining.

Cusack is the ever-believable Everyman Mike Enslin, a once-promising-novelist-turned-travel-writer whose books are devoted to "haunted" hotels and inns. But the only demons this cynical self-styled ghostbuster believes in are those that haunt his past.

That is, until he checks into the Dolphin Hotel's room 1408 (the digits add up to 13, and the room is technically on the 13th floor). Walls bleed, paintings come to life, ghosts of past guests flicker about like old newsreel footage.

Like Mike, we're never quite sure if the spooky stuff is in his mind – possibly a drug-induced hallucination – or if the room really is "fucking evil," as the hotel manager ( Samuel L. Jackson ) attests.

Either way, the scares cause genuine jumps and shivers, and are decidedly bloodless, which is a pleasant change from recent gorefests.

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