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In Appreciation Of: Misery (1990)

Stephen King Week BTC

In celebration of the Master Of Horror’s 70th birthday, Before the Cyborgs presents Stephen King Week a look at some of the best known cinematic adaptations of Stephen King’s novels.

Stephen King’s horror stories frequently feature elements of fantasy ( IT, Carrie, The Shining etc.) but he’s showcased his ability to create narratives realistic in their setting that can create just as much fright as his supernatural tales. Misery fits into this category well as both a plausible chain of events and a legitimately unsettling and scary story. King writes human emotions well and even in his horror-fantasy creations, the human element is always present and developed. With Misery human emotions are most definitely a central character and Rob Reiner’s film captures it wonderfully.

Novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan)  crashes his car on the way back from a winter lodge and is then rescued and nursed back to health by the mysterious Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). A self-confessed “biggest fan” of Paul, Annie who is a nurse by profession seems at first to be a kind and compassionate caretaker. It soon becomes clear however that she has sinister motives and an even more sinister past; coupled with her clear paranoia and split personality Paul Sheldon’s ‘hospital’ stay becomes an actual living nightmare.
Trapped in her home while the authorities continue their investigation into his disappearance, Annie’s increasingly erratic and violent behavior culminates in an inevitable showdown where only one person can emerge…

For her portrayal of Annie Wilkes, Kathy Bates won the Academy Award for Best Actress, a truly deserving and just recognition. Her calm re-assuredness together with sudden mood swings made audiences unsure of where the story or Annie’s demeanor would go next. Being both chilling and downright creepy, Bates’ portrayal is a fine example of masterclass acting.

The screenplay by another acclaimed author, William Goldman (The Princess Bride), brings King’s wittiness and subtleties to life and is of course accentuated by the great cast. From the infamous “Hobbling” scene to Annie’s “cockadoodie” rant, and Paul’s attempts to escape while wheelchair-bound “Misery” is a psychological thriller at its best.

Film horror doesn’t always have to be about slashers or the supernatural, often its best outputs are the ones rooted in reality. Stephen King has mastered both varieties and with “Misery” brought forward another classic human horror masterpiece for both readers and viewing audiences alike.