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Sunday, June 24, 2007

1408

I love hotel rooms. I really do. I used to travel a great deal in a former job and spent countless nights in hotel rooms across the country so I got to know the familiar smells of disinfectant cleanser and those tiny bars of soap that inhabit each room like the little curly hairs that will eventually make their home on these same pink and white slabs of suds producers. Hotel rooms, no matter how low or high-priced inevitably smell of Lysol, with an undercurrent of bleach to reassure the weary traveler that whatever went on in the room the night before has definitely been cleaned up and any traces of ~ you know ~ have been scrubbed away. Nobody wants to pay upwards of $300 to lay their head on a pillow and think that it might have (gasp!) some kind of (double gasp!) excretions on it.

That said, I’ve neve
r found a room particularly scary, although I did stay in one once in London’s Piccadilly Circus that had built the bathroom for the guestroom after-the-fact and so it stood oddly enough in the center of the room, in what appeared to be a prefabricated metal trailer, complete with camping shower and toilet. The actual plumbing was a mystery and as we were on the fifth floor every time I used the facilities I said a little prayer to St. Spastica, the patron saint of bowel disorders, to make whatever came out disappear quickly and safely without hitting any other tourists or locals on the floors below. It must have worked because the only thing that looked like it might have been bombarded was the Shepherd’s Pie, served daily in the hotel’s pub buffet from 6:00 am until closing, which I avoided like the plague.

As for haunted hotels, my ex-husband, the one whose name brings phlegm into my mouth at the mention of his name, allegedly works (in other words, he doesn’t get paid but he still thinks he’s a big shot) as the “historian” of such a place. Frankly, I can’t imagine any tortured spirit wanting to torment themselves further by hanging around him, but supposedly these ghosts have no free will and must keep on haunting the place of their death forever, so they are stuck with him. Praise God! Better him than me. Anyway, this is sort of the premise of the new movie,
1408, based on a short story by Stephen King, which is now playing at the Essex Cinemas.

1408 is the number of the haunted room, not the number of times King has written basically the same story, but if you’ve ever seen any of the movies based on his books or read any of his books then you pretty much know where this is headed before it begins. In this case, a hapless writer of haunted tales, Mike Enslin (John Cusack; Grace Is Gone), comes to the Dolphin Hotel in New York to spend the night in the room of ill-repute said to have been the source of death to fifty-six different people in the past seventy years as research for his latest tome.

The hotel manager, Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson; Resurrecting the Champ), is anything but
helpful, and in the real world John Cusack’s character would probably realize that for a big-time star like Jackson to take what is essentially a cameo role would be enough of a red flag to make him go “oh-oh, there is definitely an important reason for my not going into this room”, but that would be crossing the line between reality and fantasy, something Stephen King would never do in any of his writings. Yeah, and I have some land for sale you may be interested in down in Florida I’d like to talk to you about some time.

So after a disappointing exchange between Olin and Enslin, it was inevitable that Mike end up alone (or is he?) in
1408. I was soooo let down when Cusack and Jackson were going at it because as the level of anxiety amped up and Jackson was raising his voice, I half-expected him to scream “You can’t go in the motherf****in’ room because there’s snakes in the god damned mother f****in’ room!” It would have just been so “Samuel L. Jackson.” Alas, instead, our favorite potty-mouth remained dignified in his Dolce Gabbana suit and escorted Mr. Eslin up to the fourteenth floor and bid him a tasteful adieu.

The next hour or so is a solo trip (almost) for Cusack, who does a wonderful job hauling out a variety of tics, eye-bulging, stammering, and fantabulous acting that convinces us that the slow ratcheting up of suspense created by circumstance within the room really has driven Eslin to the edge of insanity. I won’t reveal what happens in 1408 because that would spoil the “fun”, but I will say that there are many “gotcha” moments, and these are not the fake out type like you get used to in most Grade B horror flicks like The Hills Have Eyes. These are real “jumper” moments when things happen, which is hard to imagine since we are talking about a single man in a hotel suite alone.

Ten-year-old Jasmine Jessica Anthony (Under There) provides a striking presence as Enslin’s daughter Katie, who we see in flashbacks as he recalls the tragedy of her death and his loss of faith more than a year earlier. While she is a relative newcomer, her physicality as the fragile and dying girl in his memories is heart-wrenching and provides us a reason to care about this otherwise cynical and seemingly cold writer. If he hadn’t already suffered, would it really matter if the spooks of
1408 got him? I mean, he’d just be a piece of very well-marinated meat otherwise. Of course, the flashbacks of the dead girl can only lead to one place in the world of Stephen King, and you can guess it won’t be too long before Mike has company. I guess it’s a good thing 1408 is a suite.

So, yeah, there are scares beaucoup in
1408. When the movie was over there was a young woman a few rows in front of me who turned to the people behind her and announced “That was RIDICULOUSLY frightening!” I loved that instant review from a complete stranger because I sometimes think I see so many movies that I lose perspective of what it takes to be ‘ridiculously frightening.’ The last time I found myself ridiculously frightened in a hotel room was on my wedding night a gazillion years ago. Oh, it’s not what you think, you nasty-minded piglet. It was when I found Donald Trump’s picture was on the room service menu. Shame on you for thinking anything else.

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