The Classics of Horror #16 – Misery (1990)

Legend says that Stephen King, dissatisfied by his latest adaptations, asked Rob Reiner to work on the transposition of his novel Misery (1987) to film.

The director behind the awesome Stand by me (1986) agreed to work on a King’s source material once again. As a result, Misery (the movie) came out in 1990, starring Kathy Bates and James Caan.

Winning an award to Bates for best actress in a leading role, Misery probably deserved even more. I’m so in love with this movie!

Partly, it’s because the type of movies revolving around a few characters locked up somewhere (à la 12 Angry Men, 1957) have always had a special place in my heart. With very little to work with, this formula exploits its potential as a character study, which is something I always found mesmerising, as a cinephile.

What kind of ‘secluded’ situation are we dealing with in Misery, then? Basically, famous writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) has just finished its latest novel about (you guessed it) Misery. She’s a character he built his career around but decided to kill off to move on as a writer. Driving back home after finishing said book, Paul ends up having a car accident due to a snowstorm.

Paul and his only copy of the manuscript get saved by a nurse, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Good for him. Or maybe not?

In fact, quite soon after Paul is taken to Annie’s isolated house, he notices something is off with the nurse, who claims to be “her biggest fan” and, perhaps, is a bit overly obsessed with him and the character of Misery.

From now on, the audience is gripped to a story which sees an immobilised Paul (with his legs broken and in rather bad conditions) trying to escape his host, while Annie pushes him to rewrite his latest novel and make it more ‘Misery friendly’.

Misery is, clearly, a character driven horror/drama/thriller, I’d say. Good for us, the performances by the two leads are great.

Misery 1Kathy Bates, in the role that made her famous, is just fantastic: she ranges from being creepily sweet and caring to going bad shit insane and violent. For instance, when Caan realises her madness for the first time, the sequence is handled so well by Bates’ performance. The way she gestures and speaks, coming up with the most ridiculous ways to cover her swearing, is just terrific. Impressively enough, from that first insanity moment on her acting improves and every time I watch this movie, I don’t see Kathy Bates on screen: I see freaking Annie Wilkes.

Not to be overlooked though, is James Caan’s performance. To begin with, he mostly only had his facial expressions to rely on and still manages to be extremely believable and compelling. Also, at certain points in the film, his character needs to pretend to have different feelings: do you have any idea how hard it is to be a character within a character? Yes, Bates steals the show, but Caan at his best was also a delight to look at.

Misery 2.pngYet, there is a subplot involving two other characters (a sheriff and his wife) that both links the story together and introduces us these amazing people, a likable and funny old couple. I love the sheriff, he’s so genuine and quotable: “Virginia, when we are in the car you’re not my wife; you’re my deputy!”. Great stuff!

Again, the direction of Rob Reiner is spotless: the whole movie has an incredible, somewhat nostalgic vibe that makes everything so intriguing, even the scenes that could have become dull. The set design is, also, amazing: everything looks lived-in and realistic. The camera-work even manages to create some great sequences and peeps to the action from uneven angles.

Misery 3Besides the infamous ‘hammer scene’ which Misery is famous for even among those who haven’t seen it, this film delivers some intense psychological torture. For a passionate writer having to burn or rewrite their book must be very hard to take. I mean, even I get mad when I forget to save a post and I have to write it again from the beginning!

In all honestly, I don’t think there is any flaw in this movie. Well, other than a tiny editing mistake that you’d notice only if you’re as obsessed as I am with the technical aspects of a movie. Also, I didn’t love the score, because sometimes highlights too much the most intense scenes.

Anyway, Misery is simply a masterpiece. I probably consider it one of my all-time favourite movies, one that also happens to feature an awesome, fulfilling and climactic ending. Must watch!

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The Classics of Horror #8 – The Exorcist (1973)

I knew when I started my blog that, sooner or later, I would have gotten the chance to review this genre masterpiece. And now I feel like I’m not ready to do it.

What can you say about an exceptional product that has been disected over and over throughout the years by the best critics in history? How do you approach the “scariest movie ever made” and make it justice? What smart comment can you add to what has been said millions of times before?

Reviewing The Exorcist is simply an impossible task.

However, I’ll try my best to pinpoint some of the incredible features that made this film so great and influential.

Based on William Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name, the first game-winning decision by Warner Brothers in the making of the film was to hire the author himself as screenwriter and put William Friedkin at the helm.

The involvement of the author of the novel guarantees a substantial loyalty to the source material and its themes, whereas Friedkin’s direction adds the gritty realism and shocking value required for a movie like that.

We all know the plot of The Exorcist: a little girl, Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), in Georgetown is possessed by an insidious demon. Her mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn), a famous actress, takes Regan to several doctors, experts and psychiatrists, whose attempts to cure the girl are utterly useless.

Close-up of a bruised Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil sitting in chair.Despite being a devout atheist, Chris then clutches for the last straw and summons a priest to help her: Father Karras (Jason Miller), who himself is dealing with grief and anger due to his mother’s death, is however unable to provide the proper support, so that he uses expert exorcist Father Merrin to perform the exorcism and backs him up throughout the process.

Running for about two hours, The Exorcist never has a single dull moment. The build up to the climactic battle between good and evil, God and Devil, the two priests and Pazuzu is as compelling as the ritual itself.

The Exorcist 1The story, unheard back then in a first-class drama, is compelling because there are no disposable characters. Every single cast member is on point in their performance: the doctors are not just oblivious paper-thin figures; instead they cleverly try every way to improve Regan’s conditions, convinced they derive from some form of disease or mental illness that could be treated medically.

The accuracy with which Friedkin approaches the medical exams and attempts is mesmerising. From the machinery to the hospital procedures, every single scene involving a scientific feature is spotless.

The audience is, therefore, compelled to the story because it looks extremely realistic (even though the subject matter might seem absurd to the sceptics) and emotionally attached to the characters.

Ellen Burstyn’s performance, in particular, is truly Oscar-worthy: the viewer feels for her as a mother, mostly because her acting is top-notch and her love for Regan overcomes her fear and desperation even in the darkest (and scariest) moments.

Linda Blair, as Regan MacNeil, is also perfectly cast. Starting off as a sweet, innocent girl, she soon turns into one of the most iconic and scariest characters in cinema history.

The Exorcist 3The practicality of the effects, combined with Blair’s acting skills, make for gut-wrenching possession scenes. Although a couple of them were clearly sped up in the editing room, The Exorcist holds up better than 95% of the movies that came out in the 2000s.

This film is genuinely frightening on many levels: from the actual scenes depicted in the movie to the implications hidden in every dialogue.

Featuring no exposition whatsoever, The Exorcist is ahead of its time and, thus, an immortal motion picture that unlikely will lose impact in the years to come.

Since it’s an actual scary film that doesn’t need jump-scares to startle the audience, this movie is not an easy watch. For example, my parents (who are in their 50s) still can’t manage to sit through it in its entirety.

The Exorcist 4In particular, the sequences in which Regan stabs her intimate zone with a holy cross or those where she unnaturally twists her neck are genuinely off-putting and disturbing, no matter how old you are or how many horror movies you’ve seen.

Yet, the constant aura of angst and uneasiness is carried throughout the film because of the immaculate cinematography created by Owen Roizman and the soundtrack by Michael Oldfield, easily the best horror score in cinema history.

Besides a minute lack of explanation about the death of a doctor (probably killed by Regan under the control of Pazuzu), The Exorcist is a solid film that has it all. Do you really need me to recommend it?