(based on the story by Stephen King)
Mike Enslin is a writer. But not an ordinary novelist. Mike writes about ghosts and other paranormal phenomena.
Well, the market is obviously tough enough. There are plenty of ghost stories, so it should be hard to do something really catching, and without public attention you won’t last too long. Mr. Enslin has found his source of financial welfare. He does a lot of research, finds real places that are believed to be haunted, and stays there for one night. Then he writes so called Ghost Survival Guides that supposedly include colorful stories about those haunted places mixed with his personal experience.
According to the guy from the bookstore, those books are bestselling Ghost Survival Guides, so Mike should be a pretty successful writer.
Of course, he doesn’t really believe in ghosts and in the stuff like that. When he finds a notice about another haunted room, he decides that it would make a perfect final chapter in his current book. Mike calls the hotel (Dolphin, New York) and tries to book the room. But 1408 reported as unavailable. For the next week, the next month, even for the next summer.
Maybe that’s exactly the moment when Mike gets really excited. He has already visited so many haunted places that he knows for sure: it’s all a superstition. Local people may be scared to death, but there is nothing to fear.
So, Mr. Enslin pushes harder. He finds a law saying that if nobody occupies a hotel room, he can have it. And that’s the argument hotel’s administration isn’t able to reject.
Mr. Olin, the hotel’s manager, uses his last resort. He tries to talk Mike out of this. The room is really evil, many people have killed themselves there, still more have simply died, but their ‘natural deaths’ don’t seem that natural because of the shocking numbers (22). In fact, everyone who stayed in the room for more than one hour didn’t ever come back. At least, not sane.
However, Mike doesn’t change his mind that easy. He can feel that the manager is really frightened, but why should that stop an experienced ghost hunter? Mr. Enslin has made a fortune by being stubborn and skeptical. Besides, he is wearing his lucky Hawaiian shirt with the ghost repellent.
He enters the haunted room, and that’s where the nightmare begins.
A few years ago I got a collection of Stephen King’s stories named Everything’s Eventual. Of course, I enjoyed every word of it. Stephen King is a pretty good storyteller. But guess what story really frightened me?
Yes, it was “1408”.
Stephen King claims that he never intended to finish the story, it was written as an example for his On Writing book. However, something in the story attracted the author, and he “ended up writing all of it”. He also claims that the story scared him while he was working on it, and I can easily believe this. Why?
In the book, Mike Enslin himself gives us the answer. “It was never human. <…> Ghosts… at least ghosts were once human. The thing in the walls, though… that thing…”
As you read the short story, you can feel something big and completely alien approaching you… well, not you. Mike Enslin. However, for the time being you are Mike Enslin, and you perceive all that weird changing that will eventually swallow you.
This kind of association works much better for books, than for movies. There is a barrier between us and fictional characters in a movie. It’s the screen. From the other hand, a book unfolds itself in our imagination, inside our heads, and the barrier is much more subtle.
I liked the movie. It was different, yes. There was no daughter in the short story, and there was no brilliant first book followed by the bestselling crap. Mr. Enslin was using a Sony recorder, not Sanyo (but maybe Sony wasn’t interested in paying for the product placement?). There were no ghosts in the room, and Mike didn’t injure his hand.
But is it possible to recreate that strange and scary feeling of something evil approaching and touching you in a movie? I guess, the answer is “no”. Not to the extent it is used in the story.
Maybe being aware of that, the screenplay writers slightly changed emphasis and made the situation look different while keeping lots of details from the original short story. It worked good for the movie. It is intense, and alive, and a bit scary too. The characters are good written and performed, John Cusack as Mike Enslin is quite convincing. Samuel L. Jackson adds even more charm.
I like more the way the short story ends, but the movie is surely still worth of watching.