Misery (1990)

“I thought you were good, Paul, but you’re not good. You’re just another lying, old dirty birdie, and I don’t think I better be around you for a while. And don’t even think about anybody coming for you. Not the doctors, not your agent, not your family, because I never called them. Nobody knows you’re here. And you better hope nothing happens to me. Because if I die, you die” – Kathy Bates, Misery (1990)

The scariest interactions we witness in horror films are those that could easily be real. No one has accomplished this for vast audiences time and time again quite like Stephen King. One of his many stories that has molded the foundation of horror is Misery. Adapted into a 1990 film by Rob Reiner, Misery has become a familiar nightmarish trip for all generations of horror fans.

To read more about the novel, check out this post.

The story begins with author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) finishing his latest novel in a secluded cabin. After completing his post-manuscript ritual, Paul leaves the cabin and heads home to deliver his manuscript to his publisher. Shortly after beginning his drive, a blizzard moves in. Paul loses visibility and control of his car in the snow. The car crashes into a wooded area far beneath the road. Clinging to life, Paul is eventually rescued. He awakens in an unfamiliar bedroom and finds himself immobile with injuries. He is greeted by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who introduces herself as his number one fan. She explains the extent of his injuries (mainly both legs badly broken) and the resounding impact the snow storm has on his situation. The phone lines are down and many roads are closed, so there is no way for Paul to reach his family or agent. Annie is a former nurse with a collection of medication in the house; she enthusiastically takes on the role of Paul’s caretaker.

As the days pass, Paul sees the many sides of Annie emerge. While her pleasant demeanor remains at play most of the time, even small diversions upset her into a violent temper. The more time he spends with her, the more Paul realizes he will be faced with one of three Annies: the sweet one, the depressed one, or the enraged one. One thing that remains consistent with Annie, however, is her reverence for Misery Chastain, the protagonist in many of Paul’s books. As a thank-you for saving his life and nursing him back to health, Paul allows Annie to be the first reader of the new manuscript. She updates him on her progress while she cares her him over a few days. One night, Paul wakes up to Annie standing over his bed in a silent rage. She has just read the ending of Paul’s new book, in which Misery dies during childbirth. Annie’s grief and rage are so severe that Paul fears for his safety. Unable to defend himself and even survive without Annie, he realizes the gravity of his situation and how trapped he truly is.

Following the traumatic explosion, Annie brings a few items to Paul: a grill, lighter fluid, matches, and the only copy of his new book. She explains that he must destroy what he wrote to atone for what he did to Misery. When Annie does not relent, Paul burns the manuscript. With the gravity of the situation weighing heavier than ever, Paul starts hiding his pain medication in his mattress to use as a defense later. One day, Annie puts Paul in a wheelchair and presents him with a few more gifts: a table by the window, a typewriter, and typing paper. Annie gives Paul an ultimatum: write Misery back to life in a new book, dedicated to her.

Misery goes beyond the expected contents of a horror story. It shows abuse of all types, including Annie’s nuanced emotional abuse toward Paul. Paul’s entrapment and dependence on Annie heightens the suspense to an almost unbearable level. Stephen King’s groundbreaking and deeply personal novel is brought to life in electrifying ways by the actors’ performances. Kathy Bates, in an unusual genre nomination from the Academy, won the 1991 Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her portrayal of Annie Wilkes. The desperation and fear that linger in the film’s atmosphere connects the characters and the viewers well after the final scene. Misery is undoubtedly one of the most well-known and influential horror films of all time. The core reason it has remained that way, I would say, is its embodiment of those elements of horror that resonate deeply within us all.

Until next time,


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