In honor of Stephen King’s birthday this past Monday, September 21, this entry is the first installment of my three-post review trilogy. In this post, I will review not only the novel Misery, but also the movie of the same name.
Novel: Misery, by Stephen King. Published: 1987; Viking Publications.
Movie: Misery (1990). Dir. By: Rob Reiner; Starring: James Caan and Kathy Bates. Currently on Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 Horror Movies list.
For those of you who don’t know, Misery, by Stephen King, is about a fairly successful writer named Paul Sheldon who gets into a traumatic car accident and ends up the hostage of Annie Wilkes, a paranoid, manic-depressive shut-in with psychotic tendencies who happens to be Paul’s self-declared “number one fan.” As Paul pieces together what’s happened to him and slowly gets to know Annie’s dark side, the novel becomes more and more intriguing. In fact, I had to force myself to put it down a few times so that I wouldn’t end up having nightmares about Annie Wilkes throwing poisoned sand in my face… or worse.
The novel itself is extremely well-written, as can only be expected of Stephen King. It contains absolutely no typos, which is rare now-a-days, and this reader could tell that every single word was carefully chosen and placed exactly where Mr. King intended. This is crucial to a good horror story, as one misplaced word can disrupt the suspense and quell the reader’s growing fear. But good writing isn’t only made up of carefully chosen, grammatically correct words and punctuation. No, good writing has soul, which Stephen King delivers by the truckload.
The characters are fully formed and well researched. Paul Sheldon is a romance novelist who has houses in New York and LA to show just how successful he is. He has a thorough back story and a distinguishable voice that is maintained throughout the story. Annie Wilkes is a former nurse turned recluse with a mysterious and dark history of death and mental illness. She’s terrifying when she’s angry and almost childlike when she’s happy, which makes her psychosis even more frightening. The key to a good antagonist is the element of surprise. You never know when Annie Wilkes is going to go off.
The novel has just the right amount of suspense to keep the reader engaged until the very end, and the movie is the exact same way. Actually, I’m surprised that the film adaptation is able to capture the exact essence of the novel. Sure, lot of things were changed, as can be expected when a story switches mediums, but the changes seem right. They’re fair, as Annie Wilkes would say.
While James Caan does an amazing job playing Paul Sheldon, I want to focus on Kathy Bates’ version of Annie Wilkes. James Caan was good, but Kathy Bates was phenomenal. Kathy Bates was Annie Wilkes. It can be argued that Kathy Bates is the glue that holds this horrifying story together. She just captures Annie’s psychotic personality and brings her to life, to my horror. Sometimes, when I’m watching a horror adaptation of a book, I pray and pray that the person who plays the villain will be so bad at it that I’m able to laugh. This was not the case with Bates. She was so good that I’m afraid that if I go to sleep, I’ll wake up in that little room with her looming over me.
Whether you prefer to read books or watch movies, I highly suggest Misery in either of her forms. If you prefer to read, take pleasure in King’s easy prose with vivid and horrifying imagery. If you prefer to watch, take pleasure in Kathy Bates’ riveting and frightening performance of Annie Wilkes. Or, if you’re like me, do both and compare, then let me know what you think of it all!