Retro-review: New this week on Special Edition Bluray from The Shout Factory!

MISERY (1990)

Directed by Rob Reiner
Written by Stephen King (novel), William Goldman (screenplay)
Starring James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth, Frances Sternhagen, Lauren Bacall, Graham Jarvis, Jerry Potter, Thomas Brunelle, June Christopher, J.T. Walsh, & Misery the Pig

MISERY is another story about a writer that Stephen King loves to tell. I can understand why he does it. The old caveat is “write what you know.” And in this case, at least, that works. If anyone has every had a deadline looming and someone on your back to meet it, then MISERY is going to strike a chord with you.

James Caan plays Paul Sheldon, a writer known for this thrilling romance novels starring a character named Misery Chastaine. Paul has grown weary with the character that made him famous and in his latest novel, he kills her off. On the way to deliver the novel to his publisher, Paul crashes his car and is pulled from the wreckage by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who believes she is Paul’s Number One Fan. Instead of taking Paul to the hospital, Annie decides to care for him herself. But when Annie reads Paul’s new manuscript, she freaks that her favorite character is killed off. Annie’s dark side begins to emerge as she forces Paul to write a new story bringing Misery back. Trapped in a secluded location with a madwoman, Paul has to write or die.

The thing that makes MISERY such a compelling film is Kathy Bates. As Annie Wilkes, she embodies the unstable person you don’t want to disrupt. Chipper unless her sensitive feelings are hurt, Annie looks nice, but Bates really captures that thorny demeanor that makes you hope you don’t get on her bad side and flinch every time Paul does just that. Caan also does a fantastic job of humoring the beast in Annie simply for his own survival. It’s fantastic to see these two actors play off of one another.

Reiner keeps things moving briskly, almost too briskly in some points. While the bulk of the film takes place inside of Annie’s house, he comes up with quite a few scenarios of pure tension with Paul sneaking around and trying to escape. This makes for an interesting cat and mouse style film with moments that will have you edging toward that seat end and leaning forward hoping Paul doesn’t get caught. Reiner takes advantage of the cold surroundings, amping up the claustrophobia of Paul’s room and the bitter cold outside, only making it more hopeless as even if Paul could escape the house, there’s no way he could make it out in the cold in the wounded state he is in.

MISERY is also surprisingly graphic in the violence category. Bate’s anger is explosive and seeing her go from zero to batshit is pretty amazing—something one doesn’t often see women do in films. Everyone will talk about the hobbling scene which this film is famous for and the grueling act makes my toes curl every time I see it. While it does show some mallet to ankle action, the combination of the editing, sound, and acting from both Bates and Caan is what makes it one of the most horrifying effects sequences ever. That skill of only showing bits and pieces and leaving the audience to fill in the blanks is used later when Paul and Annie have their final faceoff which is also quite grueling to endure. These scenes, uses crisp edits, gnarly sounds, and the actors skill to make you feel like you’ve seen more than really appears on screen. Reiner should get more credit for these fantastically edited sequences.

The palpable dread and desperation in MISERY is what makes it such a treat to watch. This special re-release BluRay comes with special features including; an interview with director Rob Reiner, a new interview with special makeup effects artist Greg Nicotero, an audio commentary with Rob Reiner, an audio commentary with screenwriter William Goldman, “Misery Loves Company” featurette, “Marc Shaiman’s Musical MiseryTour” featurette, “Diagnosing Annie Wilkes” featurette, “Advice For The Stalked” featurette, “Profile Of A Stalker” featurette, “Celebrity Stalkers” featurette, “Anti-Stalking Laws” featurette, and trailers. If you’re a fan of MISERY, Number One or not, you’re going to find something in this BluRay to like.

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