Movie of the Week: Misery (1990)

Rob Reiner directs Kathy Bates, James Caan and Richard Farnsworth in this Stephen King adaptation where a bestselling author finds himself crippled and housebound in the wintery backwoods of Colorado with only his psychotic “Number One Fan” to care for him.

One of those movies that was there for me as I was realising my love for cinema. I know it back to front, shot for shot, line for line. Luckily it is a marvel of storytelling efficiency. King via William Goldman via Rob Reiner leaves not a slither of flab on this two hander. Precision is the nurturer of fine thrills. Bates became a horror icon based on this one performance. Dirty Birds. Flicking lighter fluid. Pig impressions. Heavens to Betsy. Hobblin’. Shit is off the chain. Yet no matter how intense she gets, how grotesque her Annie Wilkes becomes, she remain believable, complex and funny. Like Hopkins’ Lecter, she’s a terrifying creation, seemingly in total control of our protagonist and capable of extreme torture… yet there’s a certain degree of cornball hokeyness. Both Oscar Winning monsters are punchline orientated as much as body destroying hellions. Caan’s bedridden lead is a generous turn – reactive, fragile and in the moment. He is us trapped in that bed, we are him watching helplessly at his ordeal. He is such a macho persona (does he really write Regency romances?) that part of the immoral pleasure of Misery is seeing a brute and a thug immobilised so that he no longer has his strength or posturing to save him. Wouldn’t work with a oily Beatty or suave Nicholson. You’d kinda know they might win the mind game. With Caan we see masculinity neutered and it makes us worried for him, knowing he doesn’t have many other cards in his deck aside from his lost physicality. There is too much to love here, it really puts the viewer through the grinder. Barry Sonnenfeld’s sumptuous yet off kilter photography, Farnsworth and Frances Sternhagen adorable, bickering investigators. I probably know Misery just a little too familiarly to get fully lost in it any more but it is always a comforting rewatch. A movie where a man’s ankles are smashed with a sledgehammer. Like a warm blanket on a cold night. There’s a deep seated part of me that feels all movies should look, feel, move and talk like this.


Perfect Double Bill: Dolores Claiborne (1996)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

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