Film: 1408: Ster Kinekor ***

2008-02-25 00:00

IT has been called the best Stephen King adaptation since — and one that ranks with — The Shining, which is probably what left me most disappointed about 1408.

As horror films go, and compared to the generally low standard produced in the genre over the last two-and-a-half decades — from Nightmare on Elm Street to The Grudge and Saw — Swedish director Mikael Håfström’s 1408 is cleverer than most, and John Cusack is a strong lead actor.

But it is nowhere near Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic The Shining.

Generally, with a few sci-fi exceptions like Alien and Predator, scary movies, and especially horror films, have just not been produced like they were up until the end of the 1970s.

In The Shining, the haunting opening soundtrack and stunningly filmed moon-like landscape of the Rocky Mountains was utterly chilling and set the tone. The stylised, stilted, edgy conversations had you petrified before the film had even really started.

The bizarre character of Dick Hallorann, played by Scatman Crothers, gave you a sense that this would be no ordinary horror movie. Remember the conversation with Jack Nicholson’s character’s

young son, Danny:

Hallorann: Who’s Tony?

Danny: Tony is a little boy that lives in my mouth.

Hallorann: Is Tony the one that tells you things?

Danny: Yes.

Hallorann: How does he tell you things?

Danny: It’s like I go to sleep, and he shows me things. But when I wake up, I can’t remember everything.

Anyone who watched the film and did not feel a chill at that moment is made of pretty stern stuff.

Samuel L. Jackson plays a similar role in 1408 to Crothers. As the manager of the Dolphin Hotel, Jackson must dissuade Mike Enslin (Cusack), a writer who specialises in debunking paranormal occurrences, from checking into the fabled room 1408.

This conversation is supposed to create tension ahead of Enslin’s entry into the room and it does, a little. Jackson, though, is just not as unconventional as Crothers was, and, like the horror scenes later on, it all falls a bit short of the mark.

Once inside the Kafkaesque room 1408, Enslin finds, of course, a lot more than he bargained for. There are plenty of pretty scary moments and goings on, and there definitely is an influence from The Shining in the intimidating carpeting, wallpaper and interior design of the art deco Dolphin Hotel.

Stephen King adaptations, particularly those directed by the author himself, are notoriously poor and Håfström has made a decent effort at what clearly is not an easy task. Even film master Kubrick’s adaptation in 1980 met with displeasure from the original author. But while 1408 is a good horror thriller, it certainly is no classic.

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