I recently went to see the movie version of “1408,” based on the short story featured in Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales by Stephen King, and here is my comparison of the two:
Whereas much of the short story takes place in the office of the hotel manager, Olin, and (after a short stint in the hotel room) follows Mike Enslin throughout the aftermath of his experience, the core of the movie takes place in the room 1408.
The author, portrayed to excellence by John Cusack, is self-assured, even a little cocky. His journey through haunted places in the world is more of a search for the supernatural for personal reasons rather than stemming from any real belief in the afterlife.
In the short story, the author is even more arrogant in his disbelief of the supernatural, though there is no personal connection for his search—he simply writes books on the subject and they have made him a great deal of money. But most of his bravado takes place in Olin’s office, out of the reach of “the thing in that room.” The hotel manager tries everything to convince him not to stay in 1408, and it seems that the long talk does have some impact on him; when he first reaches the infamous room, he believes that his eyes are playing tricks on him. The door looks crooked, then normal, then slanted again in the other direction until it is once again normal.
Things begin to happen almost immediately once he is inside the room. The paintings move, “something” tries to come into the space through the walls. To escape he finally decides to set himself on fire and is fortunate enough to escape, the flames put out by a passerby.
After the occurrence in room 1408, there is an obvious transformation in the main character. A sense of sadness and loneliness emanates from Enslin—a sense of defeat. It reminds me of the feeling that permeates another story in the collection, “Luckey Penny.” Through the second half of the story, Mike Enslin carries himself as a man that will forever be looking over his shoulders at the shadows, imaging that “they” will somehow drag him back into the confines of the hotel room to finish off the job.
In the movie, this is not the case. Cusack, as Mike Enslin, portrays a sense of increased strength, the will of the fighter that has seen the true horrors and survived to tell the tale. Whereas in the story the character tries to immediately forget what happened, in the movie he is shown playing the tape of his trusty mini-recorder, listening to what is arguably one of the most horrifying moments from his stay in the hotel–his encounter with his dead daughter. When his wife walks into the livingroom, she is stunned, and the look on Enslin’s face seems to say “Yes, it’s all true.” No fear, just a resignation to the fact that there is something else, and he’s not entirely sure that is a good thing.
The story and the movie are both executed smoothly, though the horror in the story (aside from the few pages that take place in the room) is far more psychological. It’s the type of fear that doesn’t necessarily get the adrenaline gushing; rather it’s the type of fear that puts an unsettling chill to the bones. The character experiences symptoms of someone that has lost his battle with life and perhaps with sanity–bad blood pressure, poor sight, bad nerves–he is old before his time. And as Enslin waits for his final days, he has the distinct feeling that whatever was in that room may be waiting for him on the other side.
In the film, the 70 minutes in the room are filled out with all sorts of nightmarish horrors—dead people appearing and disappearing, blood gushing from the walls, two particularly terrifying scenes in which Enslin sees himself die. At one point, he believes that he has escaped from the room, that is was all a nightmare brought about from a hit on the head with a surf board. Just as he believes that things are back to normal, he is thrust back into that nightmare of a room. However, instead of giving up, he keeps fighting. In a dramatic turn of the tables, he sets the room on fire and frees himself; in that action he makes sure (or does he?) that no person will ever be subjected to the inhuman presence in that room ever again.
I liked both versions, for different reasons. While for some the short story of “1408” may play out as a biting-your-nails type of horror, I felt that there was something of the scare tactic of mind over matter at play. As if the experience was something that could have been a hallucination brought on by a little too much to drink and the clever wordplay of a desperate hotel manager looking to put the scare into someone that doesn’t scare easily. It was something of a quiet horror that consisted more of Enslin’s health problems resulting from the event and the very real manifestations of something that could have all been in his head. In the short story, even when the main character wins, he loses. The movie, on the other hand, consisted of edge-of-your-seat horror, the thrill ride that goes faster and faster. If you haven’t yet viewed the movie, or read the short story, I suggest you do both and compare the terror for yourself.
Nancy O. Greene
Portraits in the Dark