World-famous author Paul Sheldon crashes his car whilst driving in a blizzard but is rescued by nurse and super-fan Annie Wilkes who has read everything he’s ever published as well as reading and viewing every interview he’s ever given. Sheldon finds himself trapped with multiple injuries including compound fractures to his legs meaning that he is immobile and dependent on Wilkes to care for him. She also tells him that the telephone lines are down and roads closed, both of which are lies. Things take a darker turn still when Wilkes goes and buys the latest book by Sheldon which has just been published (yes the road to town has mysteriously been reopened but there’s no mention of Wilkes taking Paul to a local hospital) only to discover that her favourite character Misery has died during childbirth. Wilkes isn’t happy about this. This is bad news for Sheldon.
Misery explores the obsessive, irrational fan devotion that was explored in very different circumstances in Scorsese’s meisterwerk The King of Comedy, a film that bombed at the box office whilst Misery was a huge hit but is inferior in comparison. Oh, the irony.
Before seeing Misery for the first time I had read and thoroughly enjoyed Stephen King’s masterful novel of the same name. The film adaptation feels like the finer nuances of the novel have been erased to make a big-screen shocker that contains great performances by Kathy Bates (Wilkes) and James Caan (Sheldon) with Paul’s literary agent being portrayed effortlessly by the ever divine Lauren Bacall.
But the film also feels like some kind of TV movie that lacks not just the depth of King’s novel but also the cinematic grandeur that might have been envisaged and realised by another director other than Rob Reiner.
Misery feels like an attempt to hit big at the box office by creating two-dimensional characters and cheap shocks rather than delivering anything with real intelligence. And it worked. Misery brought in the money and earned Bates an Oscar. But watch Misery next to other, better King adaptations such as The Shining and Carrie and you’ll see what I mean. There’s no comparison.
A young cartoonist Josh chats up a young woman named Cheryl in the street (the board at Gillette must be despairing at this) but when she collapses she is then taken to a nearby hospital in an ambulance which has been called for her. When Josh tries to track her down there appears to be no trace of her being taken to any hospital in an ambulance. Josh then learns that the same fate happened to Cheryl’s roommate. Something fishy is going on. Does it have anything to do with that specific ambulance?
With such a great premise I was expecting a cross between Coma and Maniac Cop. But, alas instead this is more like a TV movie that feels very slight and somewhat hollow.
I was also expecting more as this was directed by the great Larry Cohen and whilst there are some great directorial flourishes and some great dialogue which Cohen also wrote (all of the supporting characters in Cohen’s films have the best in quirky left-field comebacks), they don’t save this movie.
A young couple have their young baby snatched away from them and offered as a human sacrifice to an ancient tree to prolong it’s life by the infant’s nanny. We then see a short time later the Druid nanny from Hell starts new employment caring for another couple’s child.
This tautly and stunningly beautiful film was director William Friedkin’s first excursion into the horror genre again after that low-key film that he directed in 1973 that no-one ever talks about anymore. Just kidding. Friedkin’s first horror movie after The Exorcist was bound to garner much press and this film did. It was also predictable that any film that wasn’t as genre-defining and revolutionary as The Exorcist would provide howls of derision and bad reviews which was the fate for The Guardian.
I refuse to think of any film directed by William Friedkin to be irredeemably bad or massively flawed. And this truly is the case with The Guardian. Amazingly directed, beautifully shot, pinpoint perfect performances (a big shoutout goes to Jenny Seagrove as the anti-Mary Poppins) and you have a taut 1990 film that has more positives than negatives. If anything is lacking it’s maybe the generic source material and the constant re-writes that affected the film. But it’s interesting to see such a great director working on strictly genre fare and seeing what happens. This reminds me of Martin Scorsese directing Cape Fear and seeing what he could do within such parameters.
The horror scenes are great and the buildup of tension is lovingly established. The film establishes the feeling of placing the well being of your baby into someone else’s life and that someone turning out to be a nutjob (if only the film had ditched the supernatural element and made it about a psycho nanny instead. This film could have been to childcare what Jaws was to sharks). The loss of control and the erosion of some of the most precious parental boundaries are fully explored here and the result makes for a very chilling film.
Time has been very kind to The Guardian. It’s established a fanbase and isn’t the disaster some critics would have you believe it was at the time. In fact, it’s a very good movie.
My first Book of the Week is The Film Handbook by Geoff Andrew and published in 1990.
This is a book that lists a MASSIVE range of auteurs and directors, gives a potted history of their film career so far and then names selected highlights from their filmography that every film fan should see whether they are a casual viewer or a serious cineaste.
Sounds basic doesn’t it? But that’s the beauty of this book. The other thing I love about this tome is the fact that it introduced me to the work of many directors I had never heard of before. It’s scope is huge with prominent and obscure directors from many different countries getting the recognition they so rightly deserve but very rarely do. The same can be said regarding ‘cult’ directors with there being no film snobbery within the pages of this book. Which is perfect for this website!
There’s also an introduction by a certain Mr Martin Scorsese who voices the opinion that the book is indispensable even if he disagrees with Andrews’ opinion on some directors and films. And so, if this book is held in such high esteem by Mr Scorsese, it must be bloody good!