When I heard about the film 1408, based on Stephen King’s short story that I read a few years back, I was both excited and curious to see how the tale would be expanded into a full-length feature film. King is such a mastermind that his novels sometimes lose something in the translation to the big screen, but combining a simple yet horrific portrayal of the “haunted hotel room” with the talent of actors John Cusak and Samuel L. Jackson? Let’s just say I sped to see Mikael Hafstrom’s 1408 and it would have been worth the driving ticket.
As our movie opens we meet Mike Enslin (played by Cusak), a likeable yet cynical and slightly arrogant surfer and career writer-investigator of the paranormal. He makes his way from Hermosa Beach to various locations around the world where he is welcomed by ghost-lovers with open arms. That is until he ends up at The Dolphin Hotel in New York City by way of an anonymous postcard mysteriously referencing the hotel’s “Room 1408”.
Apparently the hotel doesn’t want our dear friend – or anyone else for that matter – setting foot in that room. In fact it’s been unoccupied for years, relays a hotel operator that finally hangs up on Mike as he tries to make a reservation.
The reservation resistance coupled with the ghastly tales of suicides and strange happenings found in researching the hotel seems to be just the motivation our hero needs. Mike immediately packs up and heads to The Dolphin Hotel after his agent Tony (played amusing by Sam Farrell of “Monk” fame) finds a legal loophole that forces the hotel to rent him Room 1408.
Although The Dolphin Hotel doesn’t hold a candle to the sinister lodge in Kubrick’s version from Stephen King’s The Shining, it does have a turn of the century eeriness about it. Subtle things like the old-fashioned baby carriage moving in slow motion and the muffled sounds of a baby’s cries. Who can forget the similar images in Potemkin or Rosemary’s Baby? I guess anyone who has not seen Potemkin or Rosemary’s Baby.
Enter Gerald Olin (played by Jackson), the bold yet refined hotel manager who requests a private meeting with Mike before he checks into his room. You guessed the surprise - here Olin attempts to persuade Mike not to stay in Room 1408. And let me just say that it really is a tribute to Mike’s stupidity and determination that he would actually proceed to that room after hearing Olin’s counsel. Forget the fact that no one has stayed in Room 1408 for almost thirty years and that twelve people had committed suicide there. Nearly thirty more had died of natural causes. So, forty-two people dead in one room over sixty-eight years - you do the math. I did the math but Mike did not, and off he goes to the room…
Without giving away too much (hate to ruin plots), the scary stuff starts happening almost immediately as Mike enters Room 1408. Doors won’t open, ghosts appear and my special favorite – the Carpenter’s tune “We’ve Only Just Begun” suddenly plays on the radio over and over. I think I will always be creeped out when I hear that song now. Oh wait, I always was.
Through all this Mike tries to document what is happening on his hand held tape recorder. It’s interesting to watch his cynicism and disbelief give way to the horror of what is happening as he goes from “Is it the booze?” to “Am I having a nightmare?” to “It’s just an evil #&@* Room!” Oh and in the room we get to meet Mike’s deceased father, his daughter Katie who passed away due to illness a few years back, and his ex-wife Lily. Apparently Mike left Lily because she resembled Katie and it made him sad. How ironic life’s choices suddenly become when we’re being chased by a zombie in an air duct. Seriously.
So despite Mike’s mantra “We don’t rattle, do we?” the answer is in fact, we do. And just as he’s about to succumb to the fire and brimstone of Room 1408…
That’s all I can tell you. It was not Stephen King’s original intent to put an ending on this story but he was so seduced by it that he did. Oh and one more thing…add the numbers in Room 1408.