Write where you belong

What do Roald Dahl, J. R. R. Tolkien, and William Shakespeare have in common besides them all being authors?

Please focus on the question and stop imagining the magical three-way dinner conversation these characters would have if you put them all in a room together. Yes, I’d like be a fly on the wall for that meeting as well – but I’m trying to make a point here. The answer is that their names alone hold a very specific meaning. Roald Dahl will forever be tied to children’s literature, J. R. R. Tolkien will never escape his association with hobbits and wizards, and that Shakespeare guy did some plays about love and revenge and stuff – or so I hear…not really sure…but I think so…

All kidding aside, these literary figures have inked themselves into the pages of history as self-imposed representations of their chosen medium and genre. Also they’re all dead…

…sorry…moving on…

Amongst the royalty of the written word, however, certain unmistakable majestic giants still live and loom large; of which the greatest one, I think, is Stephen King.

The name Stephen King instantly means something to you: horror. Oh sure, every so often he pens down the odd relationship drama, and yes a couple of them are transformed into film format…but you have to admit that you still associate the latter name of King with fear and…dare I offer a foreshadowing clue; misery.

And there’s a good reason for that, namely this:

As you can see there has been a legion of film adaptations resulting from Stephen King’s novels and short stories. The list I presented here would be even longer if I included all the TV movies and Mini-series’ aswell. They vary greatly in quality too, so it’s an interesting cache to delve into. You have, on one end of the scale, not-so-successful attempts like Sometimes They Come Back and, on the other end, critically acclaimed critics-choices like The Shining.

From the ones you see on this list my favourite is probably The Dead Zone, followed by The Mist, Christine, and then Carrie. But there’s one you don’t see on this list…and that’s…

Misery, starring James Caan and Kathy Bates, is the best Stephen King horror/thriller novel adaptation that’ been made thus far.

There’s nothing supernatural about the original story or the movie. There are no evil clowns, no reanimated pets, and no vampires, telekinetic psychopaths, or possessed cars. Instead; it’s a story about a writer, Paul Sheldon, who is famous for writing a series of books about a main character named Misery Chastain. He is at a time in his life where he wishes to break from the strains of the series and explore new stories and characters. On a road trip across the snowy mountains he ends up crashing his car and is rescued by a middle aged woman named Annie Wilkes, who then proceeds to bring him back to her remote cabin and start nursing him back to health. The first thing she tells him when he wakes up is “I’m your number one fan!”.

You know what…I’ll leave it there and let you figure out the rest. Either you can or can’t deduce where it’s going from what I’ve said thus far. Either way, you should watch it and find out, because it’s great. Don’t take my word for it, ask the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who saw fit to give Kathy Bates an oscar for her portrayal of Annie Wilkes.

Kathy Bates winning Best Actress

Now, she mentioned a couple people in that speech who I also need to talk about. Although Kathy was the one who won the award, James Caan should not be overlooked. He gave us a terrific rendition of a smug and overconfident writer brought down to ground level, both metaphorically, literally…and painfully. I’m sure if he’d been at the Oscars i 1991 he would have tipped his hat to Kathy as she walked on stage to collect her golden statue. Right James…?

It’s ok, he’s just staying in character.

The other name Kathy Bates brought up was Rob Reiner. If you’re unfamiliar with the massive influence of Reiner’s other work…let me take care of that in about two seconds…

Yeah that’s right. A Rob Reiner marathon night wouldn’t be such a bad thing, ey? And I didn’t even mention A Few Good Men, mostly because I wasn’t sure you could handle it.

But forget Rob Reiner, forget James Caan, and yeah I’m gonna say it – for the moment – forget Kathy Bates. The greatest thing about this movie is the self reflectiveness of the story.

Stephen King has several times expressed regret for boxing himself in as a “horror writer”. Several times he’s tried to unstick his own label by creating stories like The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me, but with Misery he decided to take a third option. The thoughts and opinions expressed by Paul Sheldon are largely representative of King himself. He wants to try new things and not be chained to one genre, but has trouble escaping. Annie Wilkes represents King’s fans, who he’s endlessly grateful to for making him as successful as he is, but at the same time he clearly feels that they imprison him in several ways. Well, I’m one of those fans and I think he should be proud of being a horror writer. I remember reading The Tommyknockers when I was eleven and having nightmares, then reading Insomnia and being unable to sleep, all followed by gripping the covers of Pet Sematary with shaking sweaty hands.

Be proud of your work Stephen! I know you don’t need me to elevate your spirits, as you have enough money and success to buy a small country and decree yourself King Stephen King of Stephen Kingland, but I’m saying it none the less. I really mean it! Be proud of all your work. That includes your 1972 short story The Mangler about a demon-possessed industrial laundry press machine (yes, he really did write that). Stand up straight when talking about the 1995 movie adaptation directed by Tobe Hooper (yes, they really did make that). And as if that’s not enough, keep strutting your stuff over the sequels – The Mangler 2 and The Mangler Reborn (What, you think I’m lying? Look em’ up!). Any writer who can create a trilogy of movies from a short story about a piece of machinery that kills people at will and then randomly takes off and flies down the street seeking new victims…is clearly a special one by virtue of that very fact (Yes, I’m being serious! It really does fly!)

Above all, be proud of Misery. You gave Kathy Bates that oscar ahead of time by creating such a rich aggregate of character traits for her to choose from. Your words leap off the page, onto the screen, and into our hearts. I hope you never stop terrifying us with horror fiction because you simply are the best. Long live the King, the King of Misery!

– Rant Over

One thought on “Write where you belong

  1. Pingback: Fright-sized scares « Cinema Rant

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