• Misery

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: November 28th, 2017.
    Director: Rob Reiner
    Cast: James Caan, Kathy Bates, Laruen Bacall
    Year: 1990
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    The Movie:

    It's pretty much common knowledge that Stephen King adaptations are never as good as their hardbound and printed counterparts, but you kind of have to bite your tongue after saying that when it comes to Misery. Adapted very faithfully from King's tome by director Rob Reiner and writer William Goldman, it's a film that is every bit as strong as the book it is based on.

    The film follows an author named Paul Sheldon (James Caan) who, after talking with his agent (Lauren Bacall), leaves the big city and heads into the country where he gets into a car wreck out in the middle of nowhere. Where it not for a hefty country woman named Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), a former nurse who hauls him from the wreckage and brings him back to her home, he surely would have died. When Paul regains consciousness, he finds Annie there, happy to serve his every need. While this might seem like a stroke of luck for Paul, it turns out that Annie is his self-proclaimed number one fan, and that she's obsessed with his novels.

    At first Paul thinks she's maybe just a little strange, but when Annie coerces him into writing her the novel she wants to read. With little regard to the story Paul wants to tell, Annie's kindness turns twisted and psychotic and he finds himself alone and at the mercy of a very crazy woman in the middle of nowhere...

    While Misery benefits from some great writing and some very strong directing, what really makes it work are the performances. James Caan is completely believable and entirely sympathetic in his role, and he plays his character's sense of confusion and trepidation perfectly. We believe him in the part and as such, we can get behind him and hope he's going to be okay. The real star of the show, however, is Kathy Bates, who completely throws herself into the character of Annie Wilkes. She won an Oscar for her work here, and rightly so, as she pulls it all off with such unnerving accuracy that we buy her hook, line and sinker. There are scenes here where it's almost as if someone has flipped a switch inside her that allows her to go from kind caregiver to lunatic fan at the drop of a hat. Had this role been played by anyone else, it's hard to imagine it being nearly as successful. Bates hits all the right notes and literally steals the show from everyone else in the cast.

    A large part of what makes Misery one of King's more frightening stories is that it's completely plausible and grounded in reality. Reiner's adaptation doesn't change any of that and it's still very much a story that could happen in real life. This gives Misery considerably more tension and stronger scares than a horror movie that relies on less likely plot devices, be they supernatural or spiritual, as we don't really have to suspend our disbelief here very much at all. For lack of a better cliché to use, let it suffice to say that Misery will keep you on the edge of your seat.

    There's also a wicked sense of dark humor running through the storyline that helps make the more horror-centric scenes all the stronger. The humor puts you at ease, allowing the more intense moments to sucker-punch you, giving them more impact and making the movie all the stronger for it. While this is a film that earns its R rating, it's not an exploitative picture in the least. It's violent without being excessive and truly frightening without ever going too far over the top. It's a rare breed of horror film that should appeal even to those who tend to dismiss the genre or aren't comfortable with its expected trappings and one of the best films of the early 1990s.


    Shout! Factory brings Misery to Blu-ray on a 50GB disc framed in its proper 1.85.1 aspect ratio in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer taken from a new 4k scan of ‘the original film elements.’ The transfer itself takes just over 28GBs of space on the disc. No complaints here – this is a clean, colorful picture with strong black levels and very nice color reproduction. Skin tones look nice and natural and there’s very good detail throughout. The image appears free of any obvious compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction, retaining a natural amount of film grain while revealing good depth and texture throughout.

    The English language 48Khz/24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Surround Sound mix is very strong, with optional subtitles provided in English only. You'll notice the improvement over the standard definition release almost immediately as the score just has way more punch and power and clarity to it. Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand and the soundstage makes excellent use of some well-timed directional effects to keep you on the edge of your seat. Bass is strong, meaning that a couple of key scenes really have considerably more impact than they've had previously, and while at times things are a bit front heavy, there's really nothing to complain about here - Misery sounds just as good as it looks. An optional DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track is also included.

    There are two new featurettes on this release from Shout! Factory, the first of which is an interview with director Rob Reiner that clocks in at thirty-seven minutes. He talks about his attraction to the more character driven works of King. From there he talks about how he got into show business after going to school at UCLA, and how he made the transition from acting in sitcoms to directing feature films. He then talks about his work with Castle Rock Entertainment before then going on to talk specifically about his work on Misery. He talks about how he could relate to the Paul Sheldon character in the movie, the challenges involved in shooting his first thriller, how much the two leads brought to the film, Barry Sonnenfeld’s cinematography and more. The second new featurette is an interview with SFX makeup artist Greg Nicotero. This twenty-six minute long piece sees Nicotero talk about how his work on The Walking Dead has raised awareness of the art of practical effects. He then talks about the early days of KNB Effects Group, his early days in the industry, and then of course some of the specific set pieces that he was responsible for working on in Misery – the infamous sledgehammer/wooden block scene in particular. Both of these pieces are nicely put together and quite interesting – worthy additions to the release for sure.

    The previous special edition release was reasonably stacked, and the extras from that release have been carried over starting with the two commentary tracks - one from director Rob Reiner and one from screenwriter William Goldman. Both tracks are worth listening to though Reiner's is the more interesting of the pair simply because he's got more to say about the film. Goldman's talk is less intense with some noticeable gaps and stretches of completely silence but it too has some good information about the pressures of adapting one of King's best books.

    Aside from the commentary tracks, there are also some decent featurettes starting with Misery Loves Company, a half hour long featurette that brings Reiner in front of the camera alongside Katy Bates, James Caan and William Goldman to discuss their various experiences in making the film. It's a pretty interesting piece and worth sitting through to get the input from the two key cast members as much, though not all, of what Reiner and Goldman have to discuss is covered in the commentary tracks. Marc Shaiman's Musical Misery Tour is a decent fifteen minute piece that explores the composer's contributions to the film as we learn about his creative process and are given further appreciation for this work on this picture.

    From there we move into more psychological territory beginning with the nine minute Diagnosing Annie Wilkes bit which gives some interesting input into the real world conditions that affect people like the one Kathy Bates plays so well in this film. From there we get some related pieces about the dangers of being stalked - Advice For The Stalked, Profile Of A Stalker, Celebrity Stalkers, Anti-Stalking Laws - all range from two to six minutes long and offer some light, at times almost superficial information about why people stalk other people and what you can do if you find yourself the victim of a stalker. A couple of trailers for the feature round out the extras quite nicely. Animated menus and chapter selection are also included and Shout! Factory has given this release some cool reversible cover art and a slipcover for the first pressing.

    The Final Word:

    A wonderfully crafted and exceptionally tense thriller, Misery holds up well as one of the best cinematic adaptations of King's work. Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release offers up a very strong presentation with great sound and picture quality. There aren’t a million new extras here but the two new interviews are a welcome addition to the release and everything from the old Blu-ray/DVD editions has, thankfully, been ported over to this reissue.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!