Misery (Awards Series) is the 2000 DVD version re-released with a cardboard slipcover. (Cover art pictured is the 2000 edition)
Of the many films based on books by prolific writer Stephen King, Misery ranks near the top. Falling somewhere between the horror and thriller genres, this film about a twisted obsession is frightening because the premise seems very real.
Directed by Rob Reiner (A Few Good Men), who first visited King territory with his 1986 film Stand By Me, Misery tells the story of romance writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan, Elf) and the fan who rescues him after a car accident.
Paul wakes to find himself in the care of Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates, About Schmidt), who’s obsessed with his “Misery” romance series. At first she seems caring, nursing him while he recovers from the accident, which left him with two broken legs and a dislocated shoulder. Soon, though, it becomes apparent that Annie is quite disturbed, and Paul realizes he’s in captivity. When his latest book in the Misery series comes out, Annie is outraged to discover that Paul, who wants to do more serious work, has ended the romance series and killed off the protagonist. She forces Paul to begin writing a new Misery book to fix things, and in his crippled state he has little choice – he’s at Annie’s mercy, until he can escape or be rescued. But is anyone out looking for him?
Kathy Bates, who won the best actress Oscar for this role, carries the film with the performance of her career. Juxtaposing caring servility on the outside with her inner rage and violent nature, Bates created a truly memorable villain that evokes fear and just a touch of sympathy. James Caan, though out-shone by Bates, gives a convincing performance, and the interaction between the pair that makes up much of the film feels real, and unsettling.
The film accomplishes a lot, with many highly suspenseful scenes during the cat-and-mouse game between obsessed fan and crippled author. You’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat, willing Paul to make the right moves to escape, and cringing at the brutality lurking inside Annie Wilkes. That said, without Bates’ and Caan’s performances, the film would not have risen above your average thriller.
So Misery is a gripping film that bridges the gap between horror and thriller. How’s the DVD?
Misery (Awards Series) is presented on one double-sided disc, with 1.85:1 widescreen on one side and 1.33:1 full-screen on the other. For this review, I’ve focused on the widescreen version. Given that the film is from 1990, it looks decent. The overall picture is a bit soft, but colours are natural and consistent. Other than the odd bit of film grain, it’s also pretty clean. A couple of the darker scenes suffer from washed-out blacks. That’s about it.
Audio is English-only, and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. In other words, don’t expect too much. It’s a quiet film effects-wise, with plenty of dialogue and a score that ups the suspense whenever possible. Both of those elements sound ok, and no dialogue is lost. Overall, though, the sound stage seems shallow.
Subtitles are available in French and Spanish.
Misery (Awards Series) is a bare-bones release. The only extras here are the original theatrical trailer and a teaser trailer.
Misery rises about your average thriller thanks to the strength of Kathy Bates’ incredible performance and James Caan’s solid second fiddle. This “Awards Series” DVD is just a repackaging of the 2000 release, so don’t expect much. Still, I haven’t seen a special edition anywhere, so for now this may be as good as it gets.