1408 (2007)

Starring: John Cusack, Samuel L Jackson, Mary McCormack

Directed by: Mikael Håfström

Rating: 1 2 3

John Cusack and Samuel L Jackson in the Stephen King adaptation 1408

Now, you know me (possibly): when it comes to movies, I'm shamelessly mainstream. I'll take Ridley Scott over Lars von Trier any day. But when it comes to horror movies, I can be a bit of snob, tending to turn my (not insignificant) nose up at anything that reeks of the multiplex (so that's popcorn and rubber cheese nachos, I guess).

But you have to make an exception for Stephen King, even if the last time I was actually scared in one of his on-screen adaptations, I was still at school and Kathy Bates was turning James Caan into an oogy mess. But what the hell, it's Friday night, and I thought I'd give haunted hotel shocker 1408 a whirl.

The premise of the film is simple, and really rather obvious. Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a cynical ghostbuster who earns a living writing rubbishy 'most haunted' tourist guides. What was that? A Stephen King hero who's a writer? Next you'll be telling me he's not fulfilling his literary potential, has gone through a messy relationship breakdown and, despite having given up smoking, keeps a single cigarette with him as part of his writing ritual. Blimey, you must be psychic.

Enslin, on the other hand, is definitely not psychic, but a confirmed debunker of all things spiritual. Which is why, when he's sent a mysterious postcard warning him not to stay in room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel in New York, he's determined to do just that, despite the fact that the room as been the scene of over 50 deaths since the hotel opened at the turn of the last century (which of course, by American standards, makes it 'incredibly old').

'It's a f**king evil room,' hisses smooth-talking hotel manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L Jackson) (well, you didn't expect him to get through an entire film without being made to say the f-word did you?) And, well, yes it is, especially at first, when a series of creepy little incidents and freaky, almost subliminal camera shots of blood and death set the ghostly scene nicely, establishing an unsettling atmosphere of that's really quite disturbing.

John Cusack cracks up in 1408

But as things get messy in the usual Stephen King stylee (sinks that ooze blood, walls that spontaneously crack apart, weird, masked, axe-wielding gimps that suddenly appear then disappear again – you know the sort of thing) the film itself gets decidedly less scary (for which read 'not actually scary at all' – unless you're a squeaky twelve-year-old girl pretending to be fifteen). But fear not (or otherwise) – there are a few good twists down the line, even if the ending is a bit obvious.

Like Secret Window, 1408 is a fairly mediocre film saved by a committed and charismatic central performance (Johnny Depp/John Cusack) and a splendidly OTT supporting act (John Turturro/Samuel L Jackson). Sure, it's entertaining enough, and there are edge of seat shocks aplenty but watching it was a bit like déjà vu, and it's a shame to see run of the mill fodder like this take central screen while an intelligent chiller like Joshua goes unseen.

It's not a completely stupid film: there is (just about) room for an 'is it a ghost or is he mad' dilemma. Is the room really haunted, or is someone playing tricks? Is Enslin drunk or has Olin drugged him? Or has the loss of his cute, bug-eyed daughter sent him round the bend? And perhaps the somewhat overblown SFX can be read on a psychological level as the outward manifestations of Enslin's inner torment. But is the completely pointless creepy old bloke crawling around in the ventilation shaft really a representation of old, unresolved issues in our hero's head? Or did some bigshot holding the purse strings yell: 'Stop! This horror movie isn't scary! We need a completely pointless creepy old man crawling round the ventilation shaft!' And when the money men start pulling the scary strings… well, isn't that an oogy mess?

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