Directed by Rob Reiner.
Starring James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth, Lauren Bacall, and Frances Sternhagen.
Rob Reiner’s 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s very personal novel Misery comes to a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray from Shout! Factory. The disc features a new 4K restoration of the film, along with new interviews with Reiner and effects artist Greg Nicotero and the rest of the bonus features found in a previous home video edition.
A co-worker and I like to talk about how the marketing content we produce isn’t the flashiest, sexiest stuff out there, but it’s the kind of nuts-and-bolts work that gets the job done. Our analogy is that we’re making well-built furniture that may not win design awards, but it’s functional.
That’s how I feel about Misery, which was directed by Rob Reiner and adapted by the legendary William Goldman from Stephen King’s novel of the same name. As Rob Reiner explains in the new interview recorded for this Collector’s Edition, Misery is a movie in which everyone involved was executing their role at a high level of craftsmanship, even people whose names might not immediately pop into your mind, such as director of photography Barry Sonnenfeld, who spring-boarded off a strong body of DP work into a solid career as a director.
Misery stars James Caan as novelist Paul Sheldon, who has written several best-selling novels about his popular protagonist, Misery Chastain, but feels trapped by that success. He decides to free himself so he can write other things by killing her off in his latest book, but on his way to deliver the manuscript after finishing it, he crashes his car during a snowstorm.
Annie Wilkes, starring Kathy Bates in her first leading role in a movie, pulls Sheldon out of his car and brings him to her house to help him recover. Luckily, she’s a nurse who has medical supplies handy. Unluckily, she’s a huge fan of the author who’s also suffering from a mental disorder, and when she reads his new manuscript and finds out what will happen to her heroine, she demands that he write a new book.
If you’ve ever been around someone with a mental disorder (my mother was borderline paranoid schizophrenic, so I’m raising my hand here), you’ll see many behaviors you recognize in Bates’ portrayal of Wilkes. For example, the flashes of anger followed by a “Oh, I’m sorry” cover-up, which eventually leads to longer, more sustained outbursts. Wilkes essentially tortures Sheldon to get what she wants, and because she has wielded a sledgehammer against him in that infamous scene, he has no choice but to comply, until he can hatch a plan to get help.
William Goldman’s script does an excellent job of ratcheting up the tension. Reiner also mentions in that new interview that he watched many Hitchcock films to prepare for this job, and it shows in the various ways he frames shots and puts the camera close to the action. He also credits Sonnenfeld for being willing to do things like figure out how to put the camera on the floor, so that we’re in the moment with Sheldon as he struggles. And he credits editor Robert Leighton for helping him shape all that footage into a taut thriller.
In addition to that new 37-minute interview with Reiner, this new Collector’s Edition from Shout! Factory also features a new 4K restoration and a conversation with effects artist Greg Nicotero (26 minutes), who discusses the various prosthetics that were created for the movie. Yes, Nicotero was involved in that sledgehammer scene, and he discusses it in great detail here.
The rest of the bonus features were ported over from a previous home video edition and include:
- Two audio commentaries, one with Reiner and one with Goldman. Some of Reiner’s discussion reiterates information found in his interview, such as Stephen King’s admiration of Stand By Me and the list of leading men who turned down the Paul Sheldon role, but there’s plenty of other good stuff in here. Goldman’s chat focuses more on his work adapting King’s book to a movie, which will be of interest to anyone who cares about the nuts and bolts of screenwriting (I raise my hand here too).
- Misery Loves Company (30 minutes): Reiner and Goldman talk about the movie, along with Caan Bates, Sonnefeld, and supporting actress Frances Sternhagen. A couple bits of note: Caan is an athletic guy who hated lying in bed so much and Sonnenfeld used different kinds of lenses to achieve the movie’s Hitchcock-like shots.
- Marc Shaiman’s Musical Misery Tour (14 minutes): The film’s composer discusses how the score was used to create different kinds of moods.
- Diagnosing Annie Wilkes (9 minutes): Psychologist Reid Meloy talks about Wilkes’ condition from a clinical point-of-view. Meloy, LA prosecutor Rhonda Saunders, and threat management consultant John Lane also spend five minutes talking about how to handle someone like Wilkes in real life in Advice for the Stalked.
- Profile of a Stalker (6 minutes), Celebrity Stalkers (5 minutes), and Anti-Stalking Laws (2 minutes): The last three micro featurettes continue the discussion in the previous pieces, covering how stalkers operate, why celebrities’ public-facing lives make it easy for the mentally ill to think they have “relationships” with them, and how legislation passed in California in 1991 later spread to other states and the US federal level.
A batch of theatrical trailers and teasers round out the disc.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★