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Blu-Ray Review: Misery (1990)

Distributor: Scream Factory

Street Date: November 28th 2017

Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

Runtime: 108 Minutes

Misery (Scream Factory)

The Film:

Legendary Horror novelist Stephen King has experienced quite the resurgence in popularity lately, with the recent theatrical releases of IT: Part One and The Dark Tower; not to mention the Netflix adaptations of Gerald’s Game and 1922. Of course, he’s never been very far out of the limelight, having completely dominated the Horror genre over the past 40 years as the “go-to” storyteller for genuine scares; leaving a multitude of classic books and subsequent film adaptations in his literary wake. Rob Reiner’s 1990 adaptation of Misery, from the King penned source material, garnered an Academy Award for it’s lead actress and remains one of the very best film versions of the horror maestro’s novels ever committed to celluloid.

In the film, we’re introduced to famous romance novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) as he finishes his latest work at a secluded lodge in the snowy mountains of Colorado. His Misery books are best sellers that have brought him much fame and fortune; but leave him feeling empty creatively. The author has been working on his latest untitled novel at the lodge; a semi-autobiographical departure from his Misery series that instead focuses on inner city kids like those he grew up with. Paul soon packs up his typewriter and abides by his self-imposed rituals he follows whenever he finishes a novel; pouring himself a glass of champagne and lighting one cigarette (even though he quit smoking years back). He soon departs the isolated lodge in his fancy sports car, but unfortunately runs into quite the winter blizzard, losing control of his vehicle and crashing into a snow bank.

When Paul awakens, he finds himself in the care of former nurse Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) at her rural cabin. He’s broken numerous bones and is unable to walk, barely surviving the accident itself. To make matters worse, Annie informs Paul that the roads to the hospital are closed and the phone lines are down, making it impossible to get him the care he needs. Paul seems thankful for her heroic efforts and content with staying a short while until the weather subsides. Annie is under the impression that their “chance” meeting was of divine influence, as she refers to herself as Paul’s “number one fan” and pleads with her famous guest to let her read his untitled manuscript she found in the car wreckage. When Annie criticizes his latest work and subsequently flies into a psychotic rage over his choice to kill her beloved Misery character in the latest book to hit store shelves, Paul soon realizes that his “rescue” wasn’t as coincidental as it seemed and that he is now Annie’s prisoner. But how can he escape her deranged clutches when he can’t move?

I consider Misery to be a masterpiece of the genre, and the film continues to be one that I revisit annually. It’s a brilliantly written adaptation by William Goldman with taut direction from Rob Reiner, who infuses a subtly dark humor to coincide with the on-screen terror that can leave you smirking just before you’re rendered terrified again. The cinematography from Barry Sonnenfeld is another standout worth mentioning, but the main attraction here is the wonderfully talented cast who embody their characters so perfectly. Kathy Bates’ Oscar-winning role as the obsessed and sadistic Annie Wilkes remains one of the most genuinely realized characterizations to grace cinema. James Caan’s performance as Paul Sheldon evokes a desperation and resilience so effective and powerful that we feel as if we’re right there, writhing in pain with him. And last but certainly not least, the late Richard Farnsworth’s Sherriff “Buster” is full of warmth, wisecracks, and intense concern for the whereabouts of Mr. Sheldon that is quiet loveable, even throughout the twisted events. Misery remains one of my favorite films of the 1990’s and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting it on this collector’s edition release from Scream Factory!

Video Quality:

This Blu-Ray presentation of Misery arrives on the format in a brand new 4K-restoration effort that breathes new life into this thrilling classic! The natural film grain looks balanced and authentic, colors pop with a renewed vibrancy, and fine object detail is truly impressive! Take for instance the individual fabrics now visible on Annie’s sweaters, the disgustingly realistic makeup effects on Paul’s shattered legs, and little imperfections visible on the used Royal typewriter. I have owned Misery on several formats and I’ve never seen the film look this beautiful! Scream Factory has provided fans with a stunning transfer of a film I truly adore, and I couldn’t be happier with how this 4K restoration turned out!

Audio Quality:

The included 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track offers up plenty of immersive fun for a now 27-year old film! Dialogue always comes through clean and clear and the musical score from Marc Shaiman is well distributed across all channels. The scary moments in the film feature some increasingly intense background effects (lightning crashing, raindrops, knife slashing, typewriter smashing, ankles cracking) and sound genuinely terrifying and well balanced across the home viewing experience.

Special Features:

Scream Factory has provided fans of Misery with a Collector’s Edition release that is jam-packed with wonderful special features; both newly produced and carried over from previous home video releases. The ported features, outside of the wonderful audio commentaries, are a little outdated and can get a little repetitive, but I’m still glad they were included! Here’s what’s you’ll get in this collector’s edition:

  • Audio Commentary with Director Rob Reiner- This ported over commentary featuring the director is fascinating for fans of the film! Many fun behind-the-scenes stories and making-of tales are shared here about the cast and crew, location shooting, special effects, adapting the novel to the screen, and difficult scenes to film. Reiner is always entertaining, and he provides a commentary with plenty of worthwhile tidbits for fans to enjoy!
  • Audio Commentary with Screenwriter William Goldman- The screenwriter of the film provides some interesting stories on how he adapted Stephen King’s novel for the big screen, some changes that were made during production, and his thoughts on the final film.
  • Interview with Director Rob Reiner- New to this set is this wonderful 37+ minute interview with Director Rob Reiner where he discusses the beginning of his production company Castle Rock Entertainment (named after the fictional town in Stephen King books) along with the making of Misery. Reiner reminisces on his early days at UCLA and about how he wanted Castle Rock to be a “safe haven” for filmmakers to be creative with their vision with minimal studio interference (hence the famous lighthouse logo). He also discusses the making of the film in great detail, including the casting process involved in finding an actor who wanted to play the role of Paul Sheldon, casting Kathy Bates in her first substantial role, and the artistic creativity involved in making a film version of a terrifying book.
  • Interview with Special Makeup Effects Artist Greg Nicotero- Also new to this set is a 26+ minute interview with the special effects guru from The Walking Dead. Nicotero discusses his early work on films like Evil Dead II and the inception of KNB Effects with his team. KNB became a company known for it’s realism, and began to receive effects work outside of just the Horror genre (as evidence by films like Misery, Dances with Wolves, and Gross Anatomy). The effects artist also details his work with Castle Rock Entertainment beginning with his relationship with Frank Darabont and subsequent hiring by Rob Reiner on Misery. The absolute best part of this interview is the behind-the-scenes stories from Nicotero regarding the famous “hobbling” scene. The amazing special effects work created for this memorable moment in the film is fascinating to hear about! This is wonderful stuff for fans of the film!
  • Misery Loves Company Featurette- From here on out we have the ported over featurettes from the previous DVD edition including this nearly 30-minute making of documentary. This one is the absolute best of the ported features, with some great interviews and details about the filmmaking process.
  • Marc Shaiman’s Musical Misery Tour Featurette- The composer for the film discusses his arrangements and coming up with the right tone for select scenes in this 14 ½ minute featurette.
  • Diagnosing Annie Wilkes Featurette- This one runs nearly 9 minutes and features Forensic Psychologist Reid Meloy discussing severe mental disorders like those afflicting the character of Annie Wilkes in the film.
  • Advice for the Stalked Featurette- This 5+ minute featurette has John Lane from the Omega Threat Management Group and various L.A. prosecutors giving advice for victims of stalking including what steps to take when one is being stalked.
  • Profile of a Stalker Featurette- Yet another short featurette that runs about 6+ minutes and features the same talking heads from the previous ported segments.
  • Celebrity Stalkers Featurette- Here we have the same group of folks discussing the psychological state of mind behind people that stalk celebrities and the underlying “need” they seek when doing so.
  • Anti-Stalking Laws Featurette- This one runs fairly short at 2 ½ minutes but features the same group of experts talking about California Penal Code 646.9 being the first anti-stalking law passed in 1991.
  • Trailers- About 5 minutes worth of theatrical trailers and teasers are featured here and they look pretty solid in High Definition! The footage is pre-restoration, but it looks mighty fine!

The Packaging:

This Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory features a beautifully rendered slipcover by artist Joel Robinson highlighting the infamous hobbling scene from the film. I love the colors on display here from Robinson, who brings a very unsettling scene to life in this original piece. The Royal typewriter, along with the first draft of Misery’s Return are visible as well as some interesting skull designs cascading across the walls and window glass. The back of the case includes a brief plot synopsis, a list of bonus features, and technical specifications. Inside you’ll find the Blu-Ray disc with some great artwork featuring the Royal typewriter from the film. The inner artwork is also reversible, allowing fans to showcase the original theatrical artwork under the slipcover if they so desire.

Final Report:

I consider Misery to be a masterpiece of the genre, and the film continues to be one that I revisit annually. It’s a brilliantly written adaptation of a thrilling novel that infuses a subtle dark humor that can leave you smirking just before you’re rendered terrified again. Kathy Bates’ Oscar-winning role as the obsessed and sadistic Annie Wilkes remains one of the most genuinely realized characterizations to grace cinema, and James Caan’s performance as Paul Sheldon evokes a desperation and resilience so effective and powerful that we feel as if we’re right there, writhing in pain with him. I have owned Misery on several formats and I’ve never seen the film look this beautiful! Scream Factory has provided fans with a stunning transfer of a film I truly adore, and I couldn’t be happier with how this 4K restoration turned out! The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track delivers a clean and clear audio experience, and the special features (both new and ported) offer fans plenty of worthwhile bonus material to peruse for a great behind-the-scenes tour of the making of the film. Misery remains one of my favorite movies from the 1990’s and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting it on this collector’s edition release from Scream Factory! Highly recommended!

-Patrick McCabe

Available November 28th 2017

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