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1408 (2007)

Dimension Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 10/2/2007

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/24/2007

In my recent review for Cujo, I discussed the Stephen King phenomenon and how there was a string of films in the 1980s based on the author's work. While we don't get as many King movies these days, there's still a steady stream of them. And just like the heyday of the 80s, the quality varies greatly. For every The Green Mile, we get a Dreamcatcher. And while these movies contain the qualities of a King story, they rarely capture the writer's spirit. The recent 1408 changes this trend, as it's not only a good Stephen King movie, but an excellent horror movie as well.

John Cusack stars in 1408 as Mike Enslin, an author who writes book about haunted locales in America, such as hotels. As the film opens, we see Enslin spending yet another boring night in a hotel room which is purported to be haunted. When he returns home, Enslin finds that he's received a postcard advertising the Dolphin Hotel in New York City which contains the cryptic note, "Don't Enter 1408". Enslin does some research and finds that the room does indeed have a reputation. When he attempts to make a reservation, Enslin is told that the room isn't available...ever. Enslin's friend Sam (Tony Shalhoub) finds a legal loophole stating that the Dolphin can't refuse Enslin's reservation.

So, Enslin travels to New York to check out room 1408. When he arrives at the hotel, Enslin is met by manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), who pleads with the writer to not venture into the room, as so many people have died there. But, Enslin is ever the skeptic and politely insists that he stay the night. Enslin is escorted to the room and finds it to be a quite simple hotel room. But, bizarre things immediately begin to happen in the room. Enslin assumes that they are mere pranks at first, but as the horrors start to take on a more personal note, Enslin realizes that things in 1408 are very serious.

A quick perusal of this website will show that I love to write about horror movies. Unfortunately, I rarely get to write about good horror movies. I'm pleased to say that 1408 bucks this trend, as it's one of the best horror films that I've seen in a while. I'm a sucker for a good ghost story and this one delivers in spades.

The elements which make 1408 successful are both simple and subtle. Many horror films attempt to convey a sense of isolation, but few succeed. 1408 gets the job done here by focusing solely on John Cusack's character. The other actors, such as Samuel L. Jackson and Tony Shalhoub, only have cameos in the film, as the bulk of the movie focuses on Cusack alone in a hotel room. Few movies would have the guts to focus on only one character for so long, but this draws the audience in and makes us part of what is happening to Enslin. A lot of this hinges on the acting ability of Cusack, who delivers here. He's perfectly cast as the acerbic, skeptical Enslin who believes that he's seen it all. But, once he enters 1408, Cusack is believable as the man who slowly realizes that all of his pre-conceived notions may be wrong. Cusack's friendly face makes it easy for the audience to take the journey with him.

Secondly, the scares, which often containing elaborate visual FX, are quite simple. The story in 1408 reminded me of Poltergeist in the way that the haunted room personalized the scares to match the victim. At first, Enslin experiences very random things, such as objects moving. But, as the night wears on, the hauntings become personal and Enslin begins to see things from his own past. Thirdly, the movie takes its time. Director Mikael Hafstrom is Swedish and he's brought a European outlook to the film, as the story unfolds at a leisurely pace. It takes quite a while for Enslin to even get to room 1408. Once he does, the odd occurrences begin rather quickly, but it takes a while for them to get really savage. During this period, Enslin's back-story slowly begins to unfold and we learn that he's much more than just a bored writer looking for ghosts.

Something which I tried to drive home in those paragraphs is that 1408 is actually a scary film. As someone who's been watching horror movies for most of his life, it takes a lot to unnerve me, but 1408 did the trick. The movie offers some good "jump" scares, but there's also an overall creepy nature to the film. And when Enslin is finally confronted with his personal demons, the movie creates a unique mixture of sadness and horror. But, I think that my favorite thing about 1408 is that it's a mature horror movie. Whereas most horror films are aimed at teenaged boys, this one is better-suited for a somewhat older audience. That's not to say that teenaged boys wouldn't enjoy the more visceral aspects of the movie, but the film's themes will be easily accessible to thirtysomethings. Usually, when I recommend a movie, I urge the reader to check it out. With 1408, I'm saying, check in.

1408 asks for an upgrade to DVD courtesy of Dimension Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This DVD has in impressive transfer, as the image is very sharp and clear. The picture shows virtually no grain and no defects from the source material. 1408 is a study in light and dark. The bright scenes in California are very sharp, showing great colors, while the New York scenes are darker and muted. But, the action is always visible in these darker scenes. I noted no video noise or overt artifacting. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The movie has a great sound design to help illustrate the haunting and it's reproduced very nicely here. The stereo effects, surround sound effects, and bass effects all add to the scary moments in the hotel room, as Enslin is constantly surrounded by strange sounds and bumps from the next room.

1408 has come to DVD in three separate versions. The first two are the one-disc versions, which are available in either widescreen or full-frame. This one-disc version contains only a few extras. "John Cusack on 1408 A Webisode" (2 1/2 minutes) features a lot of clips from the film and some comments from Cusack on his role and character. "Inside Room 1408 A Webisode" (2 minutes) has more clips and some behind-the-scenes footage of how the hotel room effects were done. The THEATRICAL TRAILER is included here, letterboxed at 2.35:1, but not 16 x 9.

There is also a Two Disc Collector's Edition of 1408, which contains the above extras, plus a second disc. Disc Two features the director's cut of the film, which runs about 8 minutes longer than the theatrical cut on Disc 1. The two major differences are a longer scene where Enslin meets a mummified ghost and an alternate ending. Compared to the theatrical cut, this new ending is a downer, but it does contain a good "jump" scare. This cut is accompanied by an AUDIO COMMENTARY by director Mikeal Hafstrom, and writers Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski. This is an entertaining chat as the trio discuss the work which went into the script and the attention to detail which was given to create a truly atmospheric work. The DVD contains 5 DELETED SCENES, which run about 11 minutes. These are actually extended scenes, as they show a few seconds of footage added to scenes from the theatrical cut. "The Secrets of 1408" is a four-part making of featurette. The segments "The Characters" (8 minutes), "The Director" (5 minutes), "The Physical Effects" (4 minutes), and "The Production Design" (5 minutes) document the film's production through on-set footage and comments from cast and crew.

On September 16, 2008, The Weinstein Company also brought 1408 to Blu-ray Disc. The film is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark. The picture is nicely detailed and the exterior scenes, such as the surfing scene, have nice depth. However, the image does show some blurring and shimmering at times. Overall, this is a good transfer. The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We get good stereo which is highly detailed and noticeably crisp. However, the surround is a bit subtle for my taste. There are scenes where Mike is surrounded by voices, but they barely register in the rear speakers, nor does the violent finale. Crowd noises offer a better range of surround activity. Subwoofer action is average at best.

The 1408 Blu-ray Disc contains all of the extras found on the two-disc DVD set, plus one alternate ending, which was not on that DVD. However, it should be noted that the Blu-ray contains only the Director's Cut. This is an odd decision, as one would think that through branching, there would have been plenty of room on a Blu-ray for this. Personally, I prefer the ending of the theatrical version, which is available here as an "Alternate Ending."

Review Copyright 2007-2008 by Mike Long