Misery – Review

Horror, Thriller | 107 Min
  • Release Date: 30 Nov, 1990
  • Director: Rob Reiner
  • Actors: James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth, Frances Sternhagen, Lauren Bacall
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English
  • Parental Guidance: Language, some injury detail, peril
  • Horror, Thriller | 107 Min

It’s day 18 of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween Feature and today we are taking a look at another movie based on a Stephen King novel. We have covered a few movies based on Stephen King stories. To tell the truth, if you review horror movies it is almost impossible to avoid them. Most horror fans grew up on Stephen King and we all have at least one much loved movie based on one of his novels. Be it The Shining, It, Apt Pupil, Pet Sematary, Carrie, or Christine; Stephen King has a back catalogue like no other.

Today we are going to be taking a look at what is probably my personal favourite movie based on a Stephen King Novel – Misery. It could be said that Misery is far more of a thriller than it is a horror but there are definitely some horror elements in there. I think it qualifies and it is such a good movie that I simply can’t not include it. As always I’ll give a quick breakdown of the movie that you can skip if you like. This one is likely to be brief due to wanting to avoid spoilers. Yep, I even try to avoid spoilers for movies older than most of the people who will visit this site.

K-O-Ween is Over Halfway Through

For those of you who are new here, Knockout Horror is a horror movie review site without the bullshit. We review in a conversational manner without the self indulgent, fart sniffing, conceit that is so typical of movie reviews. We are not trying to impress with big words, we are simply here to chat horror movies. Reviews are long form and can get a little wordy but we love to talk horror.

We have been reviewing a horror movie a day for the entirety of October 2022 leading up to Halloween. I intended these reviews to be a bit of a shorter format but it kind of didn’t work out that way. Still, we have plenty left with nearly two weeks of October remaining so keep checking back. We are featuring a range of movies from horror classics to international hits and a few indie darlings. You can check out the entire K-O-Ween feature by clicking right here.

Misery – Synopsis

Misery follows the story of author Paul Sheldon, played by James Caan. Paul is the author of a series of romance novels set in Victorian times that focus on a young woman called Misery Chastain. Having authored a number of iterations in this series, Sheldon feels as though he is only known for Misery and it has become something of an albatross. Desperately wanting to move onto writing more serious novels, Paul decides to kill off the character of Misery.

Misery (1990) Review

Not a situation you want to find yourself in with someone like Annie Wilkes

As a first step to leaving Misery behind, Paul begins writing a manuscript for a new novel. It is the height of winter but Sheldon needs to head home to New York. Despite the snow and poor visibility, Paul begins travelling. It isn’t long before he hits a snow storm and is unable to see. He inadvertently drives off the road and his car rolls into a bed of snow. Unconscious and close to death, a mysterious person digs Paul out and carries him to their car.

Out of the Frying Pan – Synopsis Cont.

Paul wakes up in an unfamiliar bed. He has broken legs, a shoulder injury, and numerous cuts and bruises. It turns out he had been dragged from the car by a woman who just so happens to be his biggest fan – Annie Wilkes played by Kathy Bates. Annie seems almost delighted at the chance encounter, despite how horrifying it must have been for Sheldon. She tells him how she adores Misery Chastain and has all of Paul’s novels. He asks if he can contact his agent who should be expecting him but Annie informs him that the phonelines are down and the roads cut off due to the blizzard.

Annie claims she is a former nurse and will care for Paul until he gets better. In return, he allows her to read the new manuscript for his planned novel. Annie, overjoyed at being given the privilege to see his new work before anyone else heads off to start reading. She returns later on and tells Paul that she is disgusted at the amount of cussing in the book and angrily claims that it is unnecessary. Paul takes the criticism on board but can’t help but feel as though she overreacted. If Paul thought she overreacted to that, however, he does not want to see how she will react to the revelation that her beloved Misery has been killed off in the new novel; a novel that Annie has just picked up from the book store.

A Thriller that Never Lets Up

Misery is the story of an obsessed fan and her desire to control the object of her affection. Annie Wilkes stumbles upon an opportunity to spend time with someone she adores and she is entirely unwilling to let that go. She will do anything to keep Paul Sheldon in her home and that leads to some of the most iconic horror scenes ever.

A simple story in its essence, Misery seeks to keep the viewer on edge throughout. Paul Sheldon is heavily injured and incapable of defending himself in any meaningful way. Totally oblivious to Annie Wilkes’ issues, at first, he doesn’t have any clue what he is in for. This creates an atmosphere of terror as you try to guess what will happen next and how he will inadvertently upset Annie.

Misery (1990) Review

Richard Farnsworth is incredibly likeable as Buster

Directed by Rob Reiner, Misery never once takes its foot of the gas. The tension could be cut with a knife and never relents for even a minute. Cleverly paced, the movie feels like a series of set pieces designed to test the nerves of the viewer. Presenting us with a completely incapacitated and incapable victim and a violent and sadistic villain, Misery makes you feel every second of Sheldon’s frustration and pain. It is a truly fantastic movie and keeps you glued to the screen throughout.

The Best Stephen King Adaptation?

This is a tough one. There are a whole bunch of fantastic adaptations of Stephen King novels. Outside of the horror genre, it would be impossible not to mention Stand by Me and The Shawshank Redemption, the latter being one of the best movies of all time. As far as horror based Stephen King novels go, however, I honestly feel as though Misery may be the best. The Shining may have more widespread acclaim but Misery is, in my opinion, far more compelling.  I actually find Misery to be a lot more tense and scary, as well. It is a genuinely terrifying movie that will keep you on the edge of your seat for its entire runtime.

In the history of horror, there have been many iconic villains. Michael Myers, Norman Bates, Jason Vorhees, Leatherface. All of them are completely iconic. The one that I think might be the most scary of all, however, is Annie Wilkes. Stephen King, with Annie, crafted a character that is honestly deranged and legitimately scary. She is, in my opinion, his scariest villain. One of the reasons is because she is so real.

There is no mask here to hide the character. Her presence isn’t indicated by a high pitched theme song. She doesn’t make wise cracks. Annie Wilkes is presented how she is, an obsessed person with homicidal tendencies and a severe case of what appears to be Borderline Personality Disorder. A character capable of idolising a person only for a switch to flip and her to unleash a rage the likes of which you rarely see in movies featuring female antagonists. She is incredibly scary and that is partly due to the situation Paul Sheldon finds himself in.

Into the Fire

Paul Sheldon’s crash left him seriously injured and bedridden. Annie Wilkes “rescued” him but in the absolute loosest sense of the word. We are now presented with a protagonist that can’t really defend himself. This offers up the opportunity to create a mountain of tension as the slightest little thing could set Annie off.

Few movies do such a good job of placing you into the shoes of the character as well as Misery does. You will be genuinely nervous in much the same way as Paul Sheldon would be every time Annie Wilkes enters the room. This isn’t a person who will just shout, she is horribly cruel and incredibly violent. She also has medical knowledge due to being a nurse and has access to drugs. We learn more about her as the movie goes on and the revelations make Paul Sheldon’s situation even more desperate.

Misery (1990) Review

We have all had those kinds of days, right?

This sense of vulnerability in a protagonist is something that few movies manage to do. The fact that Sheldon tries to fight back makes his situation all the more real. He is weak and Annie wants to keep him that way so she can stay with him forever. His attempts to find a way to fight back lead to some of the most white knuckle scenes in horror and thriller history.

A Horror Masterpiece

Some people may take issue with me calling Misery a horror and I understand that. It really is more of a thriller but there are some scenes in this movie that are so iconic in the horror genre. One in particular stands out and I am sure many reading this review know exactly what I am talking about. The horror scenes are not limited to this one, however. They are scattered throughout and the sight of Annie Wilkes’ twisted visage punctuates them all.

There is a heavy influence here from classics of the horror and thriller genre. Reiner was evidently inspired by movies such as Hitchcock’s The Rear Window when crafting certain scenes in Misery. A weak protagonist moving around slowly in a cumbersome wheel chair, desperate in his predicament and at the mercy of the clock whenever he leaves the room. It is tense stuff and would be perfectly fitting in any horror movie. If a horror movie’s job is to inspire fear then Misery is one of the best horror movies of all time because you will be scared for Paul Sheldon throughout. The home he is in becomes a claustrophobic prison and his prison guard is hell bent on keeping him there forever.

Perfectly paced throughout, it is impossible to turn away right up until the perfectly satisfying end. The events leading up to the end make sense, as well. Unlike in some, more farcical, movies. Misery follows a logical pattern and is very believable. The ending is very fitting for the story and the build up keeps you engaged. The horror and tension never let up. Another thing I live is that it does make you laugh on occasions. There is a dry sense of humour running throughout Misery and it is genuinely funny in parts.

Incredible Performances

What can you say about the two stars of Misery that hasn’t already been said? The late James Caan puts on one of his best performances. Nuanced and sympathetic, he feels every part the incapacitated man fighting for his life. A fish out of water who is used to being in control of his life, normally bound by habits and routine. Sheldon is now in a position of submission and pain. Caan does a fantastic job of portraying this and some of his reactions to the things he goes through will legitimately have you wincing along with him.

Misery (1990) Review

Kathy Bates gives one of the most iconic horror performances of all time

The highlight, however, has to be Kathy Bates’ Oscar winning performance as Annie Wilkes. Incredibly memorable and impactful throughout, Bates puts on one of the best performances in a horror movie of all time. She is legitimately terrifying and entirely believable when she switches from a sweet, overly enthusiastic fan to a deranged lunatic looking to cause pain. Her ability to switch character type on demand means you are never really sure what she will do next. It helps that Annie Wilkes is a hugely quotable character with some hilarious moments. Her rant regarding the amount of profanity in Sheldon’s new book is absolutely brilliant and perfectly performed by Bates.

The supporting cast is also fantastic. The late Richard Farnsworth’s turn as local sheriff Buster is pitch perfect. He is an immensely likeable character that has you rooting for him to come along and save the day for the entire movie. The dynamic between him and his wife adds a warmth to the movie that would otherwise be missing. I suppose we can’t forget Misery the pig as herself, as well.

Is it a Knockout?

Potentially the best Stephen King horror novel adaptation ever, Misery is an incredible movie that never once lets up on the tension. Featuring an Oscar winning performance from Kathy Bates, Misery is chilling in its depiction of mental illness and obsession.

Annie Wilkes deserves to be up there with the best horror movie icons of all time. She is truly terrifying and Bates portrays her perfectly. Switching on a dime from sweet overly enthusiastic fan to insane homicidal killer, Wilkes will keep you on edge throughout the movie's runtime.

An excellent and sympathetic performance from James Caan keeps you rooting for Paul Sheldon and nervous every time Wilkes enters the room. Rob Reiner offers up Hitchcock levels of tension here and some of the most iconic horror scenes of all time. While not horror in the traditional sense, horror fans owe it to themselves to check Misery out.

Support Us: