Blu-ray Review: Misery (Collector’s Edition)

Based on the book by Stephen King, one of the greatest and most celebrated suspense novelists of all time, Stephen King, Misery is everything a good thriller should be. Though the film was released in 1990, director Rob Reiner (Stand By Me) takes inspiration from classic thrillers of the past. Specifically, Hitchcock appears to have been an influence. Kathy Bates (Titanic), then a relatively unknown actress delivers a memorable and award-winning performance as the protagonist. Bates’ performance is one of those that chill you to the bone no matter how many times you see it; she becomes the epitome of evil.

Bates plays Annie Wilkes, the “number one fan” of romance novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan, The Godfather). Wilkes, a former nurse, rescues Sheldon from an awful car accident in rural Colorado, and takes him in to nurse him back to health. She isn’t aware that Sheldon has killed off her favorite character, a girl named Misery Chastain, in his about-to-be-published novel that will end the Misery series. When she does find out, Annie doesn’t take it very well (that’s putting it mildly!) She forces Sheldon to write a novel that revives her beloved Misery. Meanwhile, Sheldon is trapped, beaten and tortured. In one of cinema’s most gruesome scenes, hobbled with a sledgehammer to prevent his escape.

It’s easy to see why all sorts of praise was heaped on Bates’ performance. She manages to take an utterly unsympathetic character and make her seem somewhat vulnerable. It’s clear she’s totally lost it; in the midst of all this violence and terror, she lets loose with innocent, innocuous phrases like “cockadoodie” and “heavens to Betsy!” It’s a testament to Kathy Bates’ ability as an actress that she is able to give her character some sense of humanity despite the obvious villainy that is on display throughout.

James Caan also deserves some props for his work as the victim of an obsessed fan. Since Caan generally plays tough guys who are in charge, it’s a real change to see him playing a man who’s at the mercy of another person (a woman, no less). It’s impossible not to feel sympathetic towards him, as viewers we root for him as he repeatedly tries to escape and when he attacks Wilkes with a cast iron pig.

Twenty-seven years after Misery’s original theatrical release, the film is still a tense, scary and affecting thriller. After watching it again, I’m still convinced that Misery is one of the best character based thrillers ever made. Right up there with Stand By Me. it is certainly one of Rob Reiner’s best directorial efforts, and it’s probably the film that took him the furthest out of his comfort zone.

Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Shout Factory’s Blu-ray is sourced from a recent 4K restoration of “original elements.” The result is a noticeable improvement over MGM’s previous Blu-ray release. Detail is top notch throughout, with well defined fabrics and textures. Colors are evenly saturated and contrast levels are appropriate. Aside from a couple of very slight dirt marks in the opening scenes, the image is clean

Like MGM’s 2009 Blu-ray, Shout! provides two primary DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 mixes that do a fine job with the source material. Both mixes are devoted to creating atmosphere in a full range of ways – from the quiet shifting of Wilkes’ house to the strings that accompany Sheldon’s escape attempt. The dialogue is well supported, and the exchanges are always clear. There might not be a lot here by way of directional audio, but the overall quality is well above average.

English SDH subtitles are included.

Shout! has ported over the extras found on MGM’S 2009’s Blu-ray, as well as added a couple of notable additions. The ported over material includes an Audio Commentary with Director Rob Reiner where he discusses the challenges of working in a new genre and goes through things on a fairly shot-by-shot basis. A second Audio Commentary with Screenwriter William Goldman focused on character issues and plot development. The Misery Loves Company featurette finds Reiner and Goldman reiterating a lot of what was said in their respective commentaries, with Kathy Bates joining in to share her thoughts. Marc Shaiman’s Musical Mystery Tour provides a brief look at how music was used to create tension and fear. Diagnosing Annie Wilkes provides a look at the illnesses and affectations that may have made Annie who she is. The last four features Advice for the Stalked, Profile of a Stalker, Celebrity Stalkers, and Anti-Stalking Laws are short pieces about stalking. More specifically, celebrity stalking. While they do provide some interesting information, it’s not exactly clear why they’re included here.

Shout’s two new extras are interviews with Director Rob Reiner (37:09) and Special Makeup Effects Artist Greg Nicotero (26:12) Recorded exclusively for this release, Reiner discusses making the transition from TV actor to director, and his early directing efforts such as Stand By Me. Kathy Bates audition, working with James Caan, flying helicopters with John Carpenter, changing the book’s ending, and more. While Misery isn’t a particularly effects heavy film, Nicotero offers some interesting thoughts regarding his early work on films like Evil Dead II and the inception of KNB Effects with his team, and more.

Director(s): Rob Reiner

Actor(s): James Caan , Kathy Bates , Richard Farnsworth Frances Sternhagen Lauren Bacall, Graham Jarvis

Genre: Horror, Psychological Thriller, Thriller, Drama

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