Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer | 1990 | 107 mins. | Rated R

Released in 1990, Misery is everything a good thriller should be. Based on a book by one of the greatest and most celebrated suspense novelists of all time, Stephen King, the film already had something going for it. Perhaps more importantly, director Rob Reiner (When Harry Met Sally) had the foresight to reference legendary thrillers from great directors, including Alfred Hitchcock. On top of that, Kathy Bates, then a relatively unknown actress delivered 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 seemed to become the epitome of evil.

MiseryBates plays Annie Wilkes, the “number one fan” of romance novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan). 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, and 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 really change to see him playing a man whose at the mercy of another person (a woman, no less). It’s impossible not to feel totally 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.

Nearly twenty 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 remains one of the best character based thrillers ever made. Right up there with Spinal Tap and Stand By Me, it is certainly on of Rob Reiner’s best directorial efforts, and it6s probably the film that took him the furthest out of his comfort zone.

Misery” is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen using the AVC codec. The stock used has a dated, grainy look that doesn’t lend itself to a reference quality transfer. However, the added brightness and high-def punch make this the best available transfer of the film.

Images are as sharp as possible with only one scene towards the end that appears to be out of focus, which I believe is a mistake in production, not the DVD. I detected a faint haze of natural film grain present throughout the presentation.

The 5.1 DTS-HD audio transfer is 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.

Special features are included here on the standard DVD copy of the film, included in the set:

• Commentary by Rob Reiner: Reiner discusses the challenges of working in a new genre and goes through things on a fairly shot-by-shot basis

• Commentary with William Goldman: Since Goldman is a screenwriter, much of his commentary focuses on character development and plot issues.

• Misery Loves Company: Reiner and Goldman reiterate a lot of what was said in the commentaries, while Kathy Bates joins in to discuss her experiences making the film.

• Marc Shaiman’s Musical Misery Tour: Provides a brief look at how music was used to create tension and fear.

• Diagnosing Annie Wilkes: Takes a look at the illnesses/affectations that may have made Annie the way she is.

• Advice for the Stalked

• Profile of a Stalker

• Celebrity Stalkers

• Anti-Stalking Laws

The last four features are short pieces about stalking; more specifically, celebrity stalking. While they do provide some interesting information on the subject, it’s not exactly clear why they are included here because Annie never stalked Sheldon.

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