Tag Archives: Frances Sternhagen

Stephen King’s Misery

It took me a while to finally catch up with Stephen King’s Misery (as adapted by Rob Reiner) but what spectacularly unsettling horror film, mostly thanks to an almost unbearably intense Kathy Bates. I can picture King during the writing process of this book waking up in a cold clammy sweat from a trauma induced nightmare about some psycho stalker fan (I’m sure he’s had a few), feverishly grabbing pen and paper from his nightstand and scribbling off another chapter. Reiner & Co. capture the cold dread, deafening isolation and mounting hopelessness of the story wonderfully, as unlucky hotshot novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) finds himself injured, stranded and finally ‘rescued’ by super-fan Annie Wilkes (Bates), rushed off to her remote snowy cabin and nursed back to health.. and then some. The great thing about Bates’ performance is she doesn’t make Annie a complete outright monster, there are momentary flashes of something resembling humanity, albeit of a lonely, bitter, misshapen kind. She takes the maniacal behaviour to extreme heights by starting on a slow burn that has us *slightly* on edge and gradually turning the dial up to a deafening roar of obsessive behaviour, delusional fantasies and homicidal volatility. It’s a wicked sharp, playful, very somehow simultaneously in control and unhinged piece of acting, while Caan, in a difficult role, is bed ridden as he bears witness to and takes the full brunt of her tempestuous meltdown. The chilly winter setting is a huge plus, my cup of tea atmosphere indeed and the beautiful snowed in locations make for a splendid visual feast. We spend most of our time with Caan and Bates yet there is a curated supporting cast of memorable folks including Lauren Bacall, Frances Sternhagen, Reiner himself, the late great Richard Farnsworth as a charismatic local Sheriff and the also late great J.T. Walsh as the county’s most inept state trooper. I feel like King took the masochistic route here and heavily projected himself into the role of Paul, the trapped artist forced to plonk out new work on an aggressive timeline not of his own delineation. What trials and hardships is he trying to wrestle out of his mind by telling this story? The crushing doom of a publishing deadline? The vacuous, soul-eating doldrums of writer’s block? The no doubt nerve-wracking, paranoia laced burden of dealing with a fanbase of oddball horror nuts? Who can say. But this feels like a personal story for him, and it’s certainly a very well told, acted and produced film full of deeply shocking moments, icy tension and an antagonist for the ages served up by Bates who, to quote herself, is one ‘cockadoodie’ chick. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Brian De Palma’s Raising Cain

Not too many films can claim to be as certifiably, outright insane as Brian De Palma’s Raising Cain. Crazy, off the wall, nuts, there’s plenty of that in Hollyweird,

but Cain is so thoroughly deranged that I’m curious how De Palma arrived at such a specific brand of left field lunacy when he sat down at his typewriter. Get this: John Lithgow pulls an overtime shift playing Dr. Carter Nix, a slightly disturbed child psychologist who shows an unnatural budding interest in his daughter’s upbringing, so much so that it unnerves his wife (Lolita Davidovitch) to a degree. I describe him as only slightly disturbed because his level of mania pales in comparison to his multiple emerging split personalities, which is where the trouble really begins. Carter’s father (also Lithgow) was a psychotic Norwegian doctor who had a habit of using children for bizarre mind control experiments, and it seems that one of Carter’s multiples has decided to take up his work. Soon there’s a rash of baby kidnappings in the area and all hell breaks loose. His wife is too busy having an adulterous affair with a hunk (steamy Steven Bauer) to really take control either. Sounds crazy in writing? The film takes it way further than you could ever imagine. Lithgow always seems a bit nuts, even when playing straight-laced characters we always get this vibe like he’s a court jester who has lost his marbles, and he revs that organic looniness into overdrive here. Frances Sternhagen is a hoot as the obligatory exposition here, a stern doctor who lays out Carter’s complex, condition to two cynical detectives (Tom Bower and Gregg Henry, both great) who try to keep up with this whole circus. I can understand why this film didn’t do too well, I mean… how do you even classify it? Almost everything about the subject matter is highly uncomfortable stuff that threatens to siege over into the lands of taboo, and there’s all kinds of freaky shit in this screaming haunted asylum of a flick. That’s the fun of though, if you’re able to have some. De Palmer has always had a gift for shocker material even when he’s not operating in the thriller genre. There’s a cold, caustic edge to this film that barely contains the sea of menace and mirth roiling beneath, which is an odd, off colour and chilling mix. See it for yourself.

-Nate Hill