I’ve always loved the movie Misery. I used to watch it whenever it came on TV, and although I found it slightly creepy it never really scared me. The book version, however, definitely scared me. I once heard someone say that Misery was the scariest Stephen King book because there isn’t anything supernatural about it. It’s far fetched, for sure, but it could actually happen. Now that I’ve read it, I completely agree.
The book and film are pretty similar overall. A few characters and scenes were added into the film version, but that’s pretty typical. While the movie can be funny at times, the book never made me laugh. To say that the book is much darker than the movie is such an understatement. Stephen King’s version of Annie Wilkes is completely psychotic while director Rob Reiner’s version is a more toned-down version of crazy. Don’t get me wrong, though, Kathy Bates as Annie is absolute perfection. According to IMDb, she became the first woman to win a Best Actress award at the Oscars for a performance in a horror movie. But while Bates is obviously amazing in the movie, the character Annie is much more deranged in the book. There is a scene in the book when Annie leaves Paul in the basement, in the dark with all the rats, and he can hear her laughing well after she is gone. Annie was scarier in that one scene than in the entire duration of the movie.
The book is also much more gruesome than the movie. You think that hobbling scene in the movie was bad? It was nothing compared to the book. Let’s just say that instead of a sledgehammer there is a knife involved and leave it at that. In the book, horrific scenes like that one are described in excruciating detail, definitely not for the squeamish. There was one scene involving a poor policeman and his unfortunate death-by-lawnmower. Apparently they filmed that scene for the film (gross) but Rob Reiner decided to cut it because he thought the audience might laugh. I can assure you that it was not at all funny in the book. I think that perhaps the book is so much scarier than the film simply because it has the time to be. The book has hundreds of pages to make you really understand how long Paul Sheldon is trapped in that house. In the film, time kind of flies by, but in the book it passes by so slowly. The room eventually because claustrophobic for the reader, and you feel such a huge sense of relief when it is all over.
My favourite thing about the book is the emphasis on the power of writing. Paul writes to maintain his sanity throughout what is clearly and insane situation. He WANTS to write, despite everything that’s happening. Even with the typewriter’s missing keys and the complete agony he’s in. He’ll write any way he can, and in the end writing is what saves him. It’s a pretty powerful message that is completely lost in the film.
Despite the differences between the two, I still love the movie version of Misery. Stephen King was hesitant to sell the movie rights and only agreed to it if Rob Reiner was involved because he did such a great job with Stand by Me. I think that was a smart move because while the film wasn’t nearly as scary as the book, Rob Reiner managed to make it completely captivating, which is pretty incredible considering it basically has two characters and takes place almost entirely in one room. You should really read the book, though, especially in these days leading up to Halloween. And don’t be ashamed if you have to put the book in the freezer when it gets too scary.