As the author of a series of books like Ten Nights in Haunted Hotel Rooms he is a professional cynic who doesn’t believe in ghosts, and delights in debunking the supernatural beliefs of others. He’s stayed in hundreds of spooky places, but it isn’t until he checks into room 1408 of New York’s Dolphin Hotel that he experiences true terror for the first time.
Based on a short story by horror specialist Stephen King, 1408 isn’t just a ghost story, it delves into the psychological trauma suffered by Enslin as the result of the death of his young daughter.
At first the only evil thing about room 1408 is the price of the beer nuts in the mini bar, but soon enough strange things start to happen. The clock radio mysteriously turns itself on, and if that isn’t creepy enough, every time it turns on it’s playing a Carpenter’s song. At first he tries to rationalize his feelings of dread— maybe he’s been drugged, the visions he’s seeing are hallucinations, maybe he’s overtired—but soon the terror grips him and he wants out of the hotel. Trouble is he can’t leave. It’s like the Hotel California, except with ghostly apparitions, paintings that come to life and that damn annoying Carpenter’s song. The question is: Will he survive the night? Or will he become room 1408’s fifty-seventh victim?
1408 has some spooky scenes and some OK special effects, but unlike The Body, another King short story that inspired Stand By Me, 1408 doesn’t have enough meat on its bones to warrant a long-form film. Director Mikael Håfström takes a story that might have made an interesting hour-long episode of The Outer Limits and stretched it to a long 94 minutes by inserting lots of filler scenes of John Cusack making scared faces.
The psychological catalyst for the story—the death of Enslin’s daughter and his subsequent loss of faith in a God that would allow a child to die—has been done before, most recently in The Reaping from earlier this year. More interesting is the idea that by debunking the idea of ghosts Enslin is somehow taking people’s hope of life after death away. Neither idea is explored in any depth, but at least the latter concept adds some weight to the paper thin story.
1408 has a great trailer but fails to deliver the spine-tingling goods.