Author: Stephen King
**Spoilers for Halloween H20 follow (seriously)**
This will seem random, but upon finishing Misery I was reminded of the film Halloween H20. Halloween H20 was a pretty successful entry in the Halloween series (and the slasher genre). The film brought back Jamie Lee Curtis, and featured hot young actors like Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams and LL Cool J, and was overall a pretty slick installment. When I think of the movie, the first thing that comes to mind is always Jodi Lyn O’Keefe’s confrontation with Michael Myers. During the course of the altercation, O’Keefe’s character gets her leg cut, then savagely mangled by a dumbwaiter, then stabbed multiple times, before finally being hanged/displayed. It was by far the most memorable scene in the movie because it was intense, gruesome, and very scary. It is also memorable because hardly anybody else dies in the movie (if you’re a recognizable actor, odds are you survived until the credits on this film).
Compare Halloween H20 with a film like Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Once you get past the (awesome) opening where Jason is inadvertently resurrected via a bolt of lighting, Jason goes on a prolific killing spree, with sixteen victims overall. Rather than one memorable death scene, the film features such classics as Jason decapitating three guys with one machete swipe, impaling another couple on the same pike, using broken bottles as a stabbing implement and several other original kills. I’ve rewatched it at least a dozen times, and would regularly include it on my list of favorite slasher films, a list that H20 would never make it on.
If you ask the average viewer, or even a hardcore horror fan which film is “better,” you’re likely to get an even split. Rotten Tomatoes gives Jason Lives the edge at 52% to 51%, and that feels about right with my own experience of discussing films in this genre. Current trends in horror films probably have more people preferring the Halloween H20 version, as films like Saw or Hostel tend to focus on the lengthy agony of one person rather than the quick hitting fatalities of many.
That’s a long winded way of say that Misery is a good book that I didn’t care for. It’s well written, it has characters that feel like real people (having famous people play them in a movie helps that), and it really specializes in bringing the pain on one person in particular. Around the time the torture in this book really escalates from psychological to physical, I stopped enjoying this book. Despite not being a very long read, spending page after page with a protagonist in pain and an antagonist who pops in to sometimes cut off his body parts was way less enjoyable than King’s other books with larger casts that I’ve read.
Even with the single victim being tortured for a novel concept, there was so much about this book I really enjoyed. For starters, books about writers tend to feel so authentic because the author obviously knows what he’s talking about. Here I got a sense that many of Paul’s fears, beliefs and idiosyncrasies could very well have been true to King’s actual self. The idea of the book is great, with a crazy fan forcing somebody to create something just for her. That fan, Annie, is one of the best villains I’ve read in a book. King not only creates a consistent personality for her, but he also wrote a terrifying backstory (the Dragon Lady in the nursery ward!) and enough physical tics that I think I would have visualized somebody like Kathy Bates in my mind even without ever seeing the movie.
The problem is that no matter how well made a book or movie is, and how great the characters are, as a viewer or reader reacting to the end product my actual enjoyment is still important. I don’t need to like characters in a book to enjoy it, or for there to be a happy ending, but I do want to enjoy reading it or else I should be spending my time doing something else. At times I actively dreaded reading more of Misery, not because it was scary, but because it was such an unpleasant situation to return to. Annie and Paul both had to know what happened at the end of the book, I was just relieved to get there.