1408 by Stephen King (1999)
1408 directed by Mikael Håfström (2007)
Mike is a cynical writer working on his fourth book about his travels to haunted locations even though he himself doesn’t believe in it. When he stays in room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel, his beliefs will change.
King started this short story to use as an example in his book On Writing, but then found it so compelling her just kept writing. It was then released in the audiobook story collection Blood and Smoke, then later also released in the collection Everything’s Eventual 2002.
I listened to the audiobook which King narrates himself (I was skeptical but he was really good!) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is only about 2 hours long, but it is so creepy and weird and unsettling.
At the start, the hotel manager is telling Mike about 1408, trying to dissuade him from staying and it is such a great build up to the room itself.
Whenever I take a break from King, when I return to one of his works it gives me this excited feeling, like knowing I am in good hands and will at least be entertained if nothing else.
I saw this movie back in 2010 and even though that was a while ago now and I had not seen it since, I remembered it very clearly. It is a simple premise but the movie adds a bit more substance to the story. John Cusack is great in the role and as in the book, the build up with the manager, Samuel L. Jackson, telling him about the room really elevates the suspense. Then of course once he is in there is gets creepy. Even though it is about a guy in a room I never felt bored.
From here on out there will be spoilers for both the book and movie!
Mike Enslin backstory
In the book we learn that Mike is divorced but he and his ex are on amicable terms. In the movie, we find out that he has left his wife, but they are not officially divorced and he just up and left her because their daughter had died. He couldn’t handle the grief, and looking at his wife made him think of their daughter and he couldn’t bare it.
Mike not confronting his grief is a big part of the story and his emotions during his stay in 1408 are the same as the stages of grief-denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
In both, Mike does not believe in anything despite his books being all about staying in haunted locations. In the movie we see more of this once more with his daughter, when she was sick his wife told his daughter about how there was a heaven. Once she has passed, Mike is upset at his wife for telling their daughter these “lies” and says they should have encouraged her to fight more against the illness.
In both, he feels a bit like a hack writing these “10 night in…” books. In the movie we hear about an earlier book he had written that was real and genuine which was a fictionalized story about his relationship with his father. Yet when he is asked if it is based in truth, he lies and says no. Once again, not wanting to fully confront difficult truths.
There is a great line in the book though when the hotel manager, Olin, is talking to him and his holding one of his books and we read, “As always, when he saw his books in someone else’s hands Mike Enslin felt the oddest mix of emotions. Pride, unease, amusement, defiance, and shame. He had no business feeling ashamed of them, they had kept him nicely over these last five years…’You’re sensitive about these aren’t you?’ Olin asked.”
This is something that King wrote about in On Writing and is a theme that appears in other novels. Feeling ashamed in a way about what he writes and others making him feel like horror isn’t a worthwhile genre. Specifically in his memoir he says when he was younger, he would sell stories to classmates and when a teacher got hold of one they said how he was so talented, why couldn’t he use that talent to write something better than scary stories. I think King fans would all agree though that his books are so much more than just a scary story. They have so much depth and the horror elements represent something bigger, deeper, and more human.
The movie begins with a great scene of Mike checking into a different hotel that claims to have a haunted room. They brag about the ghost and the deaths that have occurred there and are talking his ear off. They also use this in their brochures as a way to bring in customers.
This is a great way to start, because when he tries to get a night in 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel, he is told that the room is forever unavailable. He has to get his publishers lawyer to pull some legal jargon in order to get access.
By the way, in the movie he finds out about the Dolphin Hotel and 1408 because someone sends him an anonymous postcard about it. In the book, it was through research he read about all of the deaths that had happened in the room. With the movie, who do you think sent him the postcard? Share your theories in the comments!
When he arrives, Olin asks to speak with him privately and tries to convince and bribe Mike not to stay in that room. This is well written in the book and really gets the reader excited to see what will happen once Mike himself is in the room. In the movie it works well because we see how he compares with that first hotel. Clearly there is something going on with 1408 because Olin doesn’t care about press, he isn’t encouraging the stories, he doesn’t need to rely on vague claims. He has hard proof that the room is evil and genuinely does not want Mike or anyone else staying there and isn’t crazy about Mike writing about the room at all.
One difference between book and movie is that the movie makes some of the history a bit more gruesome, taking some stories a step farther than the book had.
Mike in 1408
In the book, before Mike even goes in the room things feel off, because the door is slightly crooked. Yet, as he is about to mention it into his recorder, he looks again and it is normal. This detail isn’t in the movie.
Once in the room in the book, almost right away he feels off and compares it to being on drugs. In the movie it seems to take bit longer, but regardless it is still pretty soon. In the movie the thermostat is broken and the room is burning up. He calls the front desk and they send up a guy to fix it, but he won’t go in the room and just instructs Mike on what to do from the doorway. This wasn’t in the book.
A large chunk of the story is just the unsettling, creepy things that happen while Mike is in the room. In the movie, while in the room he is forced to confront his painful past regarding the death of his daughter and the fact that he abandoned his wife. While in the room he calls her on his laptop and tells her he needs her help and to call the police and help him escape. She is hesitant at first, but then realizes he is serious. However, during the video chat, the computer has an alternate version of him start talking to the wife.
Different movie endings
We then get a scene where he wakes up in a hospital and his wife is there with him. He goes about his life and will see people who look like the ghosts from the hotel. Eventually, a building he is in deteriorates and he is back in the room. We see that the whole escape was a hallucination from the room.
He then decides that he isn’t going to let the room win and he says the line, I’ve lived the life of a selfish man, but I don’t need to die like one; and he sets the room on fire.
After this he sees the ghost of his daughter and she is saying how she wishes they could always be together as a family and he holds her.
In the theatrical ending, he is rescued by firefighters, wakes up in the hospital but this time he really did escape. We also had a scene when Olin is proud of Mike for destroying the room.
He then is at home with his wife and he is listening to the tape recorded he had and they both her their daughters voice on the recording, much to the wife’s shock. There is also another version out there that is the same but the only change being that the wife doesn’t hear the daughter even though Mike does.
There is a theatrical cut where the same stuff happens leading up to him with his daughter in the room. From there, Mike dies and we see him being buried beside his daughter. Olin then shows up, wanting to give the wife Mike’s items that were found in the room. She doesn’t want to take it though and Olin goes back to his car and there is a jump scare when he sees a burned-up Mike sitting in his backseat.
The book is a bit different, here Mike also starts a fire in a desperate attempt to escape the room one way or another. There is a sewing machine salesman on the same floor-things come full circle because a sewing machine salesman was the first person to die in that room-and this guy rescues Mike from the room.
Olin had told Mike that no one escapes 1408 though because even if you live, you will always have some kind of scars from it. Mike never writes again and has medical issues from the experience. He also hates sunset and will close the curtains because the burning light from the sinking sun reminds him of the burning light of 1408. He doesn’t have a phone in his house either, because of the starnge disturbing voice that he would hear on the phone in 1408.
Book vs Movie
Overall, I would say I think the movie wins over the book because there is more substance to it and I think Cusack is great and the movie is very effective. I like the deeper story being Mike needing to confront his painful past even if it is hard and uncomfortable. We get the theme of Mike in the book where Olin says Mike believed in too much of nothing, and this hurt him when going head-to-head with 1408. So in the end he has learned to not be such a cynic. We get that in the movie too, just with the added backstory on top of that.
As far as the different endings, I do like movies where the main character dies in the end so I am tempted to say I prefer the alternate ending. However, him surviving and them both hearing their daughter on the recorder isn’t an ending I hate wither. The King ending is fine, but it was a bit underwhelming in some ways. King does like to give his books happy endings though for the most part, where the good guy wins. I like this about King’s books, because usually I go into them now execting good to win over evil and the excitment comes from discovering how that is acheived.
In both movie endings Mike “wins” over the room since he destroys it. Though the fact that Olin sees his ghost makes it seem like Mike isn’t resting in peace. Let me know which movie ending you prefer! Initally I thought i liked the version when he dies, but I might now be leaning towards him alive …