Monday, January 2, 2017


Very honored to have Anya Novak aka @BookishPlinko as our first guest writer of 2017! You can read more of Anya's great work at Daily Grindhouse, Horror Writers, 100 Scenes, and 52 Weeks Of Horror. We continue our series Dead Of Winter with one of my favorite Stephen King adaptations, Misery. This is a hell of a good piece and I enjoyed the hell out of reading it and I hope you do to, fiends! When I was adding the trailer at the end, I'll be damned if I didn't get the chills all over again! Get your snuggies and your whiskey spiked cocoa, kids!-TM

We are human. Humanity’s greatest need is for contact; we crave touch and acknowledgment from others. We crave proximity to others. So it stands to reason that one of the most basic fears of man is to be separated from others. Isolation is one of the most crucial elements in most horror stories. It confines the characters to an inescapable area and forces confrontation with the villain. We’ve seen it in some of the most iconic horror films: The Thing; The Shining; Alien. One of the more overlooked films featuring isolation, however, is Rob Reiner’s film adaptation of the bestselling Stephen King novel, Misery.

Famed historical romance writer Paul Sheldon has just finished his latest manuscript (his first “true”
work of literature after years of writing about a sappy character named Misery), and he begins the long drive home from his Colorado hideaway when he crashes his car during a nasty blizzard. Paul has dire injuries, but is rescued by a former nurse who happens to be Paul’s “number one fan”. She brings Paul back to her remote homestead in the mountains. After learning that Sheldon has killed off her beloved heroine Misery, she holds him prisoner at her home until he brings her back in a new novel. Bad things happen.

In a twist to the classic Gothic heroine, Paul Sheldon is a passive damsel in distress who is largely the subject of Annie Wilkes’ cruelty. In both book and film, Annie outmatches Paul in weight and (due to his debilitated state) strength. A bird with clipped wings, he is at the mercy of her manic mood swings, which can and do turn on a dime. One day she’s cooking gourmet meals, the next she’s literally bringing the hammer down on him.

Isolation has multiple angles in Misery. In the beginning of the film, Paul is in a sort of self-imposed exile, one that many creatives are familiar with. His isolation is voluntary; he prefers the solitude and his writing process benefits as a result. Once his manuscript is finished and he ends up in the care of Annie, however, that isolation became applied by force. Interestingly enough, isolation can be beneficial, when voluntary. According to Mark Conliff in his essay “On Isolation”:

“Isolation produces devastating consequences for many people, leading to lifelong emotional problems and difficulty in relationships with others. Conversely, the condition can move others toward extraordinary creativity and innovation as a result of having been forced to rely solely on their own minds as a source for meaning. As one might suspect, these two sides of the coin are not mutually exclusive; many people experience both positive and negative effects of isolation, deriving inspiration from it while at the same time feeling hurt and disturbed. Obviously, not all who feel isolated are literally alone, and not all who are alone are isolated.”

When in retreat at his Colorado hotel hideout, Paul had none of the usual distractions and thus had
optimal writing conditions to create. A closed-off environment worked for him. When Annie kept him trapped at her cabin the isolation had the opposite effect; he was in fear for his life. On top of voluntary versus involuntary isolation, Paul’s forced confinement was environmental, at a snowed-in cabin. He was also isolated physically; first in the car crash, then when Annie hobbles him. After the crash, his segregation is no longer by choice. Annie has cut off all means of communication, and no one knows of his whereabouts. He needs contact, but can’t get it. Paired with Annie’s erratic behavior and her obsession with Paul and Misery, the danger is heightened. It becomes clear to Paul that, given enough time and the right motivation, Annie would kill him, and no one would ever find out. With great isolation comes great peril; it’s a great way to build tension.

Mentally, Annie forced him to confront an inner conflict he’s been having since before the crash: Paul aspires to write “real” art, but will his fans allow it? Will the public allow it? Paul has nowhere to go but into his own mind. It is here that Misery shines, both in print and on screen. Psychological horror and isolation have long been thematic bosom buddies, and it’s clear why: they’re perfectly complementary. Cinematic victims of psychological torment are either alienated or they separate themselves from the pack. Protagonists who find themselves in isolated settings become paranoid and start to turn on each other or themselves. It’s a theme that Stephen King has explored in multiple works of his, including Gerald’s Game, The Shining and Under The Dome. King understands one of man’s greatest fears, and one of the horror genre’s greatest tools to swing down upon the collective ankles of movie audiences: being alone.

So naturally, I’m recommending that you watch or re-visit Misery by yourself for the best possible movie experience. Self-segregate. Wait until it’s miserably cold outside, so you won’t be interrupted by cock-a-doody sheriffs looking for a missing person. Turn off your phone so your dirty birdie agent can’t get in touch with you. Get comfy and wrap yourself in a blanket; you won’t be going anywhere for a while. Perhaps after a couple of hours with your number one fan, you’ll finally get the inspiration to finish that great work of art you’ve been mulling around in your head.
-Anya Novak

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