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Misery: Collector's Edition DVD Review

Misery (1990) movie poster Misery

Theatrical Release: November 30, 1990 / Running Time: 107 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Rob Reiner / Writers: William Goldman (screenplay), Stephen King (novel)

Cast: James Caan (Paul Sheldon), Kathy Bates (Annie Wilkes), Richard Farnsworth (Buster), Frances Sternhagen (Virginia), Lauren Bacall (Marcia Sindell), J.T. Walsh (Colorado Police Chief Sherman Douglas - uncredited), Rob Reiner (Helicopter Pilot - uncredited), Graham Jarvis (Libby), Jerry Potter (Pete), Tom Brunelle (Anchorman), June Christopher (Anchorwoman), Julie Payne (Reporter #1), Archie Hahn III (Reporter #2), Gregory Snegoff (Reporter #3), Wendy Bowers (Waitress), Misery the Pig (Herself)

Buy Misery from Amazon.com: DVD • Blu-ray/DVD Combo

By Kelvin Cedeno

Stephen King is perhaps the most famous author of the past thirty years. Many of his bestselling works have inspired numerous film and television adaptations. The stories and scenarios he's penned are so well known that one is usually able to understand a reference to them even without having experienced it firsthand.
To say King's fanbase is numerous would be an understatement, and with such a wide range of admirers come the zealots. People of this sort elevate celebrities to a practically divine status, and they become perturbed when the celebrity branches out to try new things. So is the basis for Stephen King's novel Misery, famously adapted into a 1990 film.

Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is an author whose book series involving the life and romances of Misery Chastain is a smash hit. Shortly after the publication of the final installment, Paul finishes a totally original story in a genre different from his esteemed series. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse when his car veers off of an icy road and down a steep slope. He is rescued and taken in by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), Paul's self-proclaimed Number One Fan. Annie offers to care for him until his swollen legs and broken arm are mended, but Paul soon realizes she has no intention of releasing him. As his fanatical caretaker's behavior increases in hostility and unpredictability, Paul is determined to escape despite his current handicaps.

In "Misery", James Caan plays Paul Sheldon, a romance novelist who is injured and stuck in a small, snowy Colorado town. Kathy Bates won the Best Actress Academy Award for her performance as manic depressive Sheldon fan Annie Wikles.

Misery is often classified as a horror film, but the term thriller suits the film more. Admittedly, the distinction is rather hazy, but with the exception of the climax and two brief-but-memorable scenes, there is very little violence or gore to be found. In this way, Misery feels Hitchcockian. It takes its time to tell the story and unravel Annie's sanity, and the viewer's anticipation of what may happen fuels the terror and suspense. It's actually pretty remarkable how something so driven by dialogue and character can prove to be so chilling when most films today prefer exaggerated sound effects and 40 gallons of blood to do the job.

Because the film isn't very plot driven, its success or failure rides on the shoulders of the two leads. James Caan's extroverted and tough personality may not make him the most obvious choice for the role of Paul Sheldon. Actually, it's Caan's usual fervor that helps the audience connect with Paul. Seeing someone as abrasive as him relegated to bed and wheelchair confinement makes things more skewed. Paul could have very well been a bland victim, but Caan makes sure the character comes across with more personality and proactiveness than that.

As important as the character of Paul is, whether or not Misery can sell itself to its audience chiefly lies with the character of Annie Wilkes. Kathy Bates had the unenviable task of switching back and forth between the pleasant and maniacal sides of Annie. On top of that, she had to make sure the latter side didn't become a Mommie Dearest camp-fest. Somehow, she's able to make the extremes gel together convincingly. When Annie is in fawning adoration of Paul, Bates approaches the role sincerely, cleverly masking the underlying madness. During the more outrageous outburst scenes, she miraculously approaches the character from two different angles. On one hand, she plays Annie slightly tongue-in-cheek, allowing the viewer to step back and be amused at the hysteria. On the other hand, she brings an unsettling quality that, as the viewer becomes more involved in Paul's plight, gives the film the terrifying atmosphere needed. Bates won a Best Actress Oscar for this role, and it's clear why; her multi-faceted performance is what makes the film so memorable.

Richard Farnsworth and Frances Sterhagen relieve suspense, sustain interest, and provide "spice" as the gently-bickering Sheriff and wife tracking Paul Sheldon's disappearance. Annie is miffed by Paul's demonstration of smudgeable paper.

Bates and Caan feed off each other's performances well, and the script they're does a great deal to ensure a proper tone and balance. The whole film is filled with funny moments and quirks. Some of these are derived from the randomness of Annie, such as one hilarious scene where she rants about how the cliffhanger
of a serial she saw as a child was too easily resolved in the next episode. At first, the viewer may wonder if the laughs experienced are intentional. The assurance that it's perfectly all right to be amused by her tirades comes from Paul's reactions. He visibly expresses the thought that's in every audience member's head: "Is this woman for real?" Such expressions give off their own humor and key the audience into what they are to think of such odd behavior. At the same time, the script manages to evoke true fear and drama. By treating Paul and Annie as fully-realized characters rather than caricatures, the film is able to be invested by the audience.

Misery is a film that doesn't cheat in order to create suspense. It skillfully balances comedy and terror in a satisfying way and is able to keep the viewer engaged despite the limited setting and heavy dialogue. As Alfred Hitchcock once said, "There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it." If only more horrors and thrillers paid heed to such a philosophy... Thankfully, Misery is one of those films, and it deserves the reputation it's received since its original release.

Buy Misery: Collector's Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
Dolby Digital Surround (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish;
Closed Captioned
Release Date: October 2, 2007
Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase with Cardboard Slipcover
Later released with Blu-ray Disc


Misery arrives in a new 1.85:1 transfer. This is the first time the film has been enhanced for 16x9 televisions in Region 1. While that alone would give this an advantage over the previous disc, MGM (now with Fox distributing) went further than that. It seems an entirely different print was used for this new Collector's Edition, and the image is flawless. Sharpness is crisp and neither leans in the territory or being too soft or too enhanced. Colors are smooth and rich while still appearing natural, and no DVD artifacts crop up at all.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack also comes across well. Because this is such a dialogue-heavy film, there are very few surround effects. Instead, the speakers are utilized mostly for Marc Shaiman's animated score. When effects do appear, they come across effectively, and dialogue remains clean and intelligible. Dolby 2.0 tracks are included in Spanish and French.

Director Rob "Meathead" Reiner discusses his 1990 film "Misery" in both a commentary and this featurette. Kathy Bates acts against an empty bed in production footage from "Misery Loves Company." Composer Marc Shaiman is happy to recall his first feature film score in "Marc Shaiman's Musical Misery Tour."


When Misery arrived in Region 2 as a Special Edition back in 2003, consumers in Region 1 wondered how long it would be before that edition would arrive for them. Over four years later, under a recent deal with 20th Century Fox, MGM has finally re-released the film in North America. Half of the supplements here are from that Region 2 Special Edition, while others are newly created. The two commentaries available are carried over from that release, starting with director Rob Reiner's track.
Reiner states that it's been nearly a decade since he's last seen the film, and it shows. Long stretches of silence fill the track as Reiner gets encompassed in his own film. When he does speak, he provides interesting information, but most of it can be found in the DVD's main documentary. Because of that, this track isn't very valuable.

The second commentary enlists screenwriter William Goldman and is of similar quality to the Reiner track. Unlike Reiner, Goldman offers more insight into the production, discussing changes from the both the script and the original Stephen King novel. The track is still plagued with lots of silence because, just like Reiner, Goldman admits to not having seen the film since they first screened it for King. MGM should've paired the two speakers together so they could bounce off each other's comments. If that wasn't possible, then they simply should've edited both tracks together to form one. As such, neither track merits sitting through such long gaps in order to glean the few production tidbits dispersed throughout.

The video features begin with "Misery Loves Company" (29:51). This acts as an all-encompassing "making of" and features interviews from various cast and crew, namely Reiner, Goldman, and actors James Caan and Kathy Bates. Every participant offers good reflections on making the film, and some behind-the-scenes footage is shown occasionally. One only wishes the featurette were longer, but as it is, it's an entertaining and informative retrospective.

Next up is "Marc Shaiman's Musical Misery Tour" (14:28), in which composer Shaiman talks about his experiences scoring his first theatrical feature and how he approached certain elements. Shaiman offers many interesting comments and proves to be a lively speaker.

Learning with Reid Meloy, Ph. D: today's word is "psychotic." There's a stalker behind you, man! "Misery"'s very special bonuses on stalkers and other psychologically disturbed folk includes some classic re-enactments. Annie looks none too pleased with the words in the main menu's typewriter. Too bad they forgot the N key was broken.

Several widescreen featurettes created specifically for this release follow. Each of these tackles the subjects of stalking and psychology, starting with "Diagnosing Annie Wilkes" (8:46).
Forensic psychologist Reid Meloy, Ph. D analyzes Annie's character in this film and how she exhibits characteristics of the mentally deranged. "Advice for the Stalked" (4:57) has Meloy joined by other speakers as they offer tips on what a stalked person should or should not do.

"Profile of a Stalker" (6:16) explains the thought process of a stalker as well as the usual behavioral tendencies. "Celebrity Stalkers" (5:07) essentially offers the same thing, but deals more specifically with those who stalk celebrities and what they hope to accomplish. Finally, "Anti-Stalking Law" (2:22) talks about the introduction of said law and the different modifications of it. These featurettes are bizarrely fascinating and help to better explain Annie's random outbursts and mood swings, but they're so similar in content that they should've just been combined into a single feature.

The bonus materials conclude with the theatrical trailer (2:20) and a special "Season's Greetings" trailer (2:24). The latter is especially interesting as it showcases the film with a sly sense of irony. Because of that, it actually represents the film better than the more standard trailer.

Unfortunately, the disc offers no deleted scenes whatsoever. While the supplements make no mention of cut footage, Kathy Bates has expressed disappointment in the cutting of a scene where she kills a police officer with a lawn mower. It is unclear where in the film this would've been, for in the novel, Annie kills a character with a lawn mower who in the film version merely gets shot. Whether or not the scene Bates referred to was an alternate version of the film death, its absence is still conspicuous. Also disappointing is the lack of a photo gallery that appeared in Region 2. Finally, it should've been obvious to have Bates and Caan do a commentary. Both are engaging speakers in the featurette, and one wishes for an extension of that featurette if a commentary were not possible.

The animated main menu features the listings spread across Paul's typewriter. A montage of clips from the film is played over the typing paper. All other menus are static and feature typing paper backgrounds and fonts sprinkled with blood. In a rare move, the obligatory cardboard slipcover features unique artwork that differs from what's below it. Designed like a book, it featured flecks of blood scattered throughout and a small image of Annie holding a knife as Paul lies in bed behind her. The keepcase artwork removes the book motif and features a picture that's similar, but with Annie holding a sledge hammer and looking much more deranged. A six-sided insert is included which contains production notes and chapter listings.

"I'm your number one fan.... you dirty bird!" "If I could just... get... to my utility belt..."


Misery is still as effective now as when it was first released. It offers enough comedy to avoid dreariness and enough tension to avoid campiness thanks to the performances of Caan and Bates. The film itself is given an excellent transfer, great audio, and some decent supplements. While the latter has its shortcomings, it's still a clear-cut upgrade from the old disc. The film itself is strong enough to merit a purchase for fans of Stephen King and well-crafted thrillers.

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Related Reviews:
From Director Rob Reiner and Screenwriter William Goldman: The Princess Bride (20th Anniversary Edition)
Written by Stephen King: Cujo: 25th Anniversary Edition • The Shining | Starring Richard Farnsworth: The Straight Story
Featuring Kathy Bates: Revolutionary Road • Chιri • Around the World in 80 Days • Fred Claus
Stay Alive: Director's Cut • Vacancy • Tales from Avonlea: Season 1 • Good Morning, Vietnam: Special Edition
The Night Listener • Dinosaurs: The Complete First and Second Seasons • Red Dawn: Collector's Edition
Flashdance: Special Collector's Edition • Something Wicked This Way Comes • Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken
Poltergeist (25th Anniversary) • Orphan • The Graduate (40th Anniversary Edition) • Funny Face (50th Anniversary)

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Reviewed October 2, 2007.

Text copyright 2007 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1990 Castle Rock Entertainment, 2007 MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.