Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, Rob Reiner's Misery remains an unforgettable horror masterpiece, ranking as one of the best King adaptations and featuring a memorable, convincingly creepy Kathy Bates opposite an equally excellent James Caan. The beloved horror classic stalks 4K Ultra HD with a stunning, wickedly gorgeous Dolby Vision HDR video, an excellent pair of lossless DTS-HD tracks and the same set of supplements. Overall, the UHD package is a Highly Recommended addition to the collection for all the number-one fans.
Since first watching it in theaters during the 1990 holiday season, Rob Reiner's Misery remains a disturbingly unforgettable horror masterpiece. This is largely due to Kathy Bates' uncomfortably convincing performance as the dangerous psychopath Annie Wilkes. Based on the Stephen King bestseller of the same name, Bates' seemingly harmless and hospitable nurse is ultimately what makes this psychological thriller a memorable classic, and she is one of the most disturbingly creepy monsters still haunting the dark hallways and abandoned rooms of my nightmares. There is something real and authentic about Annie, the sort of fan who is unsound and psychologically damaged but also alarmingly obsessed with the object of her fandom. It's nearly impossible to praise the film without also gushing over Bates' portrayal of a reclusively sad and disturbed woman with a perverse obsession of romance novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan).
Of course, Reiner's work behind the camera is also a big part of the film's strength. Although better remembered for his comedies, the director takes advantage of Bates' incredibly subtle performance. He skillfully gives the audience faint, little glimpses of a dangerous lunatic hiding behind that neighborly smile, an unhinged maniac struggling to be contained. Reiner mostly captures their conversations in flat, eye-level shots, weirdly matching Annie's calm and nurturing kindness to the injured Sheldon. However, in those slight instances where Annie unwittingly lets slip her true, deranged self, the camera shifts to a low-angle shot. The unexpected change is subtle and barely noticeable, but it's enough to plant seeds of doubt and creepiness in our minds along with Sheldon. Gradually, the low-angle shots become more exaggerated, combined with a few canted close-ups of Bates' chillingly eerie and inhuman glare.
Best of all, behind that same camerawork, there is a wickedly dark sense of humor underlying the horror, a cartoonish silliness to the on-screen terror. As Sheldon's unwarranted prison sentence escalates into a nightmare where the famed author is forced to rewrite his latest novel, Reiner toys with our sympathies. We don't completely align with Sheldon except as the victim of unfortunate circumstances, and we only chastise Annie because we're repulsed by what she's capable of — the infamous hobbling scene being one of the most gruesomely shocking moments in cinema history. Unsettlingly, we can actually relate, if not identify, with Annie, the delusional fanatic who feels personally offended when creators fail to satisfy expectations. Be it in comics, music, television, books or movies, we've all experienced a similar level of disappointment where our passionate love for the material suddenly, if only for a moment, thwarts desired expectations.
Happenstance gives Annie the unprecedented opportunity to have the offense revised, a deeply twisted fantasy of obsessively devoted fans but not the sort anyone ever admits because it is socially unacceptable. Reiner's approach to Misery is wickedly clever, a mix of scares and dismay that also induces fits of uncomfortable chuckles. We can almost imagine Reiner giggling behind the camera, like the uncle who loves scaring the kids at reunions. And as Stephen King once explained in an essay, the satisfaction of a good horror movie is giving those fantasies momentary free reign, to feed the hungry alligators so that they may never escape.
Check out our review of the 2017 Scream Factory Collector's Edition Blu-ray HERE.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Kino Lorber brings Rob Reiner's Misery to Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack. The triple-layered UHD100 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region A, BD50 disc inside a black, eco-elite vortex case with a glossy slipcover. At startup, the disc goes straight to a static menu screen of the cover art with the usual options along the bottom left corner of the screen.
The classic Stephen King adaptation holds Ultra HD captive, heavily medicated under a deliriously gorgeous HEVC H.265 encode that surpasses its Blu-ray counterpart.
Likely struck from the same remaster of the original camera negatives, which was used for the 2017 Scream Factory release, the native 4K transfer starts a bit rough in the opening credits. But after the accident, the 2160p picture immediately improves with razor-sharp detailing throughout Annie's house. Pitch-perfect, right-on-the-money contrast balance yields outstanding clarity and visibility of the fabric and threading in the curtains, blankets and clothing. We can plainly make out every object and porcelain figurine decorating the house and the smallest imperfection in the woodwork. The snow through the window is a brilliant, squeaky-clean white, adding a great deal of pop in the exterior shots, and the specular highlights add an intensely vivid and lustrous sparkle to the individual ice crystals while maintaining excellent definition in the hottest spots.
Although the photography has never been particularly colorful, the Dolby Vision HDR presentation nonetheless displays richer yet accurate saturation in the primaries. Reds are a more animated shade of crimson, and blues range from a spirited cerulean sky to the deep, energetic cobalt tones at night. Barry Sonnenfeld's cinematography favors a natural, slightly drab earthy palette, supplying the visuals with warm golden yellows, lovely marigolds, homely sepia shades and nice, full-bodied browns mixed with the occasional splatter of soft magentas and lilac purples. Facial complexions have a healthier, rosy peachiness around the cheeks with lifelike textures in the entire cast, revealing individual pores, wrinkles and negligible blemishes. All the while, brightness levels supply oiler, silkier blacks with impressive gradational differences in the various shades and first-rate shadow delineation in the darkest shadows of the house.
Awash in a stable, fine layer of grain throughout, the 1.85:1 image comes with a few soft, blurry moments here and there, which noticeably drop slightly in quality and fall flat but are also easily forgivable due to the age and condition of the elements used. However, overall, the UHD transfer is a massive improvement over its HD SDR counterpart with a stunning cinematic appeal that fans will absolutely love. (Dolby Vision HDR Video Rating: 90/100)
Obsessive fandom stalks home theaters swinging the same excellent pair of DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks: a 5.1 surround version and a 2.0 stereo alternative. And as I wrote in my previous review, owners can't go wrong with either option, but I found myself enjoying the 5.1 track a little better.
On the whole, the surrounds are generally silent, which is to be expected in a character-driven thriller. However, the design's real strength is in the front soundstage where atmospherics employ all three channels with convincing off-screen action, generating a very broad and welcoming sense of presence. Dynamic range is fairly extensive with outstanding clarity and definition throughout, but then again, there aren't many loud moments that push into the upper frequencies. Marc Shaiman's score is detailed and precise while vocals are well-prioritized in the center. There also isn't much in terms of low bass, but the few bits of action and music come with a hearty and appreciably responsive weight that feels accurate and appropriate to the on-screen visuals. When applying the receiver's Dolby Surround or DTS: Neural:X up-mixing functionality, listeners enjoy some solid activity traveling from the sides to the fronts and top heights with discrete directionality and satisfying panning, such as the sound of a helicopter flying over the Wilkes farm, the echo of Annie's footsteps or the score lightly bleedings into the sides and heights. (Audio Rating: 80/100)
For this Ultra HD edition, Kino Lorber ports over the same set of supplements as those enjoyed on the 2017 Scream Factory Collector's Blu-ray.
Over the decades, the infamous hobbling scene has made Rob Reiner's Misery an unforgettable horror movie, ranking as one of the most gruesomely shocking moments in cinema. But what really makes the Stephen King adaptation a memorable and enduring film is Kathy Bates' convincingly creepy, Oscar-winning performance as the dangerous psychopath Annie Wilkes, a disturbed woman with a perverse obsession for James Caan's romance novelist Paul Sheldon. The beloved horror classic stalks 4K Ultra HD with a stunning, wickedly gorgeous Dolby Vision HDR presentation, sedating home theaters with a noteworthy improvement over its HD SDR counterpart and making it the best the film has ever looked. The UHD edition is also held captive by the same pair of lossless DTS-HD MA soundtracks and a strong set of supplemental material. Overall, the package is a highly recommended addition for all the number-one fans out there.