MISERY (1990) Collector's Edition Blu-ray
Director: Rob Reiner
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

Stephen King's MISERY, the film that struck terror with the proclamation "I'm your number one fan," arrives on Scream Factory Collector's Edition Blu-ray from Shout! Factory.

On the eve of the publication of the last novel in his Misery Chastain period romance series, highly successful novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan, GAMES) completes the manuscript for his breakaway semi-autobiographical novel. Heading back to New York from the Colorado cabin where he has written all of his novels, Paul winds up in the middle of a blizzard and his car careens off the side of an S-curve into the snow. He wakes in the care of widowed former nurse Annie Wilkes (AMERICAN HORROR STORY's Kathy Bates) who has treated both of his fractured legs to the best of her abilities while waiting for the roads to clear so that he can be transported to the hospital. With the phone lines down, Paul finds himself in captive company of his number one fan who seems a little intense but is seemingly well-intentioned; that is, until she gets her reserved copy of "Misery's Child" and discovers that he has killed off her favorite literary heroine, whereupon her mood swings turn physically violent. Forcing him to burn his new manuscript, Annie tells him that God has charged her with showing him the way and orders him to write "Misery's Return". Physically dependent upon Annie, Paul must find ways to humor her as he attempts to escape, earning cruel punishment each time he fails. Meanwhile, Paul's agent Marcia (Lauren Bacall, THE BIG SLEEP) has contacted the local sheriff Buster (Richard Farnsworth, THE STRAIGHT STORY) when Paul fails to turn up in New York. After he and his deputy wife Virginia (Frances Sternhagen, THE MIST) find Paul's wrecked car, the state police are certain that Paul is dead and his body is buried somewhere in the snow. Buster, on the other hand, is not so certain and begins his own investigation.

One of the more autobiographical and non-supernatural novels of Stephen King, MISERY the film was the second of eight King adaptations by Castle Rock Entertainment – co-founded by director Rob Reiner and named after the Maine setting of several King stories – following STAND BY ME, most of which apart from NEEDFUL THINGS and DREAMCATCHER were geared towards mainstream audiences and the Academy Awards following Bates' Best Actress Oscar win (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION garnered seven nominations and THE GREEN MILE four nominations, but lightning did not strike twice for Bates with DOLORES CLAIBORNE and HEARTS IN ATLANTIS also went unnoticed by the Academy). In the ensuing years, the film has remained popular enough for an endless stream of parodies and references as well as a Bollywood remake, but the strengths of its performances and the measure approach of Reiner and screenwriter William Goldman (MARATHON MAN) has not been undercut by the glut of much more graphically violent "torture porn" (some of which inevitably referenced the film in similar captivity scenarios). The film is at its best when it focuses solely on Caan and Bates, with the investigatory sequences featuring the otherwise warm and entertaining Farnsworth and Sternhagen marking time in what should have been a more claustrophobic scenario, especially since Caan makes the same discoveries as Farnsworth (who ultimately fairs no better than Scatman Crothers' caretaker-to-the-rescue in Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of THE SHINING).

Released theatrically by Columbia Pictures and on home video by RCA/Columbia, MISERY wound up with Polygram through co-producer Nelson Entertainment for its 1998 non-anamorphic DVD release and then MGM for its 2000 non-anamorphic DVD, followed later in the decade by a collector's edition with lenticular slipcase, two commentaries, and other video extras which were not ported over to MGM's 2009 Blu-ray which – like their Blu-ray of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS – included a DVD copy with all of the extras. Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray is derived from a new 4K scan of "original film elements" – presumably because the HD master used for the previous Blu-ray looked quite good – and the image is sharp while remaining filmic, with the range of detail noticeable from the start with the texture of the typewriter paper and the indents of the lettering to the Paul's single cigarette and matchstick resting on a woven placemat. Audio options include a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix of the Dolby Stereo track – presumably the same one featured on the MGM DVD and Blu-ray editions – that is front-oriented but utilizes the surrounds for subtle atmospheric effects that wonderfully enhance the suspense with noises that suggest Annie's presence outside Paul's room, his nervous movements in the wheelchair or crawling through the house, the piercing taps and dings of his typewriter, and some of the more subtly mixed cues of the score. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided.

Besides the new video transfer, fans of the film will be happy to know that the Blu-ray edition carries over all of the old extras starting with the two audio commentary tracks. On the first track, Reiner recalls the novel being picked up by Castle Rock partner Andrew Scheinman (LITTLE BIG LEAGUE) in an airport bookstore and their surprise that it had not been optioned by any other companies. He recalls that King liked what he did with STAND BY ME and would only give permission if Reiner's name was on it as either producer or director. Having come from comedy as an actor and director, Reiner was not well-versed in thrillers or horror films but found his personal connection to the project in King's own identification with a protagonist "trapped by his own fame" and wanting to break out. While he recalls that Caan was not his first choice and that the likes of Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, William Hurt, and Richard Dreyfuss had all turned down the lead, he reveals that Goldman had written Wilkes with Bates in mind, and that Bacall's agent had contacted them about using her. Goldman reiterates some of the same information on his track - while also indirectly revealing that the male lead had also been offered to Harrison Ford - and suggests that the reason many leading men turned the role down was because they did not want to "play subordinate to women." In discussing his changes to the novel, he notes that readers know on the first page that Annie is crazy and that Paul hates her, an admits to "marking time" until the reveal. He also recalls that the book dramatized a number of scenes from the Misery Chastain novels and that he had incorporated some into the script but ultimately wrote them out.

The disc also carries over all of the MGM releases' video extras while adding two new interviews. In the one with director Reiner (37:08), he covers much of the same ground while also recalling his stage work in college, watching his father Carl Reiner direct on the set of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, and the difficulty of making the leap from TV comedy actor on ALL IN THE FAMILY to film directing. An actor's director, he defined his original approach to directing through the camera as putting the audience in the best seat for a scene, and learning the more technical aspects on the go. Although he was already a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, he watched the films along with as many noir films that he could get ahold to learn the "grammar" of the thriller for MISERY which he defines as "inserts, wacky angles, and Dutch tilts," while crediting cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld (THROW MAMA FROM THE TRAIN) – who moved onto directing after MISERY – and editor Robert Leighton (THE STORY OF US) with helping him convey this in the film. Also newly interviewed is effects artist Gregory Nicotero (26:12) who had co-founded KNB Effects with Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman a year of two before and whose company first became involved with Castle Rock through Frank Darabont with whom they still work on THE WALKING DEAD. He then discusses the film's make-up effects, from the prosthetic legs for Caan, boot prosthetics when he had to crawl around, a live leg double for inserts, and three sculpted heads of Bates for the final fight scene (he also recalls that Bates endearing herself to the effects crew by coming into the workshop quoting from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE II).

"Misery Loves Company" (29:53) dates back from the DVD release and has Reiner and Goldman conveying the same information from the commentaries with additional input from Caan, Bates, Sternhagen, and Sonnenfeld. Caan suggests that his casting was a sadistic move of taking an athletic and active performer and sticking him in a bed for the duration of the shoot, Bates recalls trusting Caan's experience in the shooting of the fight scenes and the challenge of moving on from the Oscar win, while Sternhagen recalls being flattered when she discovered that her character had been added to the script with her in mind, and Sonnenfeld proves most informative in discussing the test shots he did of Bates to show Reiner the effect of various focal lengths of lenses for her more manic scenes. In "Marc Shaiman’s Musical Misery Tour" (14:30), the composer discusses the use of music to suggest Annie's presence long before she or any other sense of threat is introduced, creating a character theme, moving from piano to synthesizers, and realizing the effect of music in concert with sound design and how volume can either overstate or understate a cue.

The rest of the vintage featurettes are filler with forensic psychologist Reid Meloy in "Diagnosing Annie Wilkes” (8:47) noting how the film characterizes her with a composite of psychopathologies and then lists and defines each of them. Meloy is joined by Los Angeles prosecutor Rhonda Saunders and threat management consultant John Clane in "Advice For The Stalked" (4:58) on the importance of taking steps once a person believes that they are being stalked, the demographic make-up and invasive, intimidating tactics of stalkers in "Profile Of A Stalker" (6:18), how the "accessibility" of celebrities makes it easy for stalkers to form delusions of having a relationship with them in "Celebrity Stalkers" (5:08), and the creation of "Anti-Stalking Laws" (2:23) starting in California in 1991 before spreading to all the states and to the federal level. Theatrical trailers (4:42) round out the extras and this collector's edition comes with a reversible cover and slipcover featuring the new art. (Eric Cotenas)