Checking back in to 1408 — and visiting John Cusack as a Hunter S. Thompson incarnation who never left the hotel
Author, journalist, DIY bomb maker and gun loving liberal Hunter S. Thompon (aka the ‘Good Doctor’) was celebrated for many things, none more so than his brutally colourful pointy-edged prose, his lust for drugs and alcohol and his legendary ability to transform hotel rooms into sites that reportedly resembled zones of apocalyptic destruction.
Like any personality ensconced by a thick mist of legend, it’s impossible to separate myth from man, fact from fabrication. However Thompson’s seminal semi-autobiographical early 70′s novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (adapted by director Terry Gilliam in 1998) cemented him as a counter-culture guru with a penchant for narcotic-infused political writing, ’round the clock room service and a spectacular disregard for hotel etiquette.
If we narrow the field to these three factors — writing, drugs and trashing hotel rooms — there are few films that binge on all three enough to be considered honoured residents in the suites of cinematic gonzoism.
The obvious examples of those that do orbit around representations of Thompson. There’s Where the Buffalo Roam (Art Linson, 1980), starring Bill Murray as the Good Doctor himself, and two films featuring Johnny Depp as a more cartoony version of Thompson: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Rum Diary (Bruce Robinson, 2012).
Murray and Depp are the only two film actors to have officially incarnated the drug-addled Doc. Both relished the task of playing up to his mannerisms and eccentricities, such as Thompson’s habit of dictating his thoughts into a voice recorder while riding the crest of whatever drink or mind-altering substance he was riding at the time.
HST fans may be pleased to learn that an unofficial third performance exists. It can be found within the unlikely confines of a Stephen King adaptation and stamped across the boyish mat of John Cusack’s countenance.
Swedish director Mikael Håfström’s 1408 (2007) is a largely single setting horror film about a cocky writer’s night from hell in a haunted hotel room. Manager of the fancy Dolphin Hotel, Gerald Olin (Samuel L Jackson), implores the writer not to stay in the room. “It’s an evil fucking room,” he says. “Frankly, selfishly, I just don’t want to clean up the mess.”
But Mike Enslin (Cusak) has made a living touring allegedly paranormal locations and debunking them, penning books that rack up easy dosh then end up in the discount bin. His catch phrase is “stay scared.” It isn’t surprising that Olin doesn’t convince him to back down despite tales of previous guests suffering a surfeit of fates: heart attacks, strokes, suicide, self-harm, etcetera. One even drowned in chicken soup.
“That’s hard to do, how did he do that?” Enslin asks.
So he checks in and one epic night of Kafkaesque craziness — one bad, bad, bad, bad, bad trip — ensues.
Enslin sips from a bottle of fine on-the-house whiskey and navigates the room, talking into his dictaphone and filling it with observations that could have been plucked right from HST chronicles:
There’s a sofa, a writing desk, faux antique armoire, floral wallpaper. Carpet’s unremarkable except for a stain beneath a thrift-store painting of a schooner lost at sea. The work is done in the predictably dull fashion of Currier and Ives. The second painting is of an old woman reading bedtime stories – a Whistler knockoff – to a group of deranged children while another Madonna and child watch from the background. It does have the vague air of menace.
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