17 Surprising Facts About Misery

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Based on a 1987 Stephen King novel, Misery starred Kathy Bates in an Oscar-winning performance as Annie Wilkes, a nurse and huge fan of author Paul Sheldon, portrayed by James Caan. When Annie finds Sheldon after a car accident, she takes the author into her home and holds him hostage, torturing him and preparing to kill him once she discovers that he has killed off her favorite character, Misery Chastain. Here are some facts about the movie that will keep you from being a lying ol’ dirty birdy.

1. ANNIE WILKES WAS A METAPHOR FOR DRUGS.

The author had substance abuse issues during the time he wrote the novel. King told The Paris Review, “Annie was my drug problem, and she was my number one fan. God, she never wanted to leave.”

2. KING WOULD ONLY SELL THE MOVIE RIGHTS TO ROB REINER.

After Reiner’s work on his Stand By Me, King would only agree to let Reiner’s production company, Castle Rock, get involved with Misery if the former All in the Family actor either produced or directed it. At a Misery screening, King was enjoying himself so much that he yelled, “Watch out. She’s got a gun!” during the film’s climax.

3. BETTE MIDLER TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF ANNIE WILKES.

Midler thought it was too violent. She later called herself “stupid” for her decision. The Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and All the President's Men screenwriter William Goldman wrote Misery with then unknown but respected theater actress Kathy Bates in mind.

4. JAMES CAAN WAS FAR FROM THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY PAUL SHELDON.

Kevin Kline, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Richard Dreyfuss, Gene Hackman, and Robert Redford all said no to the role of Paul Sheldon. William Hurt said no twice. Warren Beatty showed a lot of interest and gave Reiner and Goldman ideas for the character before having to turn them down, too, because he had to keep working on Dick Tracy.

5. THERE WAS A BIG DEBATE AS TO WHETHER TO KEEP THE FOOT AXING SCENE IN THE MOVIE, AND IT COST THEM A DIRECTOR.

In the book, Annie chops off one of Paul’s feet with an axe. George Roy Hill—director of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, and Slap Shot—agreed to direct Misery, then quickly changed his mind once he realized he couldn’t handle the lopping scene, which Goldman insisted be left in. This led Reiner to just direct it himself. It also may have influenced him to change the script for Annie to “just” break Paul’s ankles. Goldman later admitted Reiner was right.

6. BATES WASN’T HAPPY THAT THE SCENE WAS CHANGED.

Bates was initially disappointed that the axe scene was changed to the sledgehammer. 

7. BATES ENDED UP GETTING UPSET OVER THE VIOLENCE.

Caan recalled that his co-star was crying when it came time to shoot that infamous scene. Bates also cried before shooting the fight sequence at the end.

8. CAAN’S FAKE LEGS WERE MOLDED OUT OF GELATIN.

Armatures with wire were inserted into the prosthetic ankles so that after Annie hit them with the sledgehammer, they would bend at the desired, gruesome angles. There were holes so that Caan could slip his real legs up to the knee.

9. REINER STUDIED ALFRED HITCHCOCK MOVIES TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO SHOOT A THRILLER.

He watched every Hitchcock film. Reiner had Hitchcock on the brain so much that Caan overheard Reiner chastising himself one day on set, asking himself, “Who do you think you are, Alfred Hitchcock?”

10. IT WAS SHOT IN GENOA, NEVADA.

“Nevada’s oldest town” stood in for Silver Creek, Colorado. The crew built a cafe, a radiator shop, a sheriff’s station, and a general store. Cast and crew also utilized the Genoa Bar and Saloon.

11. CAAN HAD TO STAY IN BED FOR 15 WEEKS OF SHOOTING.

Caan said he thought that Reiner was playing a “sadistic” joke on him, knowing the actor wouldn’t enjoy not moving around for so long. Caan wasn’t used to playing a reactionary character, and found it much tougher to play.

12. FUTURE MEN IN BLACK DIRECTOR BARRY SONNENFELD WAS THE CINEMATOGRAPHER.

For a scene where Caan had to crawl out of bed, Sonnenfeld spit on the hardwood floor to indicate where Caan should crawl up to. The Godfather actor claimed to Reiner and Sonnenfeld it was the only movie he ever worked on where someone was hocking his marks.

13. BATES AND REINER AGREED ON AN UNWRITTEN, UNSPOKEN ANNIE BACKSTORY.

Used to giving her characters rich backgrounds to help her find her voice, Bates and Reiner agreed that Annie was molested by her father as a child. It helped explain for Bates why Annie had a history—as explained in the book and in the movie—of killing infants and old people in her nursing care.

14. CAAN AND BATES CLASHED OVER THEIR ACTING METHODS.

Caan believed in as little rehearsal as possible. Bates, with her theater background, was used to practicing a lot. When Bates commented to Reiner that Caan wasn’t attempting to relate or listen to her, Reiner told her to use that frustration toward her character.

15. BATES TOOK HER FRUSTRATION PRETTY FAR.

Reiner picked up on Bates getting more and more isolated as the shooting progressed, and told Bates to leave Annie Wilkes behind when the work day was done.

16. CAAN ONCE SHOWED UP TO THE SET HUNGOVER.

All of the scenes he shot that day were unuseable. Reiner told Caan he had to do the scenes again because there was “a problem at the lab.” When Caan learned it had nothing to do with labs, he offered to cover the money he lost the studio.

17. GOLDMAN ADAPTED THE SCRIPT FOR THE STAGE.

The theatrical version of Misery premiered in 2012, and just debuted on Broadway starring Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf.

8 Haunting Horror Movie Gimmicks

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the 1950s and 1960s, horror movies were making studios huge profits on shoestring budgets. But after the market hit horror overload, directors and studios had to be extra creative to get people to flock to theaters. That's when a flood of different gimmicks were introduced at movie theaters across the country to make a film stand out from the crowd. From hypnotists to life insurance policies and free vomit bags, here's a brief history of some of the most memorable horror movie gimmicks.

1. PSYCHO-RAMA // MY WORLD DIES SCREAMING (1958)

In order to truly become a classic, a horror movie can't just work on the surface; it has to get deep inside of your head. That's what Psycho-Rama tried to achieve when it was first conceived for My World Dies Screaming, later renamed Terror in the Haunted House. Psycho-Rama introduced audiences to subliminal imagery in order to let the scares sink in more than any traditional film could.

Skulls, snakes, ghoulish faces, and the word "Death" would all appear onscreen for a fraction of a second—not long enough for an audience member to consciously notice it, but it was enough to get them uneasy. Obviously Psycho-Rama didn't really catch on with the public or the film industry, but horror directors, like William Friedkin in The Exorcist, have since gone on to use this quick imagery technique to enhance their own movies.

2. FRIGHT INSURANCE // MACABRE (1958)

Director William Castle didn't make a name for himself in the film industry by directing cinematic classics; instead, he relied on shock and schlock to help fill movie theater seats. His movies were full of what audiences craved at the time: horror, gore, terror, suspense, and a heaping helping of camp. But his true genius came from marketing—and the gimmicks he brought to every movie, which have since become legendary among horrorphiles.

His most famous stunt was the life insurance policy he purchased for every member of an audience that paid to see Macabre. This was a real policy backed by Lloyd's of London, so if you died of fright in your seat, your family would receive $1000. Now who wouldn't want to roll the dice on that type of deal? Of course, the policy didn't cover anyone with a preexisting medical condition or an audience member who committed suicide during the screening. Lloyd's had to draw the line somewhere, right?

3. HYPNO-VISTA // HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959)

How do you make your routine horror movie stand out from the crowd? Hypnotize your audience, of course. Thus Hypno-Vista was born. For this gimmick, James Nicholson, president of American International Pictures, suggested that a lecture by a hypnotist, Dr. Emile Franchel, should precede Horrors of the Black Museum, which had a plot focusing on a hypnotizing killer.

For 13 minutes, Dr. Franchel talked to the audience about the science behind hypnotism, before attempting to hypnotize them himself in order to feel more immersed in the story. Nowadays it comes off as overlong and dry, but it was a gimmick that got people into theaters back in 1959. Plus, writer Herman Cohen said that eventually the lecture had to be removed whenever the movie re-aired on TV because it did, in fact, hypnotize some people.

4. NO LATE ADMISSION // PSYCHO (1960)

Though this isn't the most gimmickiest of gimmicks, Alfred Hitchcock's insistence that no audience member be admitted into Psycho once the movie started got a lot of publicity at the time. The Master of Suspense's reasoning is less about drumming up publicity and more about audience satisfaction, though. Because Janet Leigh gets killed so early into the movie, he didn't want people to miss her part and feel misled by the movie's marketing.

This publicity tactic wasn't completely novel, though, as the groundbreaking French horror movie Les Diaboliques (1955) had a similar policy in place. This was at a time when people would simply stroll into movie screenings whenever they wanted, so to see a director—especially one so masterful at the art of publicity—who was adamant about showing up on time was a great way to pique some interest.

5. FRIGHT BREAK // HOMICIDAL (1961)

Another classic William Castle gimmick was the "fright break" he offered to audience members during his 1961 movie, Homicidal. Here, a timer would appear on the screen just as the film was hurtling toward its gruesome climax. Frightened audience members had 45 seconds to leave the theater and still get a full refund on their ticket. There was a catch, though.

Frightened audience members who decided to take the easy way out were shamed into the "coward's corner," which was a yellow cardboard booth supervised by some poor sap theater employee. Then, they were forced to sign a paper reading "I'm a bona-fide coward," before getting their money back. Obviously, at the risk of such humiliation, most people decided to just grit their teeth and experience the horror on the screen instead.

6. THE PUNISHMENT POLL // MR. SARDONICUS (1961)

The most interactive of William Castle's schlocky horror gimmicks put the fate of the film itself into the hands of the audience. Dubbed the "punishment poll," Castle devised a way to let viewers vote on the fate of the characters in the movie Mr. Sardonicus. Upon entering the theater, people were given a card with a picture of a thumb on it that would glow when a special light was placed on it. "Thumbs up" meant that Mr. Sardonicus would be given mercy, and "thumbs down" meant … well, you get the idea.

Apparently audiences never gave ol' Sardonicus the thumbs up, despite Castle's claims that the happier ending was filmed and ready to go. However, no alternative ending has ever surfaced, leaving many to doubt his claims. Chances are, there was only one way out for Mr. Sardonicus.

7. FREE VOMIT BAGS // MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970)

Horror fans are mostly masochists at heart. They don't want to be entertained—they want to be terrified. So when the folks behind 1970's Mark of the Devil gave out free vomit bags to the audience due to the film's grotesque nature, how could any self-respecting horror fan not be intrigued? It wasn't just the bags that the studio was advertising; it also claimed the film was rated V, for violence—and maybe some vomit?

8. DUO-VISION // WICKED, WICKED (1973)

Duo-Vision was hyped as the new storytelling technique in cinema—offering two times the terror for the price of one ticket. Of course Duo-Vision is just fancy marketing lingo for split-screen, meaning audiences see a film from two completely different perspectives side-by-side. In the 1973 horror film Wicked, Wicked, that meant watching the movie from the points of view of both the killer and his victims.

Seems like a perfect concept for the horror genre, right? Well, Duo-Vision wasn't just employed during the movie's most horrific moments; it was used for the movie's entire 95-minute runtime. The technique had been used sparingly in other films—most notably in Brian De Palma's much better film Sisters (1973)—but it had never been implemented to this extent. A little bit of Duo-Vision apparently goes a long way, because it fell out of favor soon after.

John Carpenter May Be Planning a They Live Sequel

Universal Studios Home Video
Universal Studios Home Video

John Carpenter is one of the horror genre's biggest names. The man behind the original Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York, and The Thing, ​Carpenter has had a long enough career to see many of his most popular creations be remade, including this year's new Halloween film, which features some of the original actors returning to their iconic roles to continue a decades-long story.

But in a recent interview with ​Den of Geek, when Carpenter was questioned about whether his cult classic They Live might he ripe for revisiting, Carpenter teased: "Well, I’m not gonna tell you about that, because it might be closer to reality than you think."

​They Live, which came out in 1988, featured the late professional wrestler 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper in his signature role as a man who finds a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the true state of the world and uncover an alien invasion. Like so many of Carpenter's other films, it has continued to amass a cult following in the decades since its release—especially among those viewers who understood and appreciated its underlying political metaphor.

Today's highly divisive political climate makes it a perfect time for a sequel/reboot/reimagining of They Live, and it sounds as if Carpenter might agree.

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