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(Credit: Dimension Films)

Film

Exploring the alternate endings of Stephen King’s ‘1408’

It’s not often that a horror movie sticks in mind long after watching. Often, modern horrors overdo the gore and exposure (of ghosts or other supernatural villainy) and consequently kill off the all-important tension and anticipation. Making matters worse, horrors often suffer from poor writing and fail to attract sufficient acting talent. Alas, Mikael Håfström’s 2007 film adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘1408’ was one of the rare horrors that hit the ball out of the park. 

First of all, drawing on the likes of Samuel L. Jackson and John Cusack was a great start for the film. The premise set out in the synopsis would usually repel me, but since Cusack was the leading man, I thought I’d give it a whirl. By the time Cusack had found himself in the hotel room at the creepy Dolphin Hotel in New York City against the manager’s warnings, I was pleasantly surprised with the light comedy and Cusack’s flawless portrayal of the arrogant character, Mike Enslin. 

The comedy wanes with the slowly augmenting severity of the situation as room 1408 becomes increasingly uninhabitable. Enslin, a writer who made his life fortune from debunking supernatural hauntings, was watching his reality implode. The suspense grows into the final half of the film, and the room’s hallucinations reveal more and more of Enslin’s life story. We learn of his father’s tragic and lonely death and his daughter’s illness and death which ultimately destroys his marriage. 

The room begins to take on a demonic personality and throws wanton barriers in the way of Enslin’s escape attempts. At one point, he seemingly finds his way out and wakes up in hospital with the memories of 1408 lurking in his mind as a vivid nightmare. Sadly, as the remaining 40 minutes of the film hint, Enslin realises he’s actually still in 1408 as the walls of a post office are demolished to reveal the interior of the dreaded hotel room. 

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In a final act of heroic desperation, Cusack decides to burn the hotel to the ground in martyrdom, so nobody else has to endure the painful wrath of 1408. It was at this point that Håfström became indecisive. How would he end the film? Would Enslin live to write of the horrors in 1408? 

The original ending filmed for ‘1408’ actually sees Enslin perish in the fire along with the room. At his funeral, the hotel manager, Gerald Olin (Jackson), attempts to hand Enslin’s wife Kate a box containing the surviving charred belongings, including his cassette recorder. She declines, and Olin returns to his car. Sitting in his car, Olin listens to the cassette tape and hears Enslin’s deceased daughter’s voice from beyond the grave. In a conclusive shock, Olin shudders as he catches a glimpse of a burnt Enslin in his rearview mirror. 

This ending, known as the director’s cut, finishes with a look inside of what remains of room 1408. The film trails off with a ghostly Enslin smoking a cigarette and walking off to reunite with his daughter. Trial audiences ostensibly found this ending too morose and depressing, so the official theatrical release ended with Enslin’s survival and his reunion with Kate. 

While the theatrical release was seen in cinemas in 2007, the director’s cut was reportedly made the default ending in later releases on some streaming networks, DVDs and cable broadcasts of the film. Consequently, if you have a conversation with someone who also claims to have seen ‘1408’, the ending they saw stands a good chance of being different. 

So how do these alternate film endings compare with Stephen King’s original short story?

King’s original ending sees Enslin survive. He starts the fire with his shirt and appears to break the room’s hold on him for long enough to escape. Fortunately, another visitor could now hear Enslin’s screams for help. The visitor comes to the hallway with a bucket of ice to douse the flames and help Enslin evade the room’s demonic influence. After the ordeal, Enslin doesn’t live happily ever after, though. He stops writing and lives a miserable, lonely life in fear of the dark, the outside world and, of course, room 1408. 

Watch the two filmed endings below.