You know adaptations that don't merely modify the source material in details and plot mechanics but completely change its nature? Mikael Håfstrom's 1408 is like that. It's an interesting work, less in its own right than because it takes a virtuoso straight-ahead horror story and, in bringing it to the screen, turns it into a nuanced, downright surreal exploration of the protagonist's guilt and grief. You do not expect a film adaptation to tone down visceral thrills and flesh out emotional content. Nonetheless, here we are.
Stephen King's short story, part of the all-around-excellent Everything's Eventual collection (as well as the Blood and Smoke audiobook), is probably the scariest piece of fiction I've ever read. It begins in fairly conventional horror tones – a story about a haunted hotel room – but then moves on to something far more frightening. Ghosts can be scary enough, but you can at least understand them: they used to be like us, and in most cases they want something straightforward. What lived inside Room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel – King's version – was nothing like that. We don't get specifics, but that's because we wouldn't understand them: the force that inhabits that room is so utterly, terrifyingly alien as to be beyond human comprehension. What Mike Enslin encounters isn't, it turns out, a "haunted hotel room," but an unfathomable cosmic terror that would have made H.P. Lovecraft proud. King does more than give us a scary story – he takes us to the edge of an abyss.