In all of the following movies, a writer is a major character. Some are journalists, some novelists. Some are successful, some not. Some are talented, some hacks. Some start out crazy, some maintain their sanity throughout the film, and some fall apart in the end.
(I just realized that almost all of them are male. Even Mary Shelly shares her film with Byron. Interesting.)
Aside from the ability to grow a beard, what the writer-characters have in common is an inner demon that leads them into a precarious situation. For the general viewing audience, it is the unfolding of the precarious situation that makes these movies fit into the horror or thriller genre. For the writer, however, these movies are disquieting not because of the trappings of the plot, but because of the view they offer of another writer’s demon. (Having been taught early that fiction writing is unconsciously autobiographical, it’s hard not to see through the writer-character to the real writer behind him.)
So what is this figurative demon, exactly? I think it’s just another face of a writer’s muse. Lately I’ve been taken by the idea that the muse (the drive to write) rides the writer, in the same way the Loa ride a priest or priestess in Haitian Voodoo. In these movies, the demon looks like alcoholism, or narcissism, or neurosis, but at its essence, it’s the temerity to believe that one should – and arrogantly enough, could – become a writer.
I have a love/hate relationship with my own demon/muse. I don’t mean that I go back and forth between the two emotions, I mean I always feel conflicted about its presence in my mind and heart. I’m glad that I’m driven to write. But sometimes (often) I wish I weren’t, because wouldn’t that be easier? Yet I can’t imagine what it might be like to not feel that incessant you-should-write drive. (A part of me believes that the non-writers I know secretly want to write, and are just better at hiding their insane need than I am.)
Courting Creepy: 13 disquieting movies – for writers – at Halloween (or anytime.)
The Lost Weekend (USA, 1945)
– When you read IMDb’s summary, there is little mention of the writerly angst that triggers this classic alcohol binge.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
– Non-writers think this movie is a drama about an aging silent film star. Writers know that it is a nightmare depiction of selling your soul to make a buck.
The Shining (USA, 1980)
– Of course. I might as well admit now that FIVE of Stephen King’s movies made this list. Constant Writer is a man ridden by an awe-inspiring muse.
– The theme is dark, but this is nowhere near a horror movie. Special acknowledgement for best wisecrack:
Sidney Bruhl: (when asked how good the play he just read is) I’ll tell you how good it is. Even a gifted director couldn’t hurt it.
– Special acknowledgement for being the loveliest movie on this list. (Though there is something arresting about the color scheme of The Number 23.)
Misery (USA, 1990)
– Special acknowledgement for creepiest animal: Misery the Pig. (But then I am a firm believer that all pigs just want to escape into the woods, grow tusks and eat you. I also think pandas probably deserve to go extinct. But I digress.)
The Dark Half (1993)
– I don’t really understand why this movie didn’t make more of a splash. Timothy Hutton does a bang up acting job and George A. Romero does a faithful adaptation of King’s book. And there are creepy birds.
In the Mouth of Madness (USA, 1994)
– Lots of little details to love in this film. I especially like the drive to Hobb’s End. Watch for the Humane Society notification in the credits.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)
– Special acknowledgement for the coolest job ever: invisible dog walker.
Secret Window (2004)
– Special acknowledgement for best portrayal of what writer’s block really looks and feels like.
1408 (USA, 2007)
– This film has two distinct endings, one in the theatrical release and one in the director’s cut. If you want it the way King wrote it, go with the director’s cut.
The Number 23 (2007)
– Special acknowledgement for being the movie most likely to make you practice your addition skills for days after seeing it.
– Robert. Downy. Jr. And some kid named Jake. (I’ve got a review of this up elsewhere on the blog.)