Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is loved by the Substream staff more than Halloween. With October’s arrival, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a slew of special features we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day.
31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring column that will run throughout the month of October. The goal of this series is to supply every Substream reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you will follow along at home. Reader, beware, you’re in for a… spooky good time!
Day 18: Secret Window (2004)
[Editor’s Note: The following article spoils the twist ending of Secret Window.]
Stephen King is a common name associated with Halloween. He’s written horror novel after horror novel. While Secret Window isn’t based off of a full novel of his, it is based off of “Secret Window, Secret Garden.” Johnny Depp has his fair share of Halloween associations, too. He plays writer Mort Rainey in this film and really embodies the character. His cabin in the woods is the first sign of him being an isolated author. He’s in the midst of a divorce and has the place all to himself with the exception of when Mrs. Garvey is around to help him out.
When the movie starts, there’s no inkling of what’s about to unravel over 96 minutes of runtime. The movie doesn’t have a large cast, and due to its small town location, that makes sense. Time is largely spent with Mort and his life is picked apart from the start. We learn of his divorce with Amy (Maria Bello), who she’s dating now (Ted, played by Timothy Hutton), and that John Shooter (John Turturro) is accusing him of plagiarism. Despite all of those things, none of them are the most important thing we learn. In reality, John Shooter doesn’t exist and is just an alternate personality Mort created. It isn’t revealed until late in the movie, but if you pay close enough attention, you can start piecing it together before then.
Fred Murphy is the cinematographer for this film and he had previous experience with horror/thriller films. While Secret Window is terrifying in it’s own way, it’s not like walking through a haunted house where you have to worry about people or monsters just jumping out at you for a scare. This is handled in a much more psychological way and the cinematography frames that nicely. There’s a moment where you see Shooter carved all over the walls in the cabin and with a turn of the camera, Mort fairly slowly closes a door to reveal one section that actually says “shoot her.” Moments like that where the cinematography helps to tell the story, but in a subtle way, makes movies just a bit better. That scene might not work if it was filmed a different way.
Mort’s psychotic break is not only terrifying to the audience, but to himself, too. He’s not sure he believes it when he checks his arm and no longer sees a bruise that was there. John Shooter takes over and things go all downhill from there. Personally, I would have loved to see more of that throughout the film. We didn’t really see him struggle with his two personalities until the very end, and even then, it was more of a takeover. However, this film was still a good one to watch in the wake of Halloween, and Johnny Depp brings a great performance to the table.