“Dolores Claiborne”: A Different Kind of Horror Film

This is a horror story, all right, but not a supernatural one; all of the elements come out of such everyday horrors as alcoholism, wife beating, child abuse and the sin of pride. Roger Ebert, reviewing Dolores Claiborne

Generally classified as either a psychological thriller or crime fiction or suspense or mystery, the 1995 film Dolores Claiborne, which was based on the bestselling book by Stephen King, is often considered underrated and undernoticed.

I saw it way back when, liked it, but now don’t have enough recall to be able to describe it adequately. Interestingly, a search for reviews/summaries found that almost all were of the male-written variety. Although many of the critiques were favorable, I have to wonder if this female-powered process-oriented movie with themes of mistreatment by men would have fared better had it gotten more press by women.

Oh well. At least Dolores lives on—not only can it still be seen in the comfort of your home but King’s book has recently been adapted for the opera stage in San Francisco.

Another interesting fact? King wrote the book with Misery maven Kathy Bates in mind as the lead character. And Bates did, in fact, wind up playing her in the movie. Brian Lowry, Variety, summarizes the plot and lead characters/actors:

Accused of murdering the old woman for whom she’s cared the past 22 years, Dolores is forced to confront her estranged daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and the mysterious death two decades earlier of her abusive husband, deemed an accident at the time despite the suspicions of the detective involved (Christopher Plummer).

Leigh’s Selena is a high-strung magazine writer who still blames her mother for the death of her father (David Strathairn), who, through a series of flashbacks, is shown to be a truly despicable character.

You can watch the trailer here:

Another source, jtonzelli.com, addresses why Dolores Claiborne belongs in the realm of horror:

While Dolores Claiborne is not a traditional horror film per se, horrific themes are definitely at play here. There is an unrelenting darkness, along with several disturbing scenes that lend itself to our genre. While it may not be about horrific creatures that hide in the dark, it is very much about horrific human beings and what they are capable of doing to people they claim to love. It is about the horror of memory, time, betrayal, and so many other weaknesses that make humanity just as flawed as we are intriguing.

If you prefer your horror to be of the more realistic type, then, Dolores Claiborne just could be your cup of poison tea.

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