King's 1987 novel, and Reiner's movie, follow author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) as he works to put his renowned Misery Chastain romance book series behind him. After Sheldon finishes a new manuscript titled "Fast Cars," he gets stuck in a nasty snowstorm and drives off the road, crashing in a desolate part of Silver Creek, Colorado.
He wakes up in an unfamiliar cabin with bright-eyed Annie Wilkes tending to his injuries. It doesn't take long for Sheldon to discover that there's more to Wilkes than the seemingly kind-hearted passerby she initially makes herself out to be. And as her psychotic tendencies begin to seep through her hokey Midwestern exterior, Paul finds himself being tortured -- in case you forgot, he gets hobbled -- and held hostage while his "number one fan" forces him to resurrect Misery Chastain for one more novel.
According to King's book, Wilkes moved to this remote cabin, in the middle of Colorado, to escape her past. And while we don't get too much of her backstory here, the novel does say she's been murdering people since the ripe age of 11. She killed her father, neighbors, college roommates, a hitchhiker. She also put babies and old people down, providing a literary connection to Genene Jones.
The story hits a violent climax as Paul finishes Misery's Return only to set the manuscript on fire in front of Annie and then murder her. He makes it back to New York safely. And in the movie's final moments, Wilkes pays the author a visit, in the guise of a waitress at a restaurant, alluding to the lingering effects of such a trauma. At least, that's one meaning the audience can take away from it.
For King, however, Annie Wilkes represented something much more personal: his decades-long drug addiction. "Misery is a book about cocaine," the author told Rolling Stone in 2014. "Annie Wilkes is cocaine. She was my number-one fan." Knowing the dual-layered inspiration behind the killer nurse adds a whole lot of context to the character, as she was both written in King's book and portrayed in Reiner's movie.