Having watched 1408 finally today, and having read the short story a few months ago, and interpreting the different (but similiar) endings, I came to a conclusion.
Oh, don’t read the rest of the post if you don’t want to be spoiled on the basic premise of the ending of either work, although I leave out the details, so if you’ve read/seen one or the other, you’ll be fine.
1408 deals with themes of isolation, a man is alone in a room, and dealing with some pretty jarring events. The way out comes from accepting help from others.
At the very end, the protagonist extracts himself from the room, but only by giving up (albiet in his own way)- he accepts death, to deny the room victory. In both situations, it is another who saves him from his death. In turn, he tells the other not to go in the room, preventing it from claiming perhaps another victim.
The difference? Mostly in the execution. In either piece, if for no outside intervention, the protagonist is dead, although perhaps not consumed by the room. What can we read into this- perhaps a theme of ‘only through the help of others can one survive the room.’
Lets look for evidence, and read a little further into them- the innkeeper plays an early, powerful role, attempting to be that helping hand to sway the protagonist away, but his help is rebuffed- to benefit from the help of others, we have to let our internal guards down, and let them in. (This is good; how many times have we since the cliche of the uncaring, self-reliant lone wolf show up in archtypical situations?) In both situations, the housekeepers work in pairs, which seems to protect them- and in the book, the housekeepers who worked the room were twins.
Let’s put a different spin on it: “One cannot face the darkness alone.” (Note use of darkness instead of, say, horrors.) I feel that this is a powerful theme worth exploring in greater depth in a story all it’s own.