Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Shining (1980)

Seen: On blu-ray on our projector set-up, recently acquired for our collection by Miles.

So we are getting through a few horror movies this month which is exciting! Miles saw Room 237 at Fantastic Fest and was thus inspired to revisit The Shining, which I hadn't seen in several years anyway. On our projector screen with surround sound and all the lights off, I will tell you that it is Damned. Effective. Adapted from Stephen King's novel (though he notoriously hates Kubrick's take on it), The Shining settles in at the beautiful but isolated Overlook Hotel during its closed winter months. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a teacher-turned-writer, and his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) all move into the hotel as caretakers, hoping for a relaxing few months so Jack can work on his novel. Before taking the job he learns that the previous caretaker had had a nervous breakdown and killed his whole family and himself during an earlier winter at the hotel, but Jack is unfazed. As the weeks pass it becomes clear that some crazed force is seeping into Jack's psyche, leading him down the very same path. His psychic son is the only person who can see what's happening, but he's too young to fully understand.

Ok obviously I can't really actually summarize this movie, because I don't really know what the fuck is happening at any given moment, I just know that I LOVE IT. The Shining is strange and beautiful and terrifying and intriguing, and I know I can't really add in any meaningful way to the many analyses already available. But that's ok. This is a movie that really sticks with you, seeping into the viewer's brain with its long steady zooms and simultaneously expansive and claustrophobic spaces. Every visual detail is so deliberate, so precise, that one could easily watch the film on mute and still be incredibly absorbed. For once the sound is what really gets me though (I'm usually an extremely visual person), and those high-pitched tones and hushed chanting set the mood so perfectly that my anxiety increases astronomically as the noise escalates. I remember the first time I saw this movie with a group of friends in my freshman-year dorm, we were all biting our nails and whispering "oh my god oh my god" as the eerie wail grew louder and we were convinced something awful would happen, then suddenly that title card dropped to read TUESDAY and we all screamed. Since then Tuesday is the most terrifying fucking day, goddammit!

I like that this film takes its time. It's a long slow journey from good-natured Jack Torrance and his cute family hanging out in a gorgeous old-timey hotel, to harrowing homicidal madness in a dark, snowy labyrinth. We've gotta watch all this freaky shit gradually unfold for a while to truly appreciate where it's headed. Nicholson is fantastic as a man possessed, slipping into a madness that he eventually accepts whole-heartedly. Danny Lloyd is effectively creepy due to his hellish monster voice, which makes lines like "Danny's not here, Mrs Torrance" somehow the scariest words I've ever heard. Scatman Crothers stands out as the hotel's psychic head chef Dick Hallorran (who unfortunately fits into that "mystical black person" stereotype), but this time around I found myself drawn in the most by Shelley Duvall's performance. She is an emotional wreck for a lot of this movie, and it works really well, since her desperation and isolation were so palpable. Her character is one of the loneliest people I've ever seen, with literally NO ONE to talk to about all of the fucked up things that are happening, and then at the end she goes on this horror house adventure that could easily send her over the edge, but instead she pulls herself together and saves herself and her son (well, unless they froze to death after the credits rolled). In the beginning of the story she seems too easygoing, too passive, but she quickly takes control of the situation the best she can, and I dug that. I'm sorry Duvall was so tortured on set by Kubrick, though, what a dick.

Oh where to go next? The Shining is a kickass movie all around, really. It is deeply unsettling and unquestionably eerie in the best way, and while it is laced with ambiguities I love that it leaves me with so much on my mind. The strange nature of the Overlook Hotel and its demonic presence is clearly demonstrated, but never really explained, so that multiple watches ensure as many new questions as they do answers. The breathtaking sets, tricky camera work, bizarre horror visuals, spine-tingling score, and top-notch performances combine perfectly to make it a memorable, one-of-a-kind film. I'm now convinced I'll see ghosts from the 1920s everywhere I go, which is obviously the point, right?


Pair This Movie With: I really want to see Room 237 now, but I know it's not available to most people. I'm also now really curious about Stephen King's own tv remake, which features Melvin Van Peebles! I know it sucks, but I can't help but wonder about it.


  1. I have been a given a lot of grief from die hard Stephen King fans for liking The shining (film)more than the Book. But in my defence I alway say that Stanley Kubrick was genius in his adaptation.