“Spook Show 2019 – 01: The Shining (1980)” by Richard F. Yates
Last year, I set myself the goal of writing 31 “spooky-type” movie reviews, so that folks would have a different Halloween-esque movie to watch every day of October---but because I am flaky and bad at time management, I only managed to finish TEN out of those 31 reviews. THIS year, instead of starting my reviews in September, I’m starting them in JULY! (Ha! Even I should be able to write 31 movie reviews with more than three months to finish.) So, the goal is to have 31 spooky films (or MOSTLY films---some maybe be shorter than feature length, and at least one is going to be a documentary) to watch this October. I’m also, at the end of each review, going to include links to my PREVIOUS reviews (even the ones from last year), so that you folks have even MORE options for Halloween viewing. (I LOVE Halloween---and wish it was every day…) (See “Everyday is Halloween” by Ministry for more information…)
Last year, I started the Spook Show with one of my all time favorite spooky films, The Exorcist, and in that spirit, I’m starting this year’s horrific happening with another all time classic, Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece of demented tension, The Shining…
[This is a photograph that I took of the actual DVD that I watched. The image is included for review purposes only!]
The Shining is a 1980 horror classic, cowritten by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson, directed by Kubrick, and based on Stephen King’s fantastic novel (which was published in 1977)---and I almost didn’t write this review because I assumed that EVERYONE knew The Shining---so what good would it do for me to talk about it? However, I was at work a few nights ago, and a coworker and I were discussing the film, and the manager on duty (who is in his 20s) said he’d never seen the movie… Like NEVER SEEN one of the most popular and impressive movies ever made…
Just because something WAS massively popular when I was young doesn’t mean it’s STILL popular. And, besides all that, I really want to talk a bit about my personal experiences with this movie, too. It’s one of my top five films of all time.
I was eight years old when The Shining played on the big screen, and I (naturally) wasn’t allowed to see it at the theater. About a year later---give or take me not having a good memory---it played on Showtime, and I was told in no uncertain terms that I could NOT watch it. Of course, I snuck into the living room while my mom was watching the movie and saw the majority of it while hiding behind a couch. I’m also pretty sure I watched it again, late at night, when I was up watching TV but was supposed to be in bed. (Between the ages of 7 and 10, I saw a LOT of movies I wasn’t supposed to watch by sneaking into the living room after everyone else was asleep and turning on Showtime: A Clockwork Orange, Ghost Story, The Godfather, Forbidden Planet, Galaxina… A bunch of stuff…)
Anyway, I LOVED The Shining as a kid; it was super creepy, but not too splatter-gory (which is something I’ve never liked---probably because of the gore I saw in REAL LIFE when our German Shepard got hit by a car, (I was five at the time), and we picked him up and put him in our vehicle and drove him to a vet---he couldn’t be saved---and blood got smeared all over the backseat, and the whole horrible thing traumatized me pretty badly…) The Shining is scary, but in a slow, creepy way, with very few really blood scenes or jump scares, but where the tension builds and accumulates as we (and the characters) are given little glimpses, usually just quick snippets at a time, into something sinister and supernatural that is happening. Kubrick never slams the viewer over the head with the “haunting” aspects of the story---at least not until well into the film. We are, right from the very beginning, made aware that the world we are entering IS supernatural, though, as we are shown in one of the earliest scenes in the movie that Danny’s “imaginary friend,” Tony, (the little boy who lives in his mouth and talks through Danny’s finger), can SEE the future and shares what he sees with Danny. It’s creepy---and made even creepier by Kubrick’s brilliant use of score music and odd sounds during these scenes and by his slow camera movements, both in these moments and throughout the film.
Here are a few bits of trivia about The Shining that (supposedly) everyone knows: Kubrick was a genius. Stephen King hated Kubrick’s version of his story. Some people think that Kubrick used this film to talk about OTHER topics, like the slaughter of the Native Americans or that he secretly helped fake the moon landing and The Shining was his confession! (If you don’t believe me, just watch the documentary, Room 237 (2013), which outlines three or four different radical interpretations of the film. It’s an interesting documentary, but I wasn’t convinced by any of the arguments.) Some things that are UNDENIABLE, however, are that facts that this movie is masterfully constructed, unsettling, and unlike any other film that I’ve seen.
For those who have never seen the movie, here’s a quick breakdown: A recovering alcoholic and writer, Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson, and clearly not in any way based on Stephen King, himself), takes a position as a winter caretaker at a remote, mountain hotel, which is cut off from society every year by heavy snows, where he hopes to use the isolation to complete his new writing project. Jack, who is pretty clearly unstable---this is demonstrated even in the family’s car ride TO the hotel---also brings his meek, fragile, codependent wife, Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall) and his son Danny (played admirably by a very young Danny Lloyd---who was only six years old while the movie was still in production) to stay with him. Danny’s psychic abilities make him more sensitive and aware of the ghostly horrors in the hotel, and his character is the primary lens through which we, as viewers, see what is really happening.
Now here is where things get interesting to me---where Stephen King’s novel is clearly about a haunted hotel that possesses the Jack Torrance character and terrorizes his family, Kubrick’s film is more subtle, and COULD be interpreted---minus one or two instances---as a story about a group of people descending into madness. No ghosts needed---aside from those in the characters’ heads.
At the very beginning of the movie we are made aware of the fact that Jack is a recovering alcoholic and that he has a history of abusive behavior. Danny suffered a dislocated shoulder when he first started school and had to be taken out of school to recover from his injuries. Jack, who caused Danny’s injury while drunk, swears off alcohol because of the incident. Wendy, who has apparently forgiven her husband for this occurrence, says to a doctor that she first noticed that Danny was talking to an “imaginary friend,” right after he suffered his injury. The trauma of his abuse could easily have caused Danny to suffer severe P.T.S.D. leading to a disassociation from reality and the creation of “Tony.” Further, as the isolation of the hotel environment (and his failure to overcome his writer’s block) take their toll on Jack, he becomes more abusive and demented. (He was already disturbed before arriving at the hotel.) He eventually starts to hallucinate, first just imagining that the empty bar at the hotel has a bar tender who will serve him a drink, but later populating the bar with various guests and partygoers. Wendy, concerned over Danny’s declining grip on reality and living with an increasingly abusive husband, eventually cracks, herself, and begins to see her own apparitions---which are significantly different than the specters that Jack sees. It’s not that difficult to “read” this entire movie as either a metaphorical or even literal descent into emotional chaos and insanity, caused almost entirely by Jack’s abusive behavior.
Stephen King’s story is one hundred percent about ghosts. Kubrick’s is PROBABLY about ghosts, too, but it is ALSO, absolutely, about the psychological effects of living with an abusive husband / father.
When I was younger, though, I just loved this movie for the creepy ghosts, like the famous twin girls---the twins, who we are told early in the film were killed by their father in the hotel, are discovered by Danny just standing in a hallway, holding hands. As flashes of the murder scene are intercut with the girls standing and staring at Danny, (we are lead to believe that the spot Danny finds them is where they were dispatched), the little girls ask Danny, in eerie, dream-like voices, to “Come play with us…” It’s a wonderfully chilling scene, and it’s worth watching this film, despite all that critical interpretation garbage I wrote above, just for the spook-factor alone. Moments like these are brilliant, and there are several of them here to enjoy. Kubrick DID say that this was a ghost story, and most folks who like a good, scary movie can enjoy it as such without having to dig any deeper.
I would be remiss not to mention that this film does have quite a lot of objectionable, decidedly not-kid-friendly, elements to it. (My mom was probably right not to let me watch it.) There is a LOT of foul language, both cuss words AND some strong, awful, racist comments; there is full frontal nudity, a couple scenes of graphic violence, weird sexual innuendo in a scene or two, and some genuinely disturbing scenes of eeriness that youngsters, or those with weak stomachs, might want to avoid. The movie is unquestionably HORROR. It’s not SPLATTER GORE (like Dead Alive or Reanimator)---It’s more “Tuxedo Horror.” It’s sophisticated, creepy, and tense---but it’s also slow. It builds tension in a way that people used to modern, quick cuts and constant jump-scares might find a boring. In my opinion, a reliance on jump scares and gore usually means that a story isn’t scary enough on its own, so TRICKS are used to jar the viewer. (Saw or Hostel anyone? I hated those movies.) This film uses some of those techniques, but sparingly, and it doesn’t RELY on them to build suspense. The music, the camera movements, the framing, the dialog, and the overall atmosphere all contribute to making the viewer feel frightened---and as the odd occurrences continue to happen and the characters’ actions become more and more erratic, we as viewers are drug, almost against our wills, into the madness with them. The Shining is a brilliant film---if you have the patience to wait for the fear to build, and it is so magnificently detailed that it really does reward multiple viewings. Just don’t start thinking you see patterns in the carpet that aren’t really there, because if you do, that’s when the hotel HAS YOU---and keeps you---forever…and ever…and ever….
---Richard F. Yates (Holy Fool---and Horror Fanatic)
SPOOK SHOW 2018 Reviews!!!
“Spook Show 2018 – 01: The Exorcist (1973)”
“Spook Show 2018 – 02: Curse of the Demon (1957)”
“Spook Show 2018 – 03: Frogs (1972)”
“Spook Show 2018 – 04: Child’s Play (1988)”
“Spook Show 2018 – 05: The Haunting (1963)”
“Spook Show 2018 – 06: Shaun of the Dead (2004)”
“Spook Show 2018 – 07: Fright Night (1985)”
“Spook Show 2018 – 08: Mr. Vampire (1985)”
“Spook Show 2018 – 09: The Devil Rides Out (1968)”
“Spook Show 2018 – 10: Ghoulies (1985)”
SUPPORT INDEPENDENT FOLKS WHO ARE JUST MAKING STUFF BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT!!!