100 Days of Horror welcomes you to ... SATANFEST 2013

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"Y'all know me, know how I earn a livin'. I'll catch this bird for you, but it ain't gonna be easy. Bad fish! Not like going down to the pond and chasing bluegills and tommycods. This shark, swallow ya whole. Little shakin', little tenderizin', and down you go. And we gotta do it quick, that'll bring back the tourists, that'll put all your businesses on a payin' basis. But it's not gonna be pleasant! I value my neck a lot more than three thousand bucks, chief. I'll find him for three, but I'll catch him, and kill him, for ten. But you've gotta make up your minds. If you want to stay alive, then ante up. If you want to play it cheap, be on welfare the whole winter. I don't want no volunteers, I don't want no mates, there's too many captains on this island. Ten thousand dollars for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

100 Days of Horror Day Sixty-Three - "The Shining!"

Good morning and rise and shine!

I'm off work today so I figured I'd get the jump on today's post. But the fact is, I was so eager to discuss this film that I started writing it last night as I watched "Thinner." Which, i am sorry to say, was better than I remembered. That is why I should actually blog AFTER the film. Which I am doing next time.

Anyway, today's post is already long because I couldn't wait to talk about it! Read on Ravers and thank you again for playing along!

The Shining (1980): Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Philip Stone and Danny Lloyd

The Skinny: Perhaps the most well-known of the Stephen King movies, "The Shining" concerns the Torrance Family and the horror they experience at the menacing Overlook Hotel. The problems there are only made worse by the strange psychic powers possessed by their son, Danny.

What's Good: This film was made by perhaps my favorite director of all time, Stanley Kubrick. Never one to be tied down to any one kind of film, Kubrick found his voice in a wide variety of subjects, from sci-fi to period drama to war films. And this was his take on the horror movie. But rather than make a straightforward adaptation of what is perhaps King's defining work in the genre, Kubrick instead crafted a psychological thriller where blood gushes from elevators, a father breaks down and succumbs to invisible temptations, and the party in the ballroom never seems to end. True, he robbed King's story of many of the elements that made it scary; the supernatural element of the hotel itself is played down at best, whereas in the novel, the hotel was as much a character as the rest of the living cast. But by doing that, Kubrick also stripped the story down to a core theme of the book - the idea of a father who can no longer control himself and by turns, can no longer fulfill his role as a provider. The film is anchored around the performance of Jack Nicholson, in one of his greatest roles. It's hard to image the strict Kubrick - notorious for retakes, long shots and for making incredible demands of his actors - allowing Nicholson to do what he does best, which is unhinged maniacal ranting. But we get it, and in spades, and Nicholson is both terrifying and hilarious, sometimes in the same instant. The rest of the cast is just as solid, from Scatman Crothers to regular Kubrick cast member Philip Stone as the former caretaker, Delbert Grady, who hacked his family to pieces years before.

What's Bad: It's long, just like every Kubrick film. And by the end, when things become insane and disjointed, it's difficult to stick with the film because it seems as if Kubrick loses control right along with his characters. Also, while I love Shelly Duvall, she (and Kubrick) turn wife Wendy into a screeching harridan that leaves you thinking it might be okay for her husband to smack her with that baseball bat. If only once. Just to shut her up, you know? I kid, but the truth is Kubrick and Duvall fought constantly on the set and if you watch the special edition DVD with a documentary by Kubrick's daughter, you get to see Duvall breaking down into tears on more than one occasion. And as is also typical for Kubrick's films, there is a bit of a pacing problem. Kubrick's best films play like a fever dream, where the actors almost seem hypnotized (perhaps best seen in his final film, the sexually charged "Eyes Wide Shut), and there are scenes in "The Shining" where you wonder if maybe everyone is on valium. Then Nicholson gets to cut loose, and all is well. He also shifts the main character from psychic Danny to father Jack, who is driven slowly insane, but for what reason, we're not exactly sure. In the novel, the hotel winds up using the father to get to the son, so absorb his psychic powers into itself and its spectral denizens. By turns, Danny's power is instead used as a link to Crothers' character and as a foreshadowing element to he horrors to come. Kubrick doesn't even bother to explain to us that Tony is Danny's future self ("Anthony" is his middle name, not revealed until the final moments of the novel). It's widely known that King strongly disliked the film, but he's also said he doesn't care about any of his film adaptations. Which is bullshit, buddy, but whatever ...

Why We Like It: Like nearly every one of his films, this movie was at first reviled by the critics who now celebrate it as a classic of the horror genre. It's Kubrick, plain and simple. And by that I mean it's packed with all the things I love about his movies - the long takes, the perfectly balanced shots, the hypnotic pacing (yes, I love that part, too). And in the middle of all that is a fantastic nuanced performance by Nicholson and an eerie score from longtime Kubrick collaborator Wendy Carlos. But the point of this blog is to answer the questions: do I like it? And is it scary? And the answer to both of those questions is a resounding yes. When I first read the book, it scared me shitless. And so too with the film. Kubrick manages to summon some very disconcerting images - the aforementioned river of blood, the evil little dead girls (not twins - Ullman says they were "8 and 10" at the beginning of the movie), and of course the final scenes of Nicholson grunting and screaming like and animal as he tracks his son through the snowy hedge maze, his former status as a man of language completely removed in his final madness. These things evoke real terror in me, and are disturbing on many levels. No, it isn't the epic tale of a haunted hotel (that was fully explored in the 90s remake, which King himself said he loved), but it is still an effective chiller and one for the history books.

Memorable Stuff: Where. To. Start. Most of my favorite scenes are the ones where Nicholson is in full-on psycho mode, ranting and raving at his wife as she meekly swings a baseball at him. The dialogue is so damn good I could sit here all day writing line after line from memory - "Wendy, darling, light of my life ... I'm not going to kill you! You didn't let me finish my sentence! I said, I'm not going to hurt you. I'm just going to bash your brains in! I'm going to bash them right the fuck in!" - but I will spare you of that. The other great scene is when Nicholson meets with Stone's character in the bathroom after a spilled drink. I won't quote that evocative dialogue here - no sir, I won't - but it is a lively and hilarious exchange once again bolstered by Nicholson's incredible performance. Some people reduce his performance to the ranting scenes on the stairs, but it is a much deeper characterization than that. Give Nicholson credit here, because he is far more than just a screaming lunatic. Look deep into his eyes and there is something cold and detached there - and that's just fucking terrifying.