Original Publish Date: October 28, 2011
As Halloween approaches, obviously one of my personal favorite holidays, it’s only appropriate that to match last week’s paranormal thriller from an acclaimed director with a psychological/paranormal thriller from an acclaimed director. Stanley Kubrick is recognized as one of the great American film makers, responsible for A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This week on Manic Movie Magic, we’ll be taking a look at one of the most memorable thrillers of all time, an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, The Shining.
Released in 1980, The Shining is about the Torrence family, Jack, Wendy, and little Danny, who go up to a secluded hotel to take care of it during the harsh winter months, suggesting the family is desperate for money. But the solitude and confinment of the hotel slowly takes its toll on the family, especially on Jack who very quickly succumbs to either insanity or a supernatural influence, while Danny is the only one who can save his mother.
I kept the summary as spoiler free as I could, so that those of you who haven’t had a chance to go see the film will go out and see where and how all the iconic scenes occur. This is one of those films where spoilers do nothing but detract from the enjoyment of the film, so you’ll get no peeks at the plot from me. (And if you check Wikipedia, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Serious statement is serious!).
This, in my humble blogger opinion, is the best of the Stephen King adaptation films. It is not a perfect, word-for-word adaptation of the book but it certainly captures the tone, the ambiguity, and the fear, and man does the movie instill fear in you. I still have issues sleeping in hotels, especially in a remote area.
Jack Nicholson provides the best performance of the film, making a seamless transition from frustrated, alcoholic writer, to insane psycho-killer over the course of the film. Maybe it’s just his range of his facial expressions, but Nicholson’s face may very well be the scariest thing ever. Scarier than the Eraserhead baby, or The Ring’s Samara, or even all the gore in Hostel…his face just makes my skin crawl!
The first time I watched this movie, I could not get over how strange and creepy Shelley Duvall looks, but after re-watching it, I feel this is actually the reason they probably hired her. Nicholson makes creepy faces to freak the viewer out, and Duvall’s bug eyes and pathetic-plain look instills as sense of uneasiness and tension. She is essentially how the audience is viewing and reacting to Jack’s descent into bat-shit crazy, so her fear and panic becomes ours.
Towards the end when Jack goes full on psychotic and chases Wendy throughout the hotel, here is some pretty weird imagery going on, which definitely stuck with me when I was contemplating the film late at night (by the way, that was a terrible idea. Do not emulate me!) The appearance of these visions blurs the line between the theory of Jack’s insanity, and the supernatural nature of the hotel. After all, if Wendy seeing these random people, is she falling into psychosis too, or are there really ghosts there? We never get a concrete answer, but this too adds to the enjoyment of the film, since we’re left to postulate and come up with our own conclusions.
The film as a whole is supposed to be symbolic about the massacre of Native Americans, which I have been reading about as part of my research for this review. However, I didn’t see it expressly as I was watching the film, which is good and bad. Good in the sense that if the symbolism is really there, it does not detract from the actual plot of the film. However, if the symbolism is there, and I didn’t end up picking up on it, perhaps the visual references weren’t strong enough, or there were not enough of them (though, to be honest, I can be a little bit dense).
The cinematography is gorgeous – Kubrick, like Hitchcock, is known for beautiful and powerful scenes and visuals, and this film is the epitome of his aesthetic tastes. The hotel transforms from this huge, expansive maze, to a prison cell, and the feel of constriction is palpable, something which is not easy to do. And if you’ve read my reviews before, you know that good cinematography, for me, goes a long way.
The Shining is a horror masterpiece, even though how scary any individual perceives it to be can vary hugely. It’s well-crafted, even if the symbolism isn’t as strong (to me) as it could be. If you’ve never seen this film, you need to get off the internet right now, go find some sort of evil-DVD-rental contraption, and watch it, especially if you need something great to get you in the Halloween mood!