|First scene and I already don't trust her, even though she's the 'victim'|
It's Saturday night, I cancelled my plans so that I could watch The Shining by myself...at night. This is crazy for many reasons, I should be around three-dimensional people or so they keep telling me, it's night time, and though I've seen the movie, oh I don't know, a BILLION times, it still scares the living christ out of me. I recently went to a Kubrick exhibit, granted it was almost exactly the same as the Kubrick exhibit I went to see with a bunch of former NYU folk at LACMA in LA, but it's still great. There's always something new to learn about Kubrick. Although The Shining is not my favorite film of his by a long shot, it does basically create the blueprint of modern horror, of haptic psychological thrillers, and mysterious happenings and endings; open-ended storylines, bizarre manifestations, and best of all...NO JUMP SCARES.
I'm writing as I'm watching it, so let's examine a few things. The film starts off with the already terrifying looking Shelley Duvall (Wendy Torrance) shoving some unimportant exposition down our throats that give us an insight into the family. The husband Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) doesn't drink because he had a violent episode with the kid in the family Danny after a few too many adult pops.
So immediately you're thinking, she's going to be trouble, something's up with her...and when they check into the Overlook Hotel, she's just a little too excited and too nice. So we focus our attention on her being possessed by a baby killing demon or something. Kubrick has a thing for agoraphobia. And the first scenes at the Overlook Hotel play to that brilliantly. It's a huge open space that when people talk to each other, there are echoes. This comes back into play later, but not before Kubrick turns the atmosphere on its side when it is revealed that the Torrance family will only be using this tiny room in the corner of the hotel as living quarters.
The first serious scare that we get is when Danny is playing darts in the game room as his parents take a tour of the hotel. We hear a weird meandering noise, that's basically the only way I can explain it, it's not music, but it's so ominous it's scary on its own. He turns his head and instead of immediately pointing out his POV, Kubrick meditates on Danny's reaction which is stoic AF. That's when we see those twins for the first time. Strangely enough had that noise not been playing in the background, we might think that they are just guests leaving the Overlook just like everyone else, but they just stand there. The longer they do, the scarier they become. Now we have horror movies where apparitions jump out at people grab them, push them down stairs etc. But admit it, the scariest thing you can experience is feeling like you're being watched.
Before I continue, I'm not going to incorporate ANYTHING about Stephen King's novel into this. I'm judging the movie and the movie only. You would think that Kubrick's brilliant blue-print and first and only horror film would change the landscape, but there's a reason why it still scares the pants off even the most hardened Clint Eastwood type grown man, because nothing has ever been more frightening.
|The scene that everyone remembers, even if they haven't seen the movie, and that has been the only take away from The Shining that filmmakers use as a horror trope today.|
At this time I'd like to defer to one of the scariest moments in my opinion, one that involves one character, and it seems like that's where his biggest thrills are. It's not Jack confronting Wendy with the infamous 'Give me the bat' routine, nor Jack discovering what's in room 237, though that is pretty gross/horrifying. It's when Jack is upset because Wendy blamed him for being rough with Danny again, though it was actually one of the ghosts. A tracking cam, which is so important in this movie moves backwards as he walks towards it unbelievably pissed off, screaming to himself. That noise again permeates through the halls, and you realize at that moment it's not the ghosts of the Overlook we should be scared of, but Jack. In that, Kubrick turns the film from supernatural horror to psychological horror.
I'm sure I'm not giving you anything you haven't already heard in the film Room 237, but I'm trying to stay away from things that are too easy like the damn hedge maze, the scooter scene down the hallway, etc. Yes those are iconic shots that Kubrick so brilliantly messes with before the payoff. If you pay attention, Danny rides around on that scooter about 5 different times before those two girls appear to him again. And Wendy and Danny take a morose stroll through the hedge maze for fun before it ever becomes a game of kill your kid with an axe.
|Perhaps a symbol of the labyrinthine craziness of Jack Torrance's mind...I don't know, ask the weirdo's from Room 237.|
This movie is so terrifying because it literally messes with your head. When we first meet Dick Hallorann, there's something off about him too. Kubrick decides not to distinguish between who is the scary influence and who is the innocent. He confuses you to basically be on edge about the whole thing. It's pretty brilliant. Kubrick loves to meditate on every scene, stretching every scene makes it somehow more frightening.
Also, to finish off because I'm rambling, and some of my favorite parts are coming up; what is it that makes this movie fucking shit balls scary? Different from all other horror films ever? It's the setting, not the characters. Not the humans, not the ghosts, not the weird hallucinations, or people's ability to 'shine'.
|Filming the 'give me the bat' scene.|
The Overlook Hotel itself symbolizes people's fear of being alone in a large ominous place, it's uncomfortable, it's disconcerting, and in the case of The Shining, it drives people completely out of their minds. I don't even find the Wendy chase sequences that frightening except for her face with the bulging eyes and her clenching a knife like she's doing shake weight exercises, nor do I find Jack Nicholson's thousand yard stare that particularly uneasy. It's the scenes that are absolutely quiet, eerie, and you know that something is just not right. The music is great tonality for that. But what are we most afraid of? I'll just speak for myself, but it's long hallways. Swear to god. The Overlook is full of them, whether they be in the the hotel itself or in the hedge maze. The unknown behind every corner is truly something that is universally terrifying, and my opinion of why Kubrick kept the film so open ended, is because it's not about what actually the fuck is going on. The sound of the typewriter, the tracking shot of the scooter, the look on Dick Hallorann's face when Danny shines to him. Those are the images, sounds, and occurrences that sink their teeth under your skin. It's a weird setting for a weird film, and it's not supposed to make sense; it's supposed to scare the living shit out of you. Mission accomplished.