I realize I owe a post about my incredible time at the Austin Film Festival and, trust me, it’s in the works and it WAS incredible. But it’s Halloween. And that makes me think of scary movies. And that makes me think of my all-time favorite scary movie: THE SHINING.
The film was released in 1980 when I was a young lass of eleven. (Go ahead…do the math.) Of course, I would never be allowed to see the film in a movie theater at that tender, impressionable age, but my super-cool, horror-movie-loving babysitter Lisa Hanson got to see it. And I will never forget sitting at the counter in my family’s kitchen after my younger brother and sisters had gone to bed and listening to Lisa recount scene-by-scene the terror that was Jack Torrance’s descent into madness. By the time she was describing the heart-clenching climax of young Danny trying to retrace his steps in the snow while being chased by his monster of a father, I was assured a near future of nightmares and hiding under pillow forts.
Yes, that’s why she was the best babysitter on the planet.
So when I finally saw the film as a still-impressionable teen years later, it was as if a gorgeous, terrifying dream was unfolding before my eyes. The weird opening music, the ominous hotel hallways, a river of blood gushing out of the elevator, THOSE CREEPY TWINS! (“Come and play with us, Danny. For-evah…and ev-ah…and ev-ah.”) GAH!
Kubrick is such a master at establishing tension. I like that he takes his time developing scenes and setting a mood. From the precise, symmetrical art direction to the sound design (love Danny riding the big wheel through the hallways, the wheels echoing on the hardwood floors and then falling mute when rolling on carpet) to the camera work, Kubrick’s unparalleled technical proficiency creates a gradual dread that settles deep inside you. You really don’t want to go into room 237. Really.
Of course, Jack Nicholson is terrific as the unhinged everyman – some may feel his performance is over-the-top, but I appreciate the menace he slowly unveils as all work and no play makes Jack a dull – and totally demented – boy. And while I think Shelly Duvall is one of the strangest actresses to ever hit the screen, her natural gawkiness brings an unsettling fragility to Wendy. How will this gangly, petrified woman be able to save herself and her son? And then there’s Danny. Apparently, Danny Lloyd was only six-years-old when he made the film and I’ve read that he was shielded from the fact that he was making a horror movie. Wow. I’m not sure how the imaginary friend “Tony” was explained to him or “redrum” or the whole idea of “shining”, but that kid did a remarkable job.
So cuddle up with a loved one and give THE SHINING another looksie. You may find yourself hiding in a pillow fort afterwards, though.