A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where an evil and spiritual presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future. (IMDB synopsis)
Good old Stanley Kubrick. Wow, I’m actually surprised how many recognisable, accomplished directors this list has turned up without me trying. I think everyone knows something about this movie even if they haven’t seen it. There have been countless references in popular culture, we all know ‘Here’s Johnny’, there’s basically no escaping it. I hope all this doesn’t detract from my first time viewing, although I can already tell that when Jack does throw his axe at the door, my impatience will grow steadily with every swing.
“Come on! Say the line!”
OK, so this time the opening credits are bright blue instead of pink, and they scroll upwards (was this edited in Windows Movie Maker?) The music here also seems oddly familiar (and not just because of the Treehouse of Horror episode, before you ask).
In the first scene, Jack Torrance attends an interview held by Mr Almond – sorry, Ullman – for a job taking care of the Overlook Hotel, which should give Jack a chance to write his novel. He doesn’t even mind that a previous caretaker, Delbert Grady, was moved to chop up his family and then shoot himself. Meanwhile, Jack’s wife and weird, dead-eyed son are at the kitchen table having a chat. They’re played by Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd (don’t worry, no relation to Jake Lloyd. Yippee!) Turns out that Danny has an imaginary friend who call tell him things that haven’t happened yet.
Danny meets the hotel’s chef, Dick Halloran, who reveals they are both capable of ‘shining’, or communicating to one another without speaking. He also tells him not to go into room 237 for vague reasons. (Also, 2 x 3 + 7 = 13. I guess Stephen King liked the idea of an unlucky hotel room so much that he did it again in 1408.) For the first month, all seems well at the Outlook Hotel, but things are about to get worse. Much worse. Much much much.
As I’ve already mentioned, I was aware of a lot of stuff going in. All the famous lines, all the famous scenes. I knew how this movie differed from the TV miniseries, I knew what horrible things they put Shelley Duvall through on set, and I knew what the Creepy Orange Carpet looked like (no acronyms, please!). What I didn’t know was how long the film was. TWO AND A HALF HOURS! So as you can imagine, a lot of what I noticed had to do with how they set up the various situations and how they built the atmosphere.
First of all, the cinematography is very interesting. Stanley Kubrick has two favourite kinds of shots in this film – the long tracking shot, usually following a single person walking around, and the sudden zoom in, usually on something unusual or disturbing, like the word ‘REDRUM’ in red lipstick, or a guy in a bear suit doing… things. I particularly like the tracking shots, as they give a real sense of space. They make the hotel’s big empty halls and corridors seem all the more intimidating. The music is also very effective; at one point, I was sure those violins were being hurt, they were shrieking so much.
Second of all, the performances of the main characters can be very commanding. A lot of people criticise Shelley Duvall, but personally I think she was well cast. Stephen King envisioned Wendy Torrance as someone who’d never had to deal with any real troubles in her life, but this goes against what he envisioned for Jack, being a recovering alcoholic, and Danny being the way he is. That would have been a lot for Wendy to deal with, and Duvall portrays that nicely.
Danny isn’t as offensive as some child actors, and research tells me that he was handled carefully by the film guys, and wasn’t even told it was a horror movie. I find that hard to believe, considering THESE are some of his facial expressions.
Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance is… pretty good! I know he does get extraordinarily hammy towards the end, but I liked the moments leading up to that, when his behaviour was more unpredictable. He could be hugging his son tenderly one minute and blasting off at Wendy the next. At one point, he refers to Wendy as ’the old sperm bank’. That’s the worst pet name I’ve ever heard! N’eeuaaurgh.
The third thing I want to talk about is those weird, unexplained occurences in the Outlook Hotel. This would include the two scary little girls, the naked lady in the barth that turned out to be a cackling corpse, the hotel manager having things done to him by a guy in a bear suit, all that kind of thing. While these images are definitely unsettling, I don’t really understand them. They don’t seem specifically geared towards driving Jack insane, they’re just… there.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked the film, and the way it stretches things out makes Jack’s gradual descent into madness seem more credible. But again, some of the things they use to fill the time are never elaborated upon. Who the hell is Tony, anyway? Why does the bartender keep giving Jack bourbon at no charge? If Grady’s the one egging Jack on to kill his family, then who was egging Grady on to kill HIS family?
And on top of that, I have a few questions about the very ending. How is Danny able to both outrun his axe-crazy father in the hedge maze AND find the time to retrace his own footprints in the snow? I guess Danny thinks he can outrun people, since his mother lets him win their races, but I don’t think Jack’s about to let him win this one. And why doesn’t Jack chop his way out of the hedge maze with the axe he’s still holding? He doesn’t have to just stumble around bellowing like a wounded ox!
Watching this film was a positive experience, but about halfway through, I realised I was just checking off the famous scenes and all the things referenced in Treehouse of Horror etc. Who knows, maybe I’ll enjoy Treehouse of Horror more, now that I’ve seen the film. We’re just going to have to wait and see.
6 1/2 jam sandwiches.