When I was a kid I watched a lot of movies, I still do, but as a kid television and movies were a major part of my life. They were an escape from my life. My childhood wasn’t great, in fact like many of us, it was downright miserable at times. Movies and television allowed me to escape that. It allowed me to go places outside of my reality. (Books, music and Video Games would later end up in that mix but that’s not what this is about.)
There were key movies in my life that helped to make me who I am today. Movies that I have loved from the moment the opening credit rolled and still love now. This blog series is about those, My guilty pleasures, my favorites, my escapes. Some were very popular, others not so much. Some of these will have some real life take-away’s, others are just for fun.
Today’s Key Movie:
Horror was a big deal to me growing up but there were still films that got under my skin, films that haunted me even when I found myself coming back for more. Today’s entry is one that scarred the living Bajeezus out of me and, even though I found myself attracted to it’s narrative, I was hesitant to watch it when it was on. The Shining by Stanley Kubrik (adapted from Stephen King’s novel of the same name) was that film and, even though I love it, to this day it gives me a certain underlying sense of dread.
The film itself is about the Torrance family and their experience in the Overlook Hotel. Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, is a writer who accepts a job taking care of a resort hotel during the off season. With his family Wendy and Danny (played by Shelly Duvall and Danny Lloyd) in tow, they soon begin to live through a nightmare that seems hellbent on destroying their family and possibly the Overlook itself.
Why this movie?
I did not originally see this film in theaters but I have since and it is one that really manages to get better with every viewing. I was probably eight or nine by the time I saw this for the first time (yeah ratings didn’t mean much to my family at the time) and boy did it have an impact. As I got older my sisters swore I was frightened of this film because the twins in the film reminded me of them. They were three years apart but loved to dress alike and stand in the hallway messing with me at times. The truth was, it wasn’t them that frightened me, the fear I had was established well before my youngest sister was born. Besides the very dark story The Shining presented, it was the characters that reminded me of my family that got to me.
The mother, Wendy (Duvall) instantly reminded me of my own mother. Thin, lanky, very caring and fully devoted to her family she and my mother could have been sisters. Interestingly, Jack Torrance (Nicholson) reminded me of my father as well. While he has never tried to kill his family, my dad was a volatile man. Quick to temper but also one that cared deeply for his wife and children, he and Jack were very much cut from the same cloth. Much like Jack Torrance, my dad was a creative type, writing stories, music and even making things in his workshop. Even though he didn’t drink, there was always a darkness and anger behind his kind eyes that Jack Nicholson managed to personify. I often wondered if he were to get a hold of alcohol, if that darkness would manifest itself in a similar way. Luckily, even though he was heavy handed at times, I never found that particular instance out. All of this was reinforced through Danny being my own Analogue. Here was a boy who was strange and different yet a kid who deeply loved his parents no matter their faults. Much like me at the time, he was not a ‘normal’ kid having few friends and was one that clearly had a hard time fitting in. I saw a lot of myself in Danny and it was that strange connection that made this film even more frightening to me.
You like it, but is it really a ‘good’ movie?
This is considered one of Kubrik’s masterpieces and boy is it ever. The first thing that hits you is the sound design. Throughout the film there is an intense and unnerving tone in the music by Gordon Stainforth. Using variety of tones that accentuate even the most mundane moments in the film, the music creeps under your skin almost immediately. It is thoroughly creepy, dark and foreboding in every way giving this film a dark charm that manages to both intrigue and frighten you all at once.
Beyond the sound, Kubrik’s singular vision is predominant throughout. He manages to take a very unique look at King’s book and transform the story into the ultimate haunted house story where you are never 100% sure if there are actually ghosts involved. Sure there are spooky things that happen but diving deeper into the narrative, you sometimes get a sense that it is the Torrence family’s seclusion in the hotel that is the cause of the strange and nightmarish events that transpire. It is easy to frighten yourself when you are alone in a small house but imagine being practically alone in a large hotel with no way to contact the outside world. Our minds tend to mess with us and, given enough time and space, our minds do everything they can to fill in the void when we are alone. The ghosts in this story are much like Schrodinger’s Cat, existing and not existing at the same time. They manifest themselves in the characters fears, doubts and, eventually, as physical beings who begin to harm those within their grasp.
Primarily lead by only four actors, this film is a triumph in terms of character development. Through the story we see the steady fall into madness that Jack, Wendy and Danny find themselves in and the actors are completely believable in every way. Jack Nicholson himself is, as expected, perfect in his role. This film is Nicholson in his prime and there is not a moment he is not dialed in to perfection. Duvall is simply wonderful in her role. Before I saw this film I had known her for her role in Fairy Tale Theater and with Robin Williams in Popeye. While I loved her in these other roles, it was The Shining that made me realize how incredible an actor she really was. In this she is clearly a caring yet frightened mother who would do anything to protect her child, no matter what.
Danny Lloyd, who plays Danny Torrence in the film, plays the role to a tee. He is creepy yet incredibly relatable giving us a touch point connecting us to the events of the film. The entire time you find yourself rooting for him to make it out alive even though you are all but certain he wont. Sadly, it seems that actor Danny Lloyd didn’t do much after this film, but seeing that it was likely a pretty intense experience, I can understand why.
The real standout to me is Scatman Crothers in the role of Dick Hollerann. Crothers plays the head Chef at the Overlook and has a connection with Danny through their shared somewhat physic ability known as The Shining. While he has a smaller role than the other three his role is one of immense importance giving them the singular connection to the outside world they need in order to survive. I love Crothers in all of his works even finding him in some of my favorite cartoon series like Transformers (Jazz) and The Globetrotters (Meadowlark Lemon). He is phenomenal in this film and really nails his role perfectly.
Although I mentioned there only being four main characters, that isn’t entirly true. One character that most people tend to ignore is the Overlook Hotel itself. In many ways this house is as living and breathing as any of the human characters in the film and stands as one of the most iconic places in horror film history. I call it a character as it has a very unique and singular personality, and is at the core of everyone’s story in this film. From the floods of blood to the ghostly parties, The Overlook is the one constant that, when it is clear that Danny and Wendy are planning their escape, the house itself retaliates by unleashing it’s madness through Jack himself.
Overall, this is one of the finest horror films of it’s time and one that fully stands the test of time. Everyone in the film is perfect and gives a truly nightmarish situation a substantial realism that is unparalleled. As I get older I find new reasons to find this film frightening and intriguing making it an almost unique experience with every viewing. There is so much depth in this film with so many varied interpretations as to what the film itself means on a deeper level. Whatever the deeper meaning is, The Shining is one of the best films ever made, one that I highly recommend to anyone who loves horror or just quality film-making.
OK, where do I get this movie?
If you have never seen this film I recommend stopping what you are doing and picking up a copy now. It is by far one of the best and one you will not forget. You can get it here in a wonderful digital transfer for around $15. It is also available via most digital platforms so you really have no excuse. Be warned, if you are a fan of the novel, this is a very different interpretation of that story. If you want a truer interpretation of the novel I recommend the wonderful mini series starring Steven Webber, while good, it certainly does not have the impact the Kubrik film does.
of course, the trailer:
Late To The Game 4/23/2020
If you would like to read more reviews please check out the rest of the Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Thursday.
For more retro TV goodness check out the rest of the Retro TV Reviews here. and, If you dig Music, I have a semi regular series called Stand Out Albums that covers some of my favorite records I have come across in life.
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