I am usually desperate to avoid seeing anything that can be classified as horror when I go to the movies. Mainly because I get way too scared to actually watch them. The last time I went to see a horror film was in 2002 for 28 Days Later. I screamed when a door opened in the first ten minutes of the movie, and then kept my hands across my eyes for the next 103 minutes of the film.
So it might surprise you readers that I agreed to see one of the classics of the genres — both re-mastered, and extended in length! But what better way to get myself back in the horror hot seat than by going along to see Stanley Kubrick‘s 1980 fillum The Shining, recently presented for the first time in Australia at The Astor Cinema.
Even for someone like me (who had never seen the film in its entirety), references to The Shining are instantly recognisable in our cultural landscape. It has been imitated and parodied for years from The Simpsons, Family Guy and MAD magazine to music video clips, YouTube mash-ups, poster art and advertising (Lenny Henry for a hotel chain).
Based on the novel by Stephen King, former teacher Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is interviewed for the role of winter caretaker of an isolated mountain hotel —The Overlook Hotel. Jack is hoping to break through his writer’s block and improve the family’s situation.
Successful in getting the job, Jack is accompanied by his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and ‘shining’ son, six-year-old Danny (Danny Lloyd). Also along for the winter is Danny’s imaginary friend Tony. When the family is shown around the hotel, we learn not only of its luxurious fittings but also its dark history of being built on a traditional Native American burial ground.
Danny’s psychic abilities are recognised by a kindred ‘shining’ Head Chef Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) who provides some key advice to Danny before leaving. As the winter progresses and cabin fever sets in, Jack becomes increasingly unhinged, and the rest of the hotel’s ‘guests’ start to emerge.
The musical score is eerie, sinister and anxiety-making from the very start, with the opening scene of the little yellow Beetle weaving through the rocky mountain roads immediately letting you know that the driver is heading somewhere foreboding. The Shining never really lets you feel you can relax and let go of any of that tension. My hands hovered over my eyes most of the screening.
What struck me was the use of sound to build tension, especially the scenes where Danny rides his trike around and around the hotel: loudly and noisily rattling over the polished floorboards contrasted against the plastic wheels being muffled by the hotel rugs and carpet. The sound of a heartbeat, an unanswered phone constantly ringing and the acoustics in the ballroom adding to the atmosphere.
The cinematography is beautiful, capturing both the beauty and isolation of the landscape, hotel interiors, as well as the disintegrating family unit. Vivid colours accompany Danny’s haunted visions of the past and future, while the angles capture Wendy’s panic-stricken face as she reads Jack’s manuscript for the first time— her wide-eyed horror and fear of her husband so clearly visible.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, but not dull viewing. Nicholson plays his axe-wielding, “Hello Johnny” man in psychological decline perfectly. Overwhelmed by the supernatural forces at work, his maniacal stare is certainly memorable.
Having not seen the ‘normal’ cut of the movie, I have no idea what the extended version adds. But can guess it continues to provide a lot more anxiety for the viewer. So although on trying to go to sleep I found it hard to forget Danny’s scratchy-throated repetition of ‘redrum’, I’m glad I dipped my toes back in the horror waters. However, with winter here, those toes are now firmly back under the covers.
Getting through the thick coating of solid chocolate coating took quite a few chomps but it was well worth it when hit the fresh minty, flavoursome ice cream. Yum!
*NB. In the age-old great Choc top/Choc ice wars, The Astor calls them choc ices.