Still Shining On

Friday, October 30, 2009

I have a confession to make: Halloween isn't exactly my favorite holiday. While other bloggers have been happily posting away this month about all things ghoulish, I've been quietly waiting for Oct. 31st to be over and done with so I could look forward to my favorite (and much less spine tingling) holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I'm a self-proclaimed 'fraidy cat - I cried like the little girl I was when my mother and sister took me to the town's community-run haunted house one Halloween. I was ten...or eleven.

That also means I'm not much into horror movies, especially ones where anyone gets tortured or slashed to bits. I do, however, make an exception for one...the greatest scary movie of all time, in my opinion: The Shining. Everyone else can keep their serial killers, creepy crawlies, and monsters. Jack Nicholson with an ax totally does it for me.

Even though Stephen King didn't think so (as Stanley Kubrick deviated from the novel with his 1980 film version), I just think it's the perfect horror movie - not too gory, but containing just enough disturbing imagery that you don't need to see more. Also, what makes the story scary is that the monster isn't some creation that stepped out a lab, but the family patriarch, slowly driven mad by cabin fever, writer's block, and the ghost of the former caretaker (who murdered his family) compelling him to repeat the act. Years ago, I worked in a hotel and on some early mornings, while leaving newspapers outside guest rooms in desolate hallways, I could not help but think of the movie. And then I would get a little bit scared, and try to finish the job as quickly as I could. Silly, really, but that's the kind of lasting effect this movie had on me. I guess I was too afraid of bumping into these two around the next corner:

"Come and play with us, GoRetroGirl. Come and play with us."

The movie has gone down in film history as a classic. For starters, you have Jack Nicholson in the lead role as Jack Torrence, a writer who has agreed to take a job as the winter caretaker for an old hotel in the Rocky Mountains. As sexy as I think Nicholson was in his younger years, no one else could play crazy like him. And to be honest, I thought he added a touch of comedy to such a grim story - the famous scene where he splitters a door with an ax, sticks his maniacal face in and declares, "Heeeeeere's Johnny!" at his terrified wife, Shelley Duvall, has always made me laugh, even though it's supposed to be one of the scariest scenes in the film.

Then there's the Torrence's son, Danny, who personally I always found even creepier than his father (but, as played by Danny Lloyd, did a remarkable job as a child actor.) Long before Haley Joel Osmont was seeing dead people, Danny was seeing them as well - and conversing with his imaginary friend Tony - "a little boy who lives in my mouth" - through his finger. Danny has what the hotel's cook Grady calls "the shining" - he is psychic and can see the dead. It's this gift that allows Danny to uncover the massacre that happened in the hotel's past, and that eventually puts him in grave danger - as his father chases him with an ax, at night, in the winter - in a hedge maze - that makes up one of the scariest movie sequences ever captured on film:

That disorienting maze is mirrored in the grand hotel itself, which is a series of winding hallways and rooms. I was disappointed to recently learn that most of the movie was actually shot in England, on a series of stages. However, the hotel that gave Stephen King the inspiration for the story is the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, which conducts ghost tours year-round to guests and non-guests alike (check out the link - could you imagine staying here in winter!!!)

Lastly, the music in this movie really gets me, especially during the opening sequence. As Nicholson's yellow VW Beetle winds its way through the mountains in Kubrick's wide angled glory, you hear the creepiest, most foreboding classical music during the opening credits, and a sense that something bigger and more powerful is...watching. It really sets you up to be scared for the next two hours.

I still think about the closing scene, and what it represents. We see a photograph of a roaring 20s-era party taking place at the Overlook Hotel...and in the very front of the crowd, we see...Jack Torrence. The date stamped on the photograph is 1921. Having never read the King novel, I don't know if this was his idea or Kubrick's. So did it mean that Jack Torrence visited the hotel in a past life? Was he the reincarnation of a lost soul meant to relive the same fate? I don't think a definitive answer has ever been revealed, which further adds to the mystique of the film.

I've read that Kubrick nearly drove his stars mad with his directing techniques - Duvall's hair started to fall out from stress and Nicholson's lines were changed so much he started to toss out pages of the script and memorize his part just before filming. Was it all worth the effort?

Hell yeah.

Happy and safe Halloween to all of my readers! Here's hoping more treats than tricks.


  1. it was our halloween yesterday, for the first time i saw the shining last night, not as scary as i thought it was going to be but i guess it was for the time era the movie was made in.

  2. The Shining is one of my favorite films ever. I'm glad you gave props to Danny Torrance/Danny Lloyd and I loved the bit about how he was seeing dead people before Haley Joel Osment! Fantastic. You also mentioned one of my favorite aspects of the film and that is how nothing is really definitive with it. It's all left to speculation. And for a person who doesn't love horror or Halloween related stuff, you sure did give The Shining a nice write up and I appreciate it!


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