Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a cold, disturbing masterpiece. This is a beautifully-made, utterly frightening horror film for adults, an epic ghost story for the modern age.
Jack Nicholson stars as Jack Torrance, a former teacher and aspiring author who agrees to become the winter caretaker for the ominous Overlook Hotel, deep in the snow-capped mountains of Colorado. He arrives, along with wife Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) just as the rest of the hotel is vacating. The only one with any contact is the cook, Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers), and he spends a good portion of the running time off-screen and/or in Florida on vacation. It is Halloran who gives the film its namesake; “the shining” is what he calls the apparent psychic connection that he and Danny have. Meanwhile, the Overlook has an eerie history: there was a fire several decades back and a horrific axe murder as well. Add to this the creepy bush maze that becomes a neverending labyrinthe in the film’s final scenes, and you have a place nobody in their right mind would want to visit; and if you visit, you won’t be in your right mind for long. Soon, Jack, a formerly abusive alcoholic, seems overtaken by the “spirit” of the demons unloosed in the hotel, his wife is petrified out of her wits, and their young son seems to be retreating into an alternate personality – that of an invisible friend called Tony he says lives in his mouth. Kubrick, who co-adapted the novel by Stephen King, has created an intense, haunting, profoundly unsettling film made of appalling sights and creepy overtones. His cameras roam the hallways of the hotel, giving a profound sense of mounting dread. King objected to Kubrick’s adaptation so much so that he went on to make his own TV mini-series version in the late 1990’s; this is the definitive version of this story. Nicholson gives a strong performance as the imperfect father and husband who becomes mad in this place; Duvall is mostly asked to scream, run and cry a lot, but is affecting as the all-but-helpless spouse. Kubrick was an obsessive-compulsive taskmaster and an exacting visual stylist, often asking for 50 or more takes of a single shot – which explains why his films took so long to shoot. Here, he has gathered a small top-notch ensemble cast and painted a portrait of madness, supernatural horror and the decline of a family like has never been seen before. One of the best films of the decade!
Here is a film that attempts to cash in on the success of earlier teen slasher films such as Wes Craven’s “The Last House on the Left” (1972), Bob Clark’s “Black Christmas” (1974) and John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978), which was a landmark, and fails miserably. In 1957, Camp Crystal Lake was the site of a terrible accident, in which a young boy drowned while under the care of a bunch of horny teenage counselors too busy fornicating to notice when one of the kids in their charge couldn’t swim and needed help. In 1979, Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) decides to reopen the camp, with a new team of horny young counselors who will spend their time “preparing” the camp for reopening, all the while having sex, getting high and gradually, one by one, being murdered by an unseen (and, apparently, unalarming) assailant. The film, directed by Sean S. Cunningham and written by Victor Miller, has problems too numerous to mention, beginning with the fact that it has a young, fresh-faced cast, none of whom register even slightly as memorable, unique or interestingly developed characters. By the time the one developed and vaguely interesting character showed up in the final half-hour or so – about which the less said the better – I simply didn’t care. Essentially, the film’s main actors are just bodies to be butchered while looking good in the process – and even that is a failure. The film is also not very technically accomplished; “Halloween,” you’ll recall, began with that wonderful Steadicam shot from the point of view of the young Michael Myers as he stalked his first victim. Here, point of view shots are used for everything from the apparent killer’s perspective during the murders to simple conversations between mundane and random characters. What is the point of that? Finally, what does this film in, I fear, is that it simply isn’t too scary. Because nobody is established as a character to root for, there is nothing to emotionally invest in as young person after seemingly endless young person is brutally slaughtered during the film’s 95 minute duration. As such, whatever shock or scare value the film might have is seriously diminished. Credit must go, however, to the gruesome makeup effects by Tom Savini (“Dawn of the Dead”), who does the best he can to at least make the increasingly bloody and macabre deaths look as realistic and disturbing as possible. Still, it’s not exactly a cause for celebration in light of what amounts to a pretty dismal and ho-hum experience.
NOTE: Look for a young Kevin Bacon as the only discernable youngster murdered.