Monday, October 6, 2014

31 Days of Horror: The Shining

The Overlook Hotel throws a tantrum in The Shining.
In addition to our regular programming, every day this month, Last Cinema Standing will be bringing readers recommendations from the best of the horror genre as we make our way to Halloween. This should not be treated as a “best of” list but more as a primer. You can read the full introduction to Last Cinema Standing’s 31 Days of Horror here, and be sure to check back each day for a new suggestion.

Day 6: The Shining (1980)

I am not sure there is more to be said about The Shining that has not been said in a thousand other places a hundred times before. If you have not seen it, well, that is why we are here. Do so. Its rewards are myriad, and its cultural cache is ever-expanding. All this despite the fact it was poorly received by critics upon its release and was seen more as a misfire in the great career of the always divisive Stanley Kubrick. However, 35 years on, it is rightly hailed as the masterpiece it is.

So why did it take so long for the rest of the world to catch up to what Kubrick was doing? It has the form and style of the great Kubrick films that came before. It features a knockout pas de deux of performances between a delightfully unhinged Jack Nicholson and a withered if resolute Shelley Duvall. Its source material is a popular novel from the horror master Stephen King, though King was on the frontlines of the fight against The Shining, arguing Kubrick had completely misinterpreted the text.

But most of all, it has that set, that gorgeous, grand old Overlook Hotel. Its iconography is everywhere – the lavish ballroom, the instantly recognizable carpet pattern (which you may also have seen in Sid’s house in Toy Story), and the hedge maze. The Overlook is a character, and Kubrick treats it that way, giving it moods and motivations that reveal themselves as the story progresses.

The Torrances came here as caretakers of the hotel – and ostensibly so Jack could work on his novel in peace – but it takes them too long to realize the property needs more than physical upkeep. It needs psychiatric help. Only the son, Danny, is able to recognize this, but his inability to communicate prevents him from sharing and saving his family.

There are tons of haunted house pictures – and haunted hotels and haunted boats and haunted cars – but they are usually haunted by an evil spirit or a curse of some kind. Not so with the Overlook, where it seems as though the very grounds of the property are evil. King goes to great lengths in his novel to explain the origins of the madness, but by refusing to provide easy answers, Kubrick creates a much more all-encompassing terror. This is why The Shining continues to haunt audiences to this day.

Still, we are left with the question: What took so long? If I were to guess, I would say distance and scarcity. We are far enough removed from it now that we can appreciate it for the piece of art it is, rather than trying to squeeze it into some modern social context.

As for scarcity, well, how many other movies like this can you name? For a master like Kubrick, who made fewer than 15 feature-length films in a nearly 50-year career, to devote his considerable gifts to a fright picture – that alone makes it worthy of consideration and reconsideration.

Tomorrow, we take a jump to the modern day with another group of people trapped at home.

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