Movie Review: The Shining (1980), revisited

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As  many of you know, I am a fan of horror movies: classic slasher movies (Wolf Creek (2005), Halloween (1978), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Saw (2004)…); ghosts and ghouls (The Sixth Sense (1999), The Eye (2002), The Ring (2002), Dead End (2003)…); splatter (Cannibal Holocaust (1980), I Spit On Your Grave (1978), Battle Royale (2000)…); home invasion (You’re Next (2013), Silent House (2011), The Strangers (2008)…); monsters and aliens (Aliens (1986), The Thing (1982), Jaws (1975)…); werewolves and vampires (Dog Soldiers (2002), Dracula (1992), The Wolfman (2010)…); supernatural (Carrie (1976), Scanners (1981), Dark Touch (2014)…); and, of course, psychological thrillers (Psycho (1960), The Vanishing (1998), The Shining (1980), mother! (2017)…); and so it goes on.  Three horror sub-genres that don’t excite me are zombie (Dawn Of The Dead (1978), etc.), comedy horror (Shaun Of The Dead (2004), etc.), and found-footage (The Blair Witch Project (1999), etc.)  The first just seems to be full of ragged shuffling misshapen zonked-out people trying to catch the good guys in order to feast on their necks; the second tries to mix comedy and horror – two opposing ends of the movie entertainment spectrum; and the third is usually filmed shakily in dark tunnels or other unlit locations where it becomes impossible to see what is going on.

But, back to the psychological thrillers and, in particular, Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 movie, The Shining.  Based on a novel by Stephen King, this movie, starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, is hailed as one of the best psychological/ghost movies ever made.  Certainly, any movie directed by Stanley Kubrick comes highly recommended.  Prior to The Shining, Kubrick had entertained us with movies such as Paths Of Glory (1957), Lolita (1962), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971).  And then came The Shining.  I first watched The Shining in a cinema sometime in the ‘80s, probably when it was first released and, recently, I decided to watch it again, this time on my Kindle Fire.  There has been a dearth of decent horror movies recently so I decided it was time to give The Shining a second viewing.  I now regret that I did this, but before I tell you why, let me say a bit about the film itself.  Here is Google’s synopsis, with some explanatory additions of my own

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a recovering alcoholic and aspiring writer, becomes winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado, hoping to cure his writer’s block. He settles in along with his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his 5-year-old son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), who is plagued by psychic premonitions, a power to see what happened in the past (called the shining). As Jack’s writing goes nowhere and Danny’s visions become more disturbing, Jack also discovers the hotel’s dark secrets and begins to unravel into a homicidal maniac hell-bent on terrorizing his family.

Basically, the hotel has murder history and Jack’s son, Danny, has the ability to see ghosts from the past, notably, the two young girls who were murdered by their father when he too was winter caretaker at Overlook Hotel in previous years.  The movie concentrates on Jack’s descent into sociopathic behaviour influenced by the ghostly apparitions and other supernatural remnants of the previous caretaker’s murders; and on his wife, Wendy’s, increasing panic and helplessness in the face of his threatening actions; and – well – that’s about it.  Basically, Jack Nicholson plays Jack Nicholson playing Jack Torrance, if you get my meaning.   At the time the film was made, Jack Nicholson had become a celebrity in his own right – a movie superstar based on his outstanding performances in films such as  Easy Rider (1969) and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest  (1975), and on his personal, sometimes torrid, lifestyle.   It was becoming increasingly difficult to unravel his movie persona from his real-life man-about-town rebellious persona.  (Brad Pitt, John Malkovich and Tom Cruise have the same problem.   When we see them in movies, we say, “That’s Pitt/Malkovich/Cruise,” rather than name the person they are portraying.  Meryl Streep, Viggo Mortenson and Judi Dench are examples of the few A-list actors whose personal lives do not override or overwrite their screen personas.)

Also, Shelly Duvall (she played Olive Oil in Popeye, also released in 1980) was terribly miscast in The Shining.  There are only so many times an actress can stare blankly at anything with her mouth wide open and her eyes out on stalks, and then start screaming, and not very effectively at that.  Jaime Lee Curtis should have had Duvall’s part.

In the movie, there were no jump scares, no build-up of tension, no gore, nothing to cause you to move to the edge of your seat with clenched buttocks and tightened scrotum, and, overall, the storyline was confusing and full of ambiguities.  Stephen King, on whose book the film was based, disliked Kubrick’s adaptation – “A fancy car without an engine,” he said.

I was very disappointed.  Nicholson over-grimaced and over-acted, Duvall was dreadful, and the whole movie was a terrible waste of 2 hours 24 minutes.

Apparently, the film was panned when it first came out but, retrospectively, most film critics now claim it to be a masterpiece.  The acclaimed American film director, Martin Scorsese, ranks it as one of the eleven scariest horror movies of all time.  Other critics applaud its slow burn and claim that it’s “one of the all-time scariest films ever made” (Wikipedia).  Hmm.  Not for me.  If you’re looking for a real psychological horror movie, take a look at Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962),  Misery (1990), Funny Games (1997), Requiem For A Dream (2000), We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011), Excision (2012), The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (2017) and, of course, the most disturbing psychological movie ever made (IMHO) – Psycho (1960).

But, if horror movies are not your thing, there are plenty of other movies to tickle your cinematic palate.  My granddaughters tell me that Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again (2018) is good wholesome family fun: no gore, no jump scares, no scary faces peering through an axe-torn door shouting “Heeeere’s Johnny!” (as in The Shining), no screaming screeching violins (as in Psycho), or no “Duunnn dunnn… duuuunnnn duun… duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn dunnnn” scary background music (as in Jaws).  Nope.  Just music, dancing and light-hearted comedy.

I might give Mamma Mia 2 a shot.  I’ll probably find it a helluva lot more entertaining than The Shining.

(^_^)

Footnote.

I was about to add this Mavis and Bert cartoon (all my own work), when my cousin Mary added a comment below that, effectively, stole my punchline.  But, Mary has insisted I post it anyway, so here it is. Thanks, Mary.

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