Sunday, October 2, 2016

#2 - The Shining (1980)

I know, I have reviewed The Shining before, but it has one of the best opening sequences of any horror movie I have ever seen, and seeing as how this is the beginning of my October Halloween Horror Movie Review-a-thon, I thought it appropriate to discuss it at length.

The Shining (1980) starts out with an aerial shot of a mountain lake, where the trees are starting to turn to the bright colors of autumn.  A little yellow car is winding its way down a long mountain road alongside the lake, and the camera follows the car at various points along the journey.  If I was driving the car, I'd have stopped at several points along the way to take pictures, because of how picturesque the views are.  Snow-capped mountain vistas and scenic pine forests dot the landscape as the car approaches the Overlook Hotel, and the music playing in the background the entire time is the most forbidding piece of music I have ever heard in my life.  It makes you want to stop the car and scream NO NO, TURN AROUND!  GO BACK!  YOU ARE HEADING TO YOUR DOOM!  DOOM!   DOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMM!!!!

The opening journey and music are in sharp contrast to the opening scenes at the Overlook Hotel itself.  The hotel seems so friendly, brightly-lit and busy, filled with life and light.  The normal scenes of the interview are interspersed with the day-to-day normalcy of the relationship between Danny and his mom, and then suddenly, while Danny is staring at himself in the mirror talking to his imaginary friend, the first scenes of blood splash across the TV screen.  This is the first warning that something bad is going on, and they haven't even arrived at the Overlook Hotel yet.

I'd like to take a moment and introduce the hero of our film at this time, the head chef of the Overlook Hotel, Dick Halloran, played by Scatman Crothers.  Obviously, Jack Nicholson plays the lead role, as Jack Torrance, and Danny and his mom (Shelley Duvall) take a firm stand against Jack's insanity, but without Dick Halloran, I don't think Danny and his mom would have survived.  Scatman Crothers was 70 years old at the point in his life when the Shining was filmed, after having acted in movies and TV series for the previous 30 years.  The Shining was his last big movie, and he'd end up dying a mere 6 years later of lung cancer and pneumonia.  At the point in his life where he made this movie, he was still in fine form, but doing bit-parts in TV series and movies.  Scatman Crothers was also a musician, and had already worked with Jack Nicholson in three other films before he appeared in The Shining.  They were friends, according to, though The Shining was their last movie together.

Dick and Danny have a long conversation about "Shining," before Dick leaves for his winter vacation in Miami.  The "Shining" is what Dick's grandmother called it, but we know of it nowadays as ESP, or psychic abilities.  Psychic abilities were huge in the 70's and 80's, though nowadays they are mostly relegated to superheroes and comic books, so it doesn't surprise me that it plays a huge role in this movie.  Danny surprises Dick with his Shining ability, asking him about room 237, and startling him.  Dick doesn't know it, but Danny has already seen the two dead Grady girls in the games room, so the fun and games have started already.

About a month after the Torrances have settled in, the supernatural events begin to start in earnest, and Jack starts to go a little nuts.  Dick Halloran is in the middle of his vacation, watching a nightly newscast about the heatwave in Miami, and the blizzard settling into the area around the Overlook Hotel, when he has a vision of the trouble going on with Danny and the Torrances.  Now, Dick is a couple thousand miles away, completely safe, and has no proof that the Torrances are in any kind of trouble whatsoever.  He tries to contact them, and when he can't get through, he feels it's not just because of the huge winter storm.  Dick Halloran leaves his pleasant little place in Miami, decorated with the nude portraits of black ladies with with large afros (doubtless women that Dick has known in his past), and heads into what he feels in certain danger, all to save little Danny Torrance and his family.

At this point, if you haven't seen the movie and don't want to hear any more details, I caught it on IFC and I presume they (or other channels) will play it at some point this month.  The movie starts out with an early fall setting, and proceeds into deep winter, much like the later months of the year, at least where I live.  It's a Halloween horror movie classic, and while The Exorcist may have won the #1 spot as the scariest movie of all time, The Shining is a solid #2 on every list I've ever seen.

I find some of Jack's bar scenes to be quite frightening, realizing that there is no one in the large pink ballroom with him but ghosts, and his own driving need to drink.  The Overlook Hotel provides Jack with the little push he needs to send him right over the edge, and he dives right in, drinking his way to oblivion with the ghosts of visitors past.  Which is funny, considering they removed all the alcohol from the Motel before they closed it down for the season.  There's this part where Jack stumbles into Delbert Grady, supposedly a waiter in the ballroom, and has to head into the bathroom to get the avocado off his jacket.

When Delbert introduces himself to Jack, Jack remembers the Delbert Grady story from his interview at the beginning of the movie.  Delbert Grady was the previous caretaker of the Overlook, the one who chopped up his wife and daughters (COME PLAY WITH US, DANNY!  COME PLAY WITH US....  FOR EVER, AND EVER, AND EVER), and when Jack mentions this to Delbert, Delbert looks entirely confused.  As far as Delbert is concerned, his wife and daughters are "around somewhere," and Jack has always been the Overlook's caretaker.  And he would know, because he's always been there.  I imagine that's what Hell must be like, forced into eternal work, thinking your beloved wife and children are "around somewhere," when you've got no memory of hacking them to bits.

Quite possibly the scariest part for me, is when the wife (Shelley Duvall) approaches the typewriter where Jack has been writing his "Novel" all winter.  She picks up a page to have a peek, and finds nothing but the phrase "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy" typed over and over and over again.  And that's on every page, typed thousands of times, composing the entire novel.  Suddenly, the typewriter clatters into motion, typing out the sentence again, even though Jack is nowhere around.  Jack is well under the Hotel's influence by then, and Danny has been having visions of the place since before he even arrived, but this is the first hint of the Hotel's haunting nature.  She doesn't "shine" as Dick Halloran would say, but in the end, the Hotel reveals itself to her, anyway.

If you've seen the movie, you know Dick Halloran doesn't quite arrive in time to head off the worst of the events leading up to the end, but he plays a pivotal role in the ending.  By the time Dick arrives at the Overlook Hotel, at night, in the middle of a blizzard, Jack is busy trying to break down the bathroom door and hack his wife and son to death with an axe.  It's dick Halloran's arrival in the noisy snowcat which stops Jack from hacking his way fully into the bathroom where his wife is hiding, and Jack turns away from her to deal with Dick's interference.  Danny's escape through the open window allows Jack to hear the arrival of Dick's snowcat, and once Danny and his mother are out of the hotel, they are mostly free of the Overlook's influence.  But without Dick's timely arrival (and his waiting snowcat), Danny and his mom would have little choice but to return to the interior of the apocalyptically-haunted hotel, or to freeze to death in the winter snows.  It's Dick Halloran's timely arrival (and almost immediate death) that goads Danny into fleeing the Hotel once more, and leading Jack into the hedge maze, where the Hotel cannot help him.

Dick Halloran posthumously saves the lives of Danny and his mom, though I shudder to think of his fate, dying in the very hotel he feared so much.  If Jack's ghost appears in the picture of the Overlook on the wall of the Hotel, then what must have happened to Dick Halloran's ghost?  Personally, I'd like to think of Dick's ghost as returning to his Miami home, surrounded by the pictures of naked black women with large afros, rather than spending the rest of his life like Delbert Grady.  Seems like a much better fate for the hero, spending the rest of eternity on vacation, rather than in a creepy haunted hotel.

That's all for tonight!  I'm missing Westworld on HBO!  Also, Ash Vs Evil Dead season 2 premiered tonight on Starz, and I've been watching Luke Cage on Netflix.  I'm halfway through Luke Cage already, and I'm not really that big a fan.  Luke Cage is too, I don't know, black for me, maybe?  Seems like everyone is just coming out of prison, everyone's fathers are gone, everyone is getting shot or working for drug dealers.  Very dark, and maybe that's what Hell's Kitchen and Harlem are really like, but it seems like a very dim view of black people in general, and NYC specifically.  Everyone's a stereotype, drug dealers, corrupt cops and politicians, and reformed convicts alike.  Sure, there's fighting, and conflict, and drama, but it's all, I don't know, predictable, I guess?  Almost to the point where it's a bit boring, honestly.  Stereotypes are all well and good for background characters who don't matter, but when all the main characters and villains are stereotypes, it just gets a bit silly.  Oh, well.  Maybe the last 6 episodes will get better.

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