Monday, May 11, 2009

Favorite Horror Movie Musings: The Shining (1980)

Fear 5/5
Gore 2/5
Entertainment 5/5
Creepiness 5/5
After all these years of watching horror films, there are a few that I come back to time and time again. 'Old Mr. Reliables', I like to think of them. A guaranteed spook, a guaranteed scarefest worth its weight in jumps and looks over your shoulder to see if there is anything in the room. With each repeat viewing, I know that it will continue to terrify me. The type of film that truly catches you in mental self-talk, proclaiming 'Its only just a movie...its only just a movie....' The Shining is one of those films. Gripping and engrossing from start to finish, it will haunt you long after the credits roll.
Before I get into why this movie is so spectacular and truly nerve rattling, let me first talk about horror movie watching experiences now compared to when I was younger. Do you ever think back to when you were younger and remember the types of things that scared you and wonder now why you aren't afraid of them anymore? Why was sleeping alone in the dark so terrifying as a kid? Is it because you aren't sleeping near dear ol' mum and dad and you're in your own room, somewhat isolated and detached from the watchful eye of your guardian protectors? Is it because of the things that go 'bump in the night' and that one time your father 'accidentally' let you crawl into his lap while he was watching Hammer Film's Dracula or the first Nightmare on Elm Street? I remember being so terrified at the sight of a bloodshot eyed Dracula and a knife hand wielding psychopath that those imposing figures haunted my dreams for years. Nevermind the fact that when I went to a friend's house for a sleepover that the first thing we did when we went to the local video store was snatch up every Nightmare on Elm Street in the series. I believe that when you are younger, you are typically fearful of things that could be manifested into a single character: an imposing dark figure who sucks blood, a brimmed hat, Christmas sweater wearing knife finger guy, and of course mom and dad. Nothing strikes fear into the heart of a kid more than a pissed off mom or dad.

So now, those figures aren't so imposing anymore. Certainly The Shining has at it's core the element of one (played so maniacally well by Jack Nicholson). I suppose as you get older you start to distance yourself from some of those figures who once struck fear into your heart. Maybe its the fact that you're older and more self-actualized now, standing on your own two feet, a decidedly stronger individual. As a kid, the only sense of identity that you have is tied up in your attachment (or in some cases, non-attachment) to your parents. Those once imposing and fearful figures are now no longer frightening, and in the case of one Mr. Freddy Krueger, they are now just downright comical.
What makes this movie a continually arresting affair psychologically, is the fact that horror is now defined for me as more of mental thing rather than a manifestation of a single person or character. I suppose now I'm worried about different things as an adult: my job, my house and now with being engaged, potentially taking care of a family one day. And now that I'm at the ripe ol' age of 30, my own mortality. Anything that has to do with a lost sense of self or worse, losing complete control over your mental faculties (I've seen multiple people fall victim to Alzheimer's over the last couple of years and its not pretty) is an extremely frightening prospect. The great fear of the unknown I guess you would call it. This movie wraps up all of my fears (both childhood and adult) with one big bow of holy fucking scary.
If you've never seen the film before a brief synopsis: a husband, wife and son move into a Colorado hotel during it's off months as the husband is offered a job as the main caretaker. Prior to posting up residence, the hotel owner tells the husband the story of a prior caretaker who went batshit crazy after being holed up for so many months. He took an axe to his family, killing his wife and two daughters. It doesn't seem to bother the man as he accepts the job. He thinks the isolation, peace and quiet will work wonders as he's a writer and could use the time for his work. After the family moves in, the husband begins a gradual descent into madness and the family's little boy (who has an 'imaginary' friend), meets the hotel's other residents.

The movie employs so many tactics in creating a truly visceral and disturbing movie watching experience. The oft cliched creepy kids are there in spades. The cheap carnival haunted house jolts are there as well. Even the looming specter of a fortress-style home and its visual feelings of impending doom can be found. What the director employs so well throughout the film is the fear of the unknown. The constant feeling that something is lurking just around the corner and that at any moment, something will happen and you have absolutely no control over it, is the single most terrifying aspect of the film. Even when nothing happens, its still pretty damn scary. Its this constant fear or unseen threat that is played like a country fiddle throughout most of the film and its heightened to such great effect with a discordant soundtrack that pierces your ear drums and makes you jump in your seat with every note.

The film is truly a horror movie in every respect and is my all-time favorite fright flick. The fanfare may always be tied up in Jack Nicholson's performance or Stanley Kubrick's direction. But for me, it will always remain the things that you don't see along with the constantly imposed feelings of dread and uncertainty.

Cortez the Killer

No comments: