#48: The Shining [1980]

My problem with The Shining is that I just don't find it scary. I watched this with my dad and brother, who were quaking next to me on the sofa. We'd all seen this film before and we knew what to expect. I was hoping this time round I'd 'understand' more, and so be scared, and they were hoping to be more prepared and so save face. We all three failed.

I think the underlying issue is Stanley Kubrick, the film's producer, director and screenwriter, and frequent subject of this blog. The Shining is based on Stephen King's novel, so I'd love to read that and compare, as apparently the film diverts considerably from the book (plus I'd be more in my element analysing the novel). The film, however, is widely regarded as Kubrick's creation, so the fault will have to be charged against him. What lets the horror angle down for me is the general lack of cohesion in the film's structure. Jack Nicholson gives a chilling performance as Jack Torrence, caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel who slowly goes mad, eventually picking up an axe and hunting down his wife and son in order to 'correct' them. What drives him to murderous insanity, though, is never really resolved. 
It might be cabin fever. You can't really discuss this film without mentioning it as one of the first uses of Steadicam, most notably following Torrence's son Danny (Danny Lloyd) on his tricycle along the endless corridors. The way his wheels make such a racket against the floorboards to then be muted on carpet in a ominously monotonous rhythm make the massive empty spaces somehow claustrophobic. Confined in an empty hotel all winter, trapped by the snow, who wouldn't go mad? It's certainly not the first time it happened.
It might be the ghosts. Fetid and decaying hags, uncannily (by which I mean specifically Freudian 'unheimlich') cutesy and hacked-to-bits sisters, sinister barmen and waiters all walk the halls of this remarkably and thoroughly haunted hotel. Well, what else do you expect if you build a hotel on an ancient Indian burial ground?
The biggest point of contention though, is that it might be that Torrence has always been mad. It was always in him. He's 'always been the caretaker'. Which makes no sense to me, well, at least within the film. The final shot is of a picture of Jack in the hotel bar some 50(?) years previously. This seems to me a heavy-handed device which just doesn't make sense: you don't think 'no way!'. You think 'wha...?'. 
So essentially, Kubrick needed to decide what was going on here. A basic case of cabin fever and domestic violence? OK sure, that can be scary. The more realistic the more frightening, I find: it could actually happen. A supernatural tale of malevolent haunting? OK go for it, throw your scares at me. A confused mishmash of various attempts to creep me out over a drawn out period of family disputes and meaningless rivers of blood? I'm not so sure.

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