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The Shining. 1980. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay by Kubrick & Diane Johnson; based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King.
Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone, Joe Turkel, Anne Jackson, & Tony Burton. Warner Bros./Hawk Films/Peregrine/Producers Circle.
Rated R. 146 minutes.
Let’s get one thing straight: I love this movie. Fanatically.
I’ve also got problems with it.
There are vast differences between the source material of The Shining and Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation. For a man who mostly got close to horror in a psychological sense before this 1980 horror classic, it’s a strange pick for the master director. At the same time, it’s also a good fit. While this is mainly a ghost story, the clinical way in which Kubrick attacks the subject matter and thematic material really brings out the horror of the human drama at its core. Famously, Stephen King has said the movie is “cold” whereas his book was “hot“, and that Kubrick wasn’t capable of telling the story how it was meant to be told.
And in part I agree with Mr. King. Because the book is better. However, I do find Kubrick’s film a slice of terror. Further than that, to me the supernatural element of King’s original novel is still there amongst everything. It’s simply that Kubrick takes that all and envisions it in very human terms. We absolutely see the haunted elements of King here, there’s just a completely different element to this film and how it perceives the story of Jack Torrance’s madness.
If King’s novel is about the supernatural forces of The Overlook Hotel taking its toll on the Torrance family, Kubrick’s film is a ghost story that’s most of all an allegory for personal family troubles, the failure of people to face their problems head on until they all but literally haunt them, as well as the attempts of many to bury the dark secrets of their past like the various murdered souls haunting the halls of The Overlook.
Perhaps a straight adaptation, such as the lesser but still enjoyable TV version King had a hand in, is more enjoyable to some. And though there is a part of me that faults this movie for not going directly at the source material, because there’s some great stuff there that didn’t make this cut, Kubrick most definitely made an impressive horror film that not only contributed to the genre as a whole, it also left an indelible mark on many moviegoers. To this day, I can close my eyes and almost imagine the entire film front to back because of how many hundred times I’ve seen it.
One of my biggest beefs is the change to the character of Wendy Torrance. I find Shelley Duvall an intriguing actor, and she gives a knockout performance here. Still, the character bothers me. In the book she is nowhere near as waif-ish and frail as the Wendy which Kubrick and Diane Johnson wrote. And that boggles my mind, really. Because there’s absolutely no reason to change her character into such a “dishrag“, as Mr. King so eloquently puts it whenever asked. What gets me most is that this Wendy does not seem the type to stand up to her husband. She talks of having asked Jack to stop drinking, or else she would leave, and this doesn’t strike me as genuine with this character. She can barely hold steady ground in a conversation with her husband. Let alone confront his violent temper and alcoholism. In fact, the way Kubrick and Johnson have written Wendy is, as King again has noted, fairly misogynistic. There are barely any moments of strength in Wendy, which bothers me. It is so far from the character in King’s novel that it makes no sense. Changing the themes and focusing more on the human drama of alcoholism, the effects it has on a family, the bad decisions of the patriarch looming over his family, so on, all that makes sense to me. An adaptation doesn’t always need to follow copy-for-copy the source material. Many adaptations do well to stray a little. But this character change doesn’t come as genuine, as if Kubrick and Johnson solely wanted to focus on Jack and his son, and so they let everyone else fall to the wayside.
The character of Jack remains virtually the same across King and Kubrick’s respective visions. Again, though, I do agree partly with King. I love Nicholson here. He kills the performance, no doubt. I just can’t help imagining the role with someone less Nicholson-like. In that Jack definitely looks a bit off right from the beginning. That signature Nicholson look, the eyebrows, the sly smile, it reeks of insanity too early. This takes away part of the impact, in my opinion. Furthermore, the screenplay as opposed to the novel doesn’t give us a lot of time with Torrance before he’s going mad. He’s very quickly a dick and then soon a real terror in this movie. It’s no less shocking how insane Jack Torrance gets over the course of the film. However, if a lesser known or different-looking actor were given the part it might’ve been an even larger surprise when he goes off the deep end later. Still, I can’t fault Nicholson; that’s all in the casting. For his part, he turns Torrance into a deeply troubled man, one whose intentions are good but whose execution leaves something to be desired. And regardless of Nicholson’s crazyface, he is able to draw us in. Specifically, the scene in the big lodge room where he backs Wendy up the stairs is EPIC. During a theatre class in high school, I recited that whole speech and had great fun. It is a superb, small monologue that Nicholson really nails, allowing us to fall headlong into the madness of Torrance. As the film picks up faster and harder towards the end, Nicholson definitely frightens and his performance will always rank high on any list of spectacular acting from horror movies.
The macabre beauty of The Shining is part of its everlasting appeal. All of the imagery is so well shot by Kubrick, photographed by John Alcott. Having a horror film captured through the eyes of Kubrick is magical. From the sets and the meticulously composed shots to the score and soundtrack, this film is every bit a classic. Maybe it doesn’t follow all the rules of horror set before it. Maybe it doesn’t follow King exactly. But I’ll be damned if it’s not amazing. And the horror itself is almost vicious. That scene where Jack finds the woman in the bathtub is something that has scarred generations of film fans. Even as a seasoned horror veteran I find that one moment intense and scary. There are moments of dreadful suspense throughout The Shining that, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, still hold me in fear. The elevator of blood is an iconic piece of imagery because it essentially sums up The Overlook, as a hotel completely immersed in blood, so much so it pours down from the floors above. Just the fact they accomplished that shot is enough to make it utterly mental. But over and over, Kubrick manages to derive absolute horrific madness out of his scenes through the way he captures things, right down to editing; the bathtub woman scene is so profoundly shocking because of how it repeats itself like a memory several times as the corpse reaches out after Jack and he backs away. There are so many fine touches which make this a work of horror that stands the test of time.
Much as I love The Shining, there are certainly issues. Some can pass off Stanley Kubrick’s mistakes by saying certain things to point to his hidden meanings, the deeper layers. Bullshit. As great as this horror is, as much as its done for the genre overall, there are faults. You can still find a movie incredible while admitting to its mistakes. And I don’t always agree with Stephen King, though here I do and find the book much better. Still, Kubrick’s The Shining is chilling, it is meticulously drawn out with great cinematography, practical special effects, and the eerie sounds sitting below all the engaging, terrifying imagery. Despite its flaws, this is and always will be one of the classic pictures in horror bringing Kubrick and his sensibilities to an unlikely genre.
Darling. 2015. Directed & Written by Mickey Keating.
Starring Lauren Ashley Carter, Sean Young, Larry Fessenden, Helen Rogers, John Speredakos, Brian Morvant, & Al-Nisa Petty. Glass Eye Pix/Alexander Groupe.
Unrated. 78 minutes.
Mickey Keating is one of my favourite writer-directors over the past few years in indie horror. While the low budget charm of his pictures now and then needs a little boost, most of his work is incredibly engaging because of his willingness to attach a very human element to the themes in which he traffics. His second feature film, Ritual, is what initially drew me to his body of work. That was a great little flick that worked despite any of its flaws. From there he moved on to even bigger dread with the family drama-cum-alien horror Pod – a tight little indie that draws you in then drags you through its terror, including an excellently accomplished alien design that is both eerie and also impressive considering the film’s budget.
This past year Keating released Darling. Shot in gorgeous black-and-white, the film hinges largely on the central performance of Lauren Ashley Carter, whom many fans of independent horror likely remember from Jug Face, a fun, freaky movie in its own right. Using Carter’s talents, the haunting cinematography of Mac Fisken, and his own horrific screenplay, Keating gives us the hypnotic, savage vision of a woman unraveling, the influences of everything from The Shining to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion to Eraserhead shows. But don’t be fooled – any influence on or homage by Keating is only aesthetic. This is a terrifying psychological horror crafted around Carter’s performance and a screenplay that facilitates a descent into paranoid madness.
Darling (Lauren Ashley Carter) is a young woman living in New York City. She’s all on her own in the wide city landscape of darkened alleys, crowded streets, neon lights. Soon, she becomes the caretaker for a large, old mansion with a long history of supposedly being haunted. Madame (Sean Young) sets her up with the job, introduces her to the house, and then Darling is left all alone, once more. Except now she’s there with the house, its possible ghostly or demonic presence lurking all around her.
And as the time whittles on, Darling discovers the whispers in the halls follow her outside into the world. When she meets a man at a bar, one whom she recognizes from somewhere, the mansion’s influence begins taking hold. What follows is a dive headlong into the darkness of the human heart, what trauma and mental anguish can do to a person, as Darling fears she may be losing her mind.
Aside from the obvious black-and-white, the aesthetic of Keating’s film is aided by two major, impressive elements: score and editing.
First, the editing is where I’m reminded of David Lynch’s Eraserhead. It doesn’t rip off anything, but Darling captures pieces of the same mental deterioration Lynch had examined in his 1977 midnight movie classic. With completely different subject matter, editor Valerie Krulfeifer (whose other work includes previous films of Keating; so obviously they work well together) conjures up reflections of Lynch, while not directly taking anything from him. Whereas thematically this movie matches up closely to what Polanski did with Repulsion, the actual atmosphere, to me, feels closer in kin with Eraserhead. The editing helps keep us on edge. Nothing is ever certain for a minute of the film’s runtime, and that’s in big part due to the style of editing. It doesn’t always go a mile a minute, but sometimes it does and that creates the frenetic feeling of being stuck inside Darling’s noggin.
Added to that is both sound design and score. Not all movies get it right, and certainly there are many indie horrors which focus too closely on blood, gore, or exploitation to pay any attention to the aspects that help make a film become beyond mediocre. Composer Giona Ostinelli steeps almost every last moment of Darling in tension. The suspense is incredible, and Ostinelli makes you jump more than Keating and the cinematography together. Even the ringing of a phone becomes something nerve jangling, something that unnerves and throws us off balance. Again, in this way we’re placed directly in the mind of Darling, whose reality isn’t particularly stable. So we’re constantly offset by the score, as well as the sound design. Ostinelli’s music is the sort that burrows beneath your skin and totally keeps you imagining something horrible behind every coming corner. There’s even some nice electronic work steeped into the mix that rears its head now and then, above the uneasy string arrangements and the ominous little piano keys banging around.
But the cinematography – oh, it is gorgeous. Mac Fisken helps Keating achieve a really gorgeous to look at black-and-white picture. Even better, between them both there’s such a beautiful symmetry to many of the shots, it’s hard not to also be reminded of The Shining and Kubrick’s attention to symmetrical shot setups. Moreover, Fisken keeps Carter’s face so perfectly close at many moments, which is another way her perspective becomes the audience’s own, further drawing us into her world of paranoia and terror. There’s this one scene after certain things have happened when Darling’s world is literally turned upside down (as seen in the picture above), it completely captivated my soul; Fisken has the world flipped, the city is upside down, in the black-and-white with a fog in its distance it is one of my favourite shots in any film of recent memory. So beautiful and haunting all at once.
The main performance from Carter is wonderful, delightfully devilish. We disintegrate alongside her character, feeling our brain wash away with hers, too. More and more with each passing scene her grip on what is real and what is not slowly loosens. We’re never sure exactly what has happened, or what is about to happen either. But best of all, Carter genuinely makes the character’s experience one of horrific nature. Seeing her go through the motions of her own mental breakdown helped along by the idea of being caretaker in a haunted mansion is a scary process. Like Polanski’s protagonist in Repulsion or that of The Witch Who Came From the Sea, the boundaries of reality stretch for Darling, opening wide, as we’re tasked with figuring out exactly what’s really happening. Of course those two films are very different, with completely other end results than this one, but their female leads are all highly reminiscent of one another, in an appropriate way. In these movies, Darling included, women are pushed to the brink by the men in their world, or simply the male-dominated world they inhabit. In addition, the main character in Keating’s film contends with a very present ghost story, so the supernatural is an element that can’t totally be written off. It’s up to the audience in the end to decide whether Darling went crazy on her own. Nevertheless, each step on the journey towards the film’s haunting and violent conclusion is paved by a strong, daring performance from Carter.
Another worthwhile film out of Keating. Darling is a 4-star horror. It has a quiet and creepy essence, which at times flares up in horrific, violent ways. But Keating and his band of merry friends create a truly hypnotizing picture with a solid screenplay, black-and-white visuals that will stick with you for days, and a score to compliment all the various macabre scenes to which there will feel there is no end in sight. Definitely my favourite of Keating’s movies so far. Can’t wait for Carnage Park and more of his work.
FOX’s Scream Queens
Season 1, Episode 5: “Pumpkin Patch”
Directed & Written by Brad Falchuk
* For a review of the previous episode, “Haunted House” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Seven Minutes in Hell” – click here
The fifth episode of Scream Queens kicks off with Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) and the Chanels – new addition Hester (Lea Michele), #5 (Abigail Breslin), & #3 (Billie Lourd) – they’re planning a Pumpkin Patch Fundraiser. Both Fergies – the Dutchess and the Black Eyed Peas frontwoman – are coming, little whoops from #3. Seems they’re mostly letting the original Chanel down, yet she’s laying down the law.
The Wives of Fallen Presidents = theme for the Chanels. Hilarious and morbid all at once. Of course, Chanel #1 chooses Jackie Onassis – stylish as she was certainly. More constant bickering between #5 and #1, though, now Hester is puckering up and kissing lots of ass becoming the new go-to-girl for Chanel #1.
Far as I remember, this is the first episode we’re treated to the full-on Scream Queens theme song and an elaborate credits sequence. At first I kinda thought it was a little lame, but it grew on me. More great music comes out in this episode in terms of the overall score throughout various scenes, so I’m loving the electronic stuff from the credits to everything else. Works so well for the show’s aesthetic.
Back to the task at hand – Zayday Williams (Keke Palmer) has been abducted and everyone is gathered at the sorority, or at least everyone of interest and pertinent to anything happening. Chad Radwell (Glen Powell) gives another ridiculously foolish speech, trying to plea for an open campus instead of Dean Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) opting to cancel Halloween and shut the place down. A curfew is enforced and the Chanels are pissed, as the Pumpkin Patch Fundraiser will not get to go ahead.
Hester is rounding up Chanel #5, as well as others such as Jennifer (Breezy Eslin), in order to try and oust Chanel #1 from the presidency.
In class, #1 gets bothered by her professor before getting taken out by police to one of their cars. Hilarious sequence, I loved it.
Then a quick shift to Zayday, who finds herself holed up in some basement-like room. Down the halls, we hear Culture Club, Boy George belting it out, as the Red Devil’s workshop is presented to us. He stands up above Zayday, holding a puppy, just like Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. Awesomely executed homage, all around in this scene.
Pete (Diego Boneta) and Grace (Skyler Samuels) are worried about Zayday, obviously. But everyone else seems pretty unconcerned. In fact they’re downright horrid and could not care any less. The Chanels are all pretending to eat and way too busy to be bothered with anything else – like a twisted version of the Lost Boys from Hook except they were poor and actually had no food to begin with, unlike these stuck-up sorority ladies.
When Grace goes for help trying to find her father, dear ole dad Wes (Oliver Hudson) is in bed with Gigi Caldwell (Nasim Pedrad). Awkward bedroom interruption scene, as Grace and Pete walk in on the two of them banging. Real good moment, though. A crack up; Pedrad in particular makes me laugh out loud often.
Even better scene is right afterwards when Chanel #1 is talking away, as if to her Chanels, yet it’s in jail. She has a few “besties for life” after having impressed one of them with Chanel-O-Ween presents last year. I mean, if you don’t find this stuff funny, totally fine. But to me, it is hilarious! I’m not even a big horror-comedy fan yet I find myself consistently in laughter while watching Scream Queens.
Denise Hemphill (Niecy Nash) and Dean Munsch are bonding, hilariously. Nash is one of my favourites on this series so far, her character is way too funny. Security guard Denise is stuck on Zayday actually being the killer, though, we clearly know the difference, don’t we?
And while everyone sensible, or half sensible, is trying to find Zayday – in some way – Chanel #1 and #5 are still having at it, back and forth. Ultimately, #1 wants her Pumpkin Patch and she will god damn have it.
Roger (Aaron Rhodes) and Dodger (Austin Rhodes) help #5 light all the Jack-O-Lanterns for the fundraiser. The designer ended up making a life-size replica of The Shining‘s hedge-maze, full of snow, so we get another fun homage in this episode. As the Red Devil chases them all, Roger and Dodger give us lots to laugh at, arguing with #5, making her choose one of them. However, eventually one of the brothers gets disemboweled by the Red Devil, his guts flopped out in his lap. Sick! Awesome scene in the maze, both full of laughter and again harkening back to Kubrick’s creepy (loose)adaptation of Stephen King.
The rest of the crew – Pete, Grace, Wes & Co. – go searching for Zayday, taking along the proper weaponry and defense mechanisms. They find their way to where we saw the Red Devil earlier, in his/her workshop, and even stand atop where Zayday was kept. Is she still there? No, only the red velvety pillows on which she was last seen sitting.
Bit of a Saw homage here, as well! Lots of stuff happening. Denise and Gigi come upon a room much like something out of one of the Saw films. Another quasi-homage back to Silence of the Lambs with the Red Devil using night vision to move around a room. And just when you think the Devil is caught, they’re gone again. Or is it really how it seems? We saw Gigi in the old house where the hag supposedly lived, so can we trust her saying Gigi saying the Red Devil cranked her in the head before taking off? Hmm.
Zayday shows back up at Kappa House triumphant. Just in time for the big vote for presidency of the sorority.
Flashback to the Red Devil wining and dining Zayday back at the workshop, as he hauls her up from the pit where she’d been kept. Managing to stab the Devil’s hand and take off, she was able to get back in one piece.
Of course, no one believes Zayday until Grace runs in confirming the story of the lair, the romantic dining set, et cetera. Still though, the vote is on!
Nice creepy sequence with Gigi walking alone, the Red Devil following behind. FINALLY – they meet! They are officially in cahoots, now we know for sure Gigi has something to do with what’s going on in the overall plot. Unsettling stuff, who knows where this will head now.
Looking forward to the next episode, “Seven Minutes in Hell”, directed by a regular Ryan Murphy brother-in-arms Michael Uppendahl. Stay tuned for the next one, fellow fans! I’m still loving these episodes, one by one they add up to more excitement and more horror and tons of laughs.