As the spooky season raises its sharpened axe to soon fall upon us, the ghouls and goblins of Film Ireland wallow in the terror of the films that embrace the nutty freaks, bloody psychos and raging spoonatics with our ‘Bloody Countdown to Halloween’ – cue Vincent Price laugh…
(Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
For any misguided soul who views the horror genre as inferior, The Shining is probably the definitive response. Stephen King’s lengthy novel provides a cheap pulpy premise: a writer takes a job as a caretaker in an abandoned hotel for the winter with his family. The hotel, however, has a dark past, and begins to cloud his mind. King’s book took this premise and filled it with literal monsters and the supernatural. Kubrick, meanwhile, threw out the hokier parts of the book (living hedge-monsters anyone?) and instead focused on the family and psychological elements. Famously, King wasn’t impressed, calling Kubrick a man ‘who thinks too much and feels too little’. It’s this rejection of horror-movie grammar, however, that makes the film great. Almost every scene takes place in either a brightly lit area or in daylight. There are no shadows for anything to hide in, no darkness. In Kubrick’s world, evil is perfectly visible, staring you straight in the face. There is no direct antagonist, with the only villain being the hotel itself and the madness it brings out it in the characters. Kubrick’s mastery of atmosphere, compostion and editing brings out a chilling quality in the most ordinary things – a ball being bounced against a wall, a child’s tricycle. Case in point – the scariest image isn’t the tidal wave of blood, or the hag in the bathtub, but simply two twin girls standing in a hallway with dodgy wallpaper.
Kubrick’s subliminal Lego message
Despite lukewarm critical reaction at the time, and King’s dismissal of it, The Shining endures as one of the greats. It remains terrifying despite one of the finest ever Simpsons‘ spoofs (‘That’s odd. Usually the blood gets off at the second floor’). Even on television, its chilling composition and electrifying sound design can haunt your dreams. The final shot raises a fascinating, head-scratching mystery that haunts you the more you think about it. And those twins are unspeakably creepy.