Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Frank Review of "The Shining" (1980)

The Short Version? All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy.
What Is It? Psychological Horror.
Who Is In It? The Joker and Olive Oyl
Should I See It? No.

As a boy, my mother and grandmother took me to see "Kramer vs. Kramer," a 1979 drama about the effects of the divorce of Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep on their young son. I barely remember the flick, and haven't seen it since. What I vividly recalled for years after was the twisted fucking trailer that preceded it showing elevator doors opening to unleash a wave of blood. Having been raised by the aforementioned women up to that point, I was a little pussy, so my eyes were covered and my psyche scarred long before the screen was totally awash in the red stuff. In fact, I probably saw what I did through my mother's fingers, before closing my eyes and knowing regret. I didn't actually see The Shining until years later, when I finally began to man-up and embrace the world of horror. I didn't watch it all the way through, catching bits and pieces, but it seemed pretty damned creepy.

Finally, my girlfriend decided she just had to buy the two disc special edition DVD, and we watched it while cuddling on the couch in the dark. I fell asleep. About three times.

Stanley Kubrick is revered as one of the greatest directors of all time, and The Shining a genre masterpiece. The production is storied: Shelley Duvall's hair began to fall out over her anxiety from a rocky working relationship with the director. Nicholson would throw away the daily rewrites of the script, because he knew by the time he spoke his lines, they would have changed again. The hotel set was the largest ever built to that point. Kubrick was so meticulous, the movie was in production for over a year. Though author Stephen King initially hated the loose screen adaptation of his novel, both he and audiences eventually warmed to the picture as a separate entity. Much has been made of the film's subtexts, such as the consequences of American imperialism. Reviewers as revered as Roger Ebert gave the movie an initial thumbs down, but changed their minds with time.

None of the above matters. The Shining is shit.

The acting is shit across the board. Jack Nicholson mugs and hams his way throughout the entire picture, with all the nuance of Jim Carrey as Ace Ventura. He is clearly playing a madman from the onset. There is no slow decent as he and his family are isolated as caretakers of an abandoned off-season snowy mountain resort. Instead, all of Nicholson's worst, most cartoonish instincts are on display throughout. Shelley Duvall's performance as the enabling wife is so regrettably bad it seems like she's having trouble playing a human being, much less a specific woman. From her "awe shucks" hillbilly accent to her later hysterics, Duvall doesn't even seem to be in the same dimension as the rest of us. I'm convinced she was the basis for Mark McKinney's Chicken Lady. Danny Lloyd as their traumatized psychic son serves as an ambulatory prop while in character, and an irritating distraction when channeling his psychic friend "Tony" through a froggy voice and a wiggling finger. Scatman Crothers as the helpful "nigger cook" is the least embarrassing, though still rather broad, and exactly the stereotype the description implies. All of the characters are static, never moving far from their archetype, and the rest of the cast is so wooden, you could be forgiven for confusing them with set dressing.

The script is shit. That will happen when you constantly rewrite while veering far from your source material. It leads to actors repeating the exact same lines ad nauseum ("Hello! Is anyone here!" "Redrum" "Get away from me!") It also leads to nonsensical ad-libbing, despite the bullshit line "Here's Johnny" being wrong-headedly canonized by pop culture as a sign of menace. The dialogue is insipid, with exposition coming into play that is abundantly obvious to anyone watching, which doesn't stop anyone from restating that obvious incessantly.

The music is shit. What could have been an effective, nerve-shredding score in moderation is instead cut into every mundane goddamned scene. Paper pulled from a typewriter? Cue a string shriek. Walking through the snow? Lets get some thumping drums in there. Generic title cards? Cymbal clash! I don't believe there's ever been a more obnoxiously grating soundtrack in the history of film.

The editing is shit. There's nearly two and a half hours of people listlessly wandering around a friggin' hotel. Nicholson's breakdown goes on forever. Sequences are repeated to minimal effect. Move! Go! Please!

The special effects are shit. The woman in the tub is an obvious rubber suit, and most of the gore is just blood splatter. There's a sequence where a hall is filled with cobweb-covered skeletons that could have come right out of a cheapie William Castle production twenty-plus years older. Plus, this movie has such a low body count it's a few cuts away from airing on ABC Family.

The direction is shit. Stanley Kubrick is a visual stylist, and he can claim some wonderfully designed shots, but what reasonably competent director couldn't after fussing over scenes for a hundred takes each? There are just as many awkward and unintentionally humorous images. People, really, the freezing death? High comedy. None of it compensates for fatigued performances, pathetic dialogue, and Kubrick's pulling every cheap horror gag in the book. With the benefit of time, even Saw comes off less exploitative and more original than this tripe. The emperor has no clothes! Get over The Shining already!

Included with the DVD set are multiple documentaries in which famous people talk about not liking the movie, or personally loathing the director at first, but being talked into respecting the technical prowess and/or just blowing smoke about the pretentious shit posthumously. Also, The Making of the Shining, a rambling home movie by Vivian "His Daughter" Kubrick.


Anonymous said...

I agree totally, I thought The Shining was utter shite too

Truth said...

The Shining is a classic, great movie. These days if it's not Saw or Hostel no one likes it. It's only voted number 48 on the top movies of all time on IMDB...

Anonymous said...

The shining is widely known
as the best horror movie of all time. I can give a short review of the film to anyone who says this.

Discuss @ ElliotR2K8 (AT)

Anonymous said...

Unintentionally funny images?Nope...not one.Stop reviewing films...YESTERDAY! You're embarrassing yourself with you're pathetic taste in film.

Diabolu Frank said...

Sorry I don't fall in lockstep with the majority on this picture. Or not, actually. I'll own an unpopular opinion proudly, so long as it's honest.

ingoio70 said...

The Shining is a snooze fest with hammy performances. After the much maligned Barry Lyndon (and one of his best) Kubrick gave the public what the public wanted... without really giving it to them, showing both contempt for the public and for the source material.

Alex L said...

This review is a disgrace & is either written out of some desire to get a rise out of people or simply due to a distorted understanding of this film. The constant sounds edited in during ordinary shots is to keep the viewer on edge & to create a general sense of unease. It did not take away anything from the actually disturbing shots like the butchered twins or the lady in the tub, but made them more intense. Also the scene with the blood flooding from the elevators is one of the most memorable movie sequences ever, along with 'Here's Johnny!'. So either you have shit taste in movies or some kind of agenda to rag on The Shining like this. I'd be curious to hear your opinion on The Thing or Alien.

Diabolu Frank said...

Love Aliens and like Alien3. Hate Resurrection. Meh on Alien, and Ridley Scott in general. Not that big on The Thing (any version, as you didn't specify.) Prefer Carpenter on Big Trouble in Little China and They Live. I may have shit taste, or I may just have a different opinion than the critical gospel, but I do legitimately find The Shining a fucking bore. It has a few iconic creepy scenes that bother people with different sensibilities a lot more than they do me. Sorry you didn't see value in my opinion.

Alex L said...

I love the shining so I was a bit too abrasive in my first comment, it's just an opinion as you say so apologies for that, your cool-headed response made me see the contrast there. Although I still can't comprehend your opinion.

I adore The Thing & Alien, yes also part of the critical gospel but I believe they are worthy of it. Slight tangent here but, taste in film is a little strange within the circle of film buffs, it's like some people will dislike something just because of how popular it is (although it might be amazing) and some will pick the #1 on every movie list as their favorites, like their preference in films is an extension of their personality regardless of the quality of the movie, wanting to be different or wanting to fit in (a simplistic breakdown, I know). Like how people might roll their eyes when someone says pulp fiction is their favorite movie of all time, like, what a common choice. And some will pick a really obscure film because it makes them look like a true film buff, finding the diamonds in the rough.

Anyways, based on very little information I get the feeling you're not a huge horror fan, maybe that plays a part in your opinion on these movies, but Big trouble & they live we can agree on.

Diabolu Frank said...

Alex, I do feel a bit of shame that Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite movies specifically because it was on every third cinephile's dorm room wall throughout the '90s (and I still have mine.) But the truth is, when someone says they don't like the movie, I find I have to choke down my own rage and incomprehension at their view. I recently showed my longtime girlfriend Grosse Pointe Blank, she didn't even bother to finish it, and it made me 100% seriously question our entire relationship. How can I spend my life with a person who doesn't like Grosse Pointe Blank? But human beings are strange and we all have our individual triggers that can shut a film out of our hearts. My own father hates Pulp Fiction. What can you do?

For instance, George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead is inferior to The Shining on every technical level, but I still love it so much I took a full day out of a road trip from Texas through Pennsylvania just to tour the Monroeville Mall and Evans City Cemetery besides. I'm an old school gorehound from back when that term meant you watched x-rated, banned in countries that sometimes brought filmmakers up on criminal charges brand horror. Now that stuff gets top ratings on Sunday night basic cable, and the only obstacle to getting the average viewer to watch Cannibal Holocaust is the real life animal cruelty they filmed. Freddy Mercury didn't like Star Wars. Who can explain these things?


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