Sunday, October 30, 2005

"Shine on you crazy diamond!"

Well, I have talked about some of the typical Halloween beasties and reviewed a representative movie for each. However, there is still one Halloween icon that we have not discussed. Think of any Halloween advertising or packaging you have seen. What image do you always find? Bats? Gravestones? Ghosts? Gobins? Indeed these and more often appear, but there is one image, one idea that is so synonymous with Halloween that we sometimes overlook it. The haunted house. That is the concept behind our final Halloween film for 2005. The perception that some places and structures are evil.

The Shining

The Shining was made by Stanley Kubrick and released in 1980. Some people who were big Steven King fans publicly stated that they did not like the film because the story differed from that of the book. King himself did not like the film because he thought that Jack Nicholson's character seemed crazy from the start and this lessened the impact of the hotel's influence. I have read the book and seen the film several times (including seeing it during it's original theatrical release) and, in my opinion, both versions are excellent.

I admit I am one of those people who read books and then see the movies based on the books and complain that the book was better. I won't digress on this, but I think this happens because an author has much more freedom to tell a story than a filmmaker. Add to that the fact that anyone who reads the book before seeing the movie has preconceived ideas of how the movie should be presented and these nearly always differ from how the film actually is composed. It is kind of like a self fulfilling prophecy. You set yourself up for disappointment.

The book and the movie both tell a similar story, with the same characters, setting and conclusion. The difference is in how the characters reach the conclusion. The book is primarily about father - son relationships ravaged by violence and the emotional turmoil that results. The supernatural is part of the story, but not the prime mover.

The movie also examines father - son relationships and violence. However, in the film the emphasis is less on the psychological aspect of how violence destroys love, and much more on the supernatural aspect of evil influence leading to madness.

The Plot:

The Torrance family Jack (Jack Nicholson), Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and Danny (Danny Lloyd) spend a winter alone at a grand old hotel high in the Colorado Rockys where Jack has been hired to be the winter caretaker.

The Hook:

Once at the Overlook Hotel, the already strained family relationship is preyed upon by the evil supernatural influence of the Overlook.

The Goodies:

I have to admit, I really am not sure how to proceed here. I do not want to go through and review the story because that would take too long and would not be any fun. Most of the movies I have reviewed this far have some silly aspects - intentional or not - that I can point out and joke about. The Shining does not have any of these moments, because it is not really a b-movie. This film has big stars, a big budget, Steven King and Stanley Kubrick! I have included it here because I think it is a great scary movie with fantastic acting and cinematography. It is perhaps the best "haunted house" movie ever made. Some people think that any movie that deals with the supernatural is automatically a b-movie. I guess that is the loophole I have exploited. Anyway, you know this movie will be on TV sometime during Halloween week, so it seems to me to be a no-brainer.

So, if I am not going to run through the story, what can I offer you instead? Well, as I watched the movie, I started to think about some of the major aspects of it as a film presentation. I think these are worth closer examination.


Kubrick was big on using visual and auditory contrast in film to invoke moods and emotion in the audience. You can clearly see this in any of his films. A big deal has always been made of this technique in flims like 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange, but I think it works even better in The Shining.

The opening shots of Jack driving up the long and twisting mountain road to get to the Overlook. The helicopter shots of the hotel itself in the high mountains with nothing but snow capped ridges and peaks all around it. The scenes in the hotel once all of the usual employees have left for the off-season. The contrast of the huge proportions of the hotel compared to the relative smallness of Jack, Wendy and especially Danny. All of these implant the notion in the viewer that the Torrances are now stranded in an environment that is both physically and psychologically threatening. The hotel and it's surroundings seem immensely huge, old and
powerful. The people seem pitifully small and weak.

The interior of the hotel, which is a real old hotel located in the Canadian Rockys I believe, provides other opportunities for the use of contrast. The decor and colors, none of which were changed for the film add to the foreboding mood. Again the rooms are huge, the people small, but these rooms are painted in bold colors that really jump out at you. For example the scene where Jack and the ghost of a man named Mr. Grady have a conversation in the men's room. The room is painted bold red and white. This is quite an image especially on the big screen! And of course there is The Gold Room. This is a huge ballroom with a gigantic bar stretched across one end. The room is all done in gold and features an Art Deco vaulted ceiling with recessed lighting. When Jack first goes into this room it is completely empty, later he walks into a mysterious party in full swing, the room is full of people, and they all know him! That is another contrast; empty quiet hallway - huge ballroom full of people and music - bang!

Another use of contrast is in the presentation of the characters themselves. Jack progresses from clean shaven to having an unkempt beard during his stay at the hotel. In one scene Jack is just standing there not moving seemingly in a trance, he is brightly lit in contrast to his surroundings. This is a great scene that invokes the sense that the hotel is manipulating Jack - all without any dialog or even movement! Shelly Duvall's hair seems to be dyed a very dark black. This contrasts with her rather pale skin tone. It does not seem like much, but I think it makes the scenes where she is screaming in terror even more powerful. And of course there is Danny. This cute, quiet little boy is playing one moment or riding his big wheel around the hotel (with the contrasting sound of the wheels rolling over bare floor then carpet over and over) and the next scene he is confronted with images of horror that he simply cannot hope to comprehend. The shots of his silent screaming are some of the most disturbing in the entire movie.

Sound and Music:

Right from the very beginning of the film, the music lets you know you are in for an unnerving experience. In fact, I do not recall any music in this film that I would not call creepy. Even the music used in certain scenes that is not intentionally spooky - the 1920's era music in the Gold Room, the Roadrunner theme playing on TV - helps invoke a feeling of dread because it is happy music playing during very unhappy situations.

Contrast is used here also, to either enhance the audience's appreciation of the scene, or to lull them into thinking nothing is going on right before a shock. There is a piece of music that introduces some of the scenes where Danny "shines". We get used to hearing that and knowing something is coming, then Danny has visions or can hear conversations in another part of the hotel and there is no introductory music!

Music is used to enhance the shocking scenes. There will be no music prior to a shock, such as when Jack "greets" Dick Halloran in the deserted lobby, and then a crescendo to multiply the shock.

Sounds are also used to good effect. In some of the music you can hear what seem like voices howling or moaning. The sound of the wind emphasizes the fact that the Torrances are trapped in the snowbound hotel. As the film moves toward it's climax, the sound of a beating heart is played over the scenes.

The last half hour of the movie uses sound and music to really get the viewers on the edge of their seats. From a soundtrack that only featured music in key scenes it progresses to a constant hectic frenzy with lots of percussion keeping the feeling of anxiety high. And then, in the last scene with Jack, it quiets down again (hint: contrast!).


The Shining is paced very well. It keeps building tension, with very few scenes that let the pressure subside. This really sets the scene for the frantic ending. The film is over 2 hours long, but moves along so well that you never find yourself looking at your watch wondering when it will end.

Great Lines:

The only safety valve for the otherwise unrelenting build up of tension and pressure are the great lines and performance of Jack Nicholson. Don't get me wrong, everyone in the film does a great job, especially Danny Lloyd. But Nicholson's performance is just fantastic. Everything from the sound of his voice to the facial expressions he makes and the way he moves lets you know that the character of Jack Torrance is just waiting to explode. And when he explodes hs is even better! Good Lord, did he practice in front of a mirror? Nicholson's improvisation even dictated some scenes. There is a scene where he is goofing off and bouncing a tennis ball off the walls in the lobby. Reportedly the script only said, 'Jack is not working.' He got so good at swinging the axe that real doors were used instead of the break-apart ones that had been prepared. And Kubrick then had the camera follow the swing of the axe head in those scenes upping the energy considerably. And the famous line, "Heeeer's Johnny!" was improvised by Nicholson.

There are too many cool lines in this film - mostly by Nicholson - to choose from. There is a good collection of them at The Internet Movie Database:

My favorites come from the conversations Jack has with Lloyd the bartender and Mr. Grady.

I don't know what else to say, and this post it still too long! If you have never seen The Shining before you owe it to yourself to do so. If you can, see it at the theater on the big screen. If that is not possible, get the DVD and watch it in widescreen format, preferably on a widescreen TV with surround-sound. At night. In the dark.

If you have seen it before, watch it again and think about the things I have pointed out.

This is a great film.

"I am the Pumpkin King!"

Want a brew that just oozes Halloween? Ya need to get yourself a pumpkin ale. Do I really need to explain what a pumpkin ale is? It's just what ya think it is Slappy, ale made with pumpkin. I went to my local beer store and browsed the dozen pumpkin brews available, and chose the one with the label I liked most! Ha! Don't call me fickle!

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale, ABV = 8.00% and IBU = 10 to 20 I would guess.

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale is produced by Weyerbacher Brewing Company, Inc. in Easton, PA.

Okay you get the pumpkin, but why is it an 'Imperial' ale? Well, back in the days of the Tsars, English ale was exported to Russia. The Russian court like the English ales but felt they could use a bit more of a kick. Since it was always bad to disappoint a royal client, the brewers started making ales with a higher alcohol content and additional flavorings. A style was born.

Color: A deep ruby amber, just a little too dark to be called a red ale.

Aroma: A surprisingly gentle pumpkin and spice aroma without any hoppiness.

Head: A small tight dense head forms upon pouring, but then disappears.

Taste: A sweet mild but full malt taste with a very delicate hint of pumpkin and spice. The bottle says that cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves are added during brewing. I could not really distinguish the individual spices, except for a little clove taste.

Finish: Mild and sour, not very bitter. The hops do not assert themselves.

Aftertaste: Kind of like pumpkin pie, only lasts a minute or so.

The pumpkin adds body and richness to this beer, but not too much flavor. I have had pumpkin ales that I like much better, but this is a good beer overall. I'm not sure if I could identify it as a pumpkin ale by taste alone.

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale would be a good beer to serve to a friend who thinks that any beer made with pumpkin must be yucky.

Well, the 2005 Halloween movie reviews are finished. There are hundreds more I could have reviewed, but I think these 5 were a good cross section of themes, styles and eras.

I really should have thought of this earlier! 2 weeks is not enough time for this kind of project! I was originally going to include a couple of comedies, but time ran out. But I think Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Young Frankenstein would be appropriate for any Halloween bash.

Y'all have a safe and fun filled Halloween! Give generously to the little weeners - you don't want any tricks played on ya now do ya?


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