“Wendy darling, light of my life, I’m not gonna hurt you…I’m just gonna bash your brains in..”
Where do you start with Stanley Kubrick’s remarkable 1980 psycho-horror The Shining? A film so awash with primitive, elemental spirit that its sweaty paw print is still marking the linen of the horror genre thirty odd years on. The wonder of The Shining’s ageless malice is due to a combination of weird talents who could have only found each other on a cinema set.
There’s Kubrick with his obsessions and stern sense of mise en scene. There’s Jack Nicholson’s demented, willfully hammy turn as a walking conduit for spirits of evil. There’s Garrett Brown’s miraculous work with his own invention the Steadicam, there’s transsexual composer Wendy (formerly Walter) Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s mental electronica additions to the score, cinematographer John Alcott’s old master approach to the interiors…. the list goes on.
Kubrick, ever the wannabe distributor of his own films had even worked out a killer release strategy which allowed the film to only open in a few cinemas and take a month to build by word of mouth before conquering the rest of the world.
All these things and more make The Shining a quite exceptional variation on the old haunted house B-Movie. From the schoolyard to the water cooler the post film debate about The Shining was always a fever of half remembered scenes and declarative lines (“Here’s Johnny!”), but the scene that really encapsulates Kubrick’s vertiginous, callous portrait of a family in isolation and free fall is the one where Jack finally snaps and lets loose on his baseball bat bearing wife (Shelley Duvall), as she creeps away from him backwards up the hotel’s main stairs. So odd and mannered is Nicholson’s performance, so in control and yet demonic, caught mostly from his terrified wife’s point of view as he backs her up the stairs. The hotel lobby behind him composed and oddly styled. In this scene Kubrick accesses the genuine horror of the wife beater, the drunk and the rapist. It’s a scene that culminates with a man being beaten and falling backwards and yet you are in no doubt that he will rise again. This is the queasiest and choicest of all moments in modern horror, one that lingers in the cold light of day, much like a nightmare.
The Shining will be playing at the New Zealand International Film Festival in July and at Nordisk cinemas across Denmark in November.