Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My years in horror: 1980

Continuing our new series looking at the best horror movie from each year I've been alive brings us to 1980. Still being an infant, I had no idea what was going on. Nor was I aware of the three major films up for consideration as the best horror movie of that year. John Carpenter's The Fog brought pirate ghosts (or would they be ghost pirates?) out of Scooby-doo reruns and the original Friday the 13th started a franchise that has become dear to me. But neither of those are the the best horror movie released in 1980.

We can argue about how Stanley Kubrick didn't stay true to Stephen King's novel when the former made The Shining until we're blue in the face and want to punch each other. Let's skip that and just talk about the movie.


I was probably 13-ish when I first saw The Shining. My mom was letting me rent pretty much whatever I wanted and I had already become a Stephen King fan by then. The kicker was when my said The Shining had really scared her. How could I pass that up? A VHS copy from a crappy local video store came home and that was all she wrote. Did I have nightmares? Maybe. I don't remember. What I do remember is the elevator full of blood and how, under different circumstances, that hedge maze would be awesome. I remember getting chills from Jack Nicholson, whom I had discovered a few years before as The Joker. The experience was quite visceral, as the first viewing of any horror film worth the time should be.

Now, I can look at it--on freaking Blu-ray, even--and see the elements Kubrick put into the film that made it so frightening. We need to remember that The Shining is not a body count/slasher film like Friday the 13th. There's remarkably little active bloodshed. Sure, there's the elevator but that blood isn't coming from a person. Even little Danny Torrance's vision of the dead little girls in the hall is not active. Yes, there's a lot of blood, but we aren't seeing the moment of violence. The beauty of The Shining is in the potential for violence. While Jack Torrance gets close to doing physical harm to his wife and son, he never gets close enough and so the tension is never allowed to come to completion. When Torrance axes Dick Halloran, the moment of violence is so quick that it's soon forgotten. Halloran simply needs to be taken out of the picture so we can get back to the real chase.

Guiding the tension is the score and sound design. Synthesizing classic music, especially Berloiz's "Dies Irae," gives the film that sense of doom we have missed out on otherwise. The most mundane shots, such as driving to the Overlook Hotel, become omens of bad things to come. The sound design plays into this, too. The rhythm of Danny's Big Wheel journeys through the hotel hallways is a music of its own.

The Shining is a film I return to over and over. I definitely watch it more often than I do the other two films I considered for this post, even though I enjoy both of them. And now, I can watch it and remind myself that I'm doing pretty good as a father when compared to some people.

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