Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ghost of Halloween Movie Picks: Hard Haunted (Part 2)

It's high noon here at American Frankenstein... and time for more Halloween horror:

Cody Goodfellow (author of Perfect Union) on THE SHINING (1980): I watch different stuff every Halloween, but if I have a traditional favorite, it's more because the first time I saw it, The Shining marked me like a scar. Far from traumatic, it was like a magical key to everything forbidden that adults didn't want kids to know, and since it was the plain black 1st edition hardcover, Mom only knew I was reading a fat book with no pictures for a change.

I didn't get to see The Shining in the theater, but it ran on HBO in October of 1981, the year I got hit by a car. I couldn't go trick or treating, as I'd just been cut out of a body cast. I knew The Shining, and by God, I knew all about cabin fever.

I had nightmares for the first time since kindergarten.

In a weird reversal of the Hollywood casting dynamic, Kubrick's Torrance family is far more real than King's traditionally attractive couple. Nicholson's seething dry drunk, Shelly Duvall's hysterical codependence and Danny Lloyd's autistic fugue are like big heaps of dry tinder stuffed into the psychic kiln of the Overlook. While Kubrick keeps us miles away from the inner life that was King's focus, these people were all too recognizable to me.

Duvall is twitchy and bullied because she was manipulated and a bit terrorized by her director, who never even told poor Danny Lloyd or his parents what kind of a movie he was making. This gives it the sense that none of this is in any way made up for your entertainment. There are no corny musical cues or moments of levity that don't feel forced or grimly ironic, and the changes from the book's plot are brilliantly ruthless. The dreadful mystery of what's really going on in Jack's head is scary enough, but that distance is exactly what makes stuff like this... scary as anything I have ever seen in my life.

These guys were iconic to me as a child because they represented every scary, mysterious thing that adults every abruptly stopped doing when I came into a room (and my mom was single in the 70's so... yeah). Screw screaming for help when monsters come around, because adults, with their addictions, fetishes, fixations and phobias, are all monsters. And they continue to haunt me as an adult because they represent an afterlife where you'll spend eternity reliving the most degrading thing you ever did in your life, while children from the future constantly stumble in and get traumatized.

This movie isn't about fear as a festive, funny feeling. This is about real, mortal dread, and human emotions so out of control that they live on in an afterlife without God. So, I could name a hundred movies you'd have more fun with, this Halloween; but this one will always be a rite of passage for the angry crippled kid I was, my tenth Halloween, and the first meaningful portrait of the monster I would grow up to be.