Be Afraid

Be Afraid

Steven Spielberg once said that the best horror is the horror you take home with you.

Steven Spielberg once said that the best horror is the horror you take home with you. By that yardstick,The Shining (1980) is aces,because there’s nothing more terrifying than a man trying to kill his family in the place they call home.

Stephen King’s novel of the same name is about a man who is weathering the downslope of ambition,and making a bad job of it. Jack Torrance,played magnificently by Jack Nicholson,agrees to become the caretaker of an isolated hotel because he wants to be able to work on his novel. He is warned that the previous caretaker had taken his life. But Jack is nimble. Jack is swift. Jack installs his family,wife Wendy and son Danny,in the hotel and gets down to the twin tasks of care-taking and writing. And soon,as befits a Stephen King novel,strange things start happening.

Director Stanley Kubrick and King do not make as strange bedfellows as we may imagine. Kubrick’s no stranger to strangeness (his Clockwork Orange practically re-wrote the definition of the word),and King has been on top of the weird game forever. King’s imagination and Kubrick’s skill team up to make The Shining a horror classic: there’s nothing as blood-curdling as Jack’s iconic leer — Heeeeeeere’s Johnnny,he sings out,axe in his hand,blood in his eyes,and you freeze.

The double-disc DVD with a bonus features disc has rare footage of Kubrick filming on set (when it was created,it was the largest set of its kind — an entire hotel,with all its rooms faithfully re-created from the novel). There’s a scene with Wendy and Danny wandering in the maze outside the hotel: inside,Jack is staring at a scaled-model of the maze,looking at the two moving around in it. Cinematographers were blown away by the near-impossible feat. The master technicians who created the shot talk of how they did it,and finally,you know.


You also see Kubrick being the imperious master of the universe,something that Shelley Duvall who played Wendy couldn’t take too well (she famously had a near breakdown). And then,of course,there’s Jack Nicholson switching between clown and monster: the former for the movie being made on the making of the movie (even brushing his teeth is turned into a performance),and the latter for the movie. But even when Jack is making you laugh,you are uneasy,because you know he’s going to go down the corridor,and emerge on the other side,wielding a sharp object,bearing down on his wife and child,with an intent to murder. Heart-in-mouth stuff.

Noir street

Gumshoe Sam Spade was one of American pulp fiction’s earliest stars. Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1941) gave us a detective who’s hard-edged and smart,sometimes too smart for his own good. Raymond Chandler followed up with his own private eye in the person of Phillip Marlowe,but Marlowe always lagged behind when it came to flint. In comparison,Marlowe was a softie.

Humphrey Bogart is the man,and he knows what it takes to nail a thief who is after a priceless object. Hailed as Hollywood’s first noir film,this John Huston debut is still a crackling watch. It has all the ingredients of a dark thriller — a good man who is quite capable of bad things,a bad man who is able to laugh at himself,and a blonde bombshell with very few morals.

Mary Astor plays the good-looking blonde who comes across as all helpless and fluttery when she first meets Spade. Within the first ten minutes,there’s a murder. Spade’s partner is dead,and the game is well and truly afoot. Part of the fun is to watch Bogey use his hangdog good looks to such effect. Part of it is in the way Astor keeps him dangling: he knows she’s a bad ’un,but he can’t help himself. The bad guys make up the rest of it. Peter Lorre is shifty-eyed,and Sydney Greenstreet amiable and menacing. Everyone is after the jewel-encrusted bird,and a great deal of enjoyable to-ing and fro-ing in black-and-white streets and shadowy rooms ensues.