Pop Culture Blind Spot: The Shining

To begin with our standard Pop Culture Blind Spot apology/non-apology: yes, The Shining is a classic and no, I haven’t seen it. As a little kid I would challenge myself to watch scary movies, only to find myself haunted by them for months after. [Poltergeist, I’m looking at you.] At some point I questioned why I was doing that to myself and massively slashed back on my horror viewing. As a result, I’ve never seen some cult favorites: like The Shining, or Stephen King’s The Shining if you’re nasty. Between now and Halloween, I plan to dive into some of these spooky favorites – so watch this space.

What I think The Shining about: Jack Nicholson plays a writer who takes his family to a remote, haunted hotel until he snaps because of hotel-ghosts and tries to kill them all. Also, twins.

Netflix short description: A distant father roams an empty, maze-like hotel thick with dread. Something awful awaits in room 237.

First thing I notice: The Shining is shot, preserved, and/or remastered beautifully for a 1980 film. You know how a lot of movies from that era look sort of orange and grainy? In the scene with Jack’s son and wife (Shelly Duvall) it truly feels like I could walk into through the screen and into their apartment. As I said, Poltergeist did some things to my brain. But really, it’s like early 80s time travel, with all these nicely layered set details.

It’s so weird to hear the distinctive Jack Nicholson voice coming out of such a young face.

Jack agrees to the hotel deal and learns another guy who did the same thing went crazy and killed his family with an axe. Cool cool cool cool.

My first reason I don’t really trust Jack is that they have stack and stacks of paperbacks piled around their TV. Get another bookshelf.

Little Danny converses with himself in a mirror, which I hate. Then a flood of blood pours out of elevators, which I also hate. Then you see the scary twins, who I sort of thought would show up way later?

Backstory: Jack drank too much, got angry at Little Danny, and injured his arm 5 months ago. Since then he has stopped drinking… OR HAS HE?! OR WILL HE?! I don’t know, just trying to drum up some horror-appropriate suspense here.

Danny stands the eff up in the backseat of the car, and that is the most 1980 thing I have seen in the first 20 minutes of this film.

Oh, so those twins are just gonna keep showing up, huh.

There’s a hedge maze, but I’m going to stop them because nobody does hedge mazes better than My Dad Wrote A Porno.

Danny befriends Dick Hallorann, a chef who knows far too much and thus is surely a ghost or ghost-whisperer. Also Danny will not shut up about Tony, the ghost who live in his mouth.

The worst part of watching an iconic horror film is that your tension during dramatic moments starts way too early because you know too much. When Danny rides his trike around the hotel, I know from the first second that it’s definitely A Thing.

We watch part of a scene through a mirror, so Jack’s T-shirt writing is backwards. It’s so hard to tell what’s foreshadowing and what’s A Choice, because as a rule when I watch horror movies I assume everything’s foreshadowing.

Jack starts to act like a REAL DICK when Shelley Duvall stops in to say hey, so he’s already full of hotel ghosts.

Oh no, the twins.

To expand: the twins talk like a child Queen Elizabeth, or possibly like that old-time movie accent people used to have. Then Danny’s vision cuts to the girls dismembered.

Wait, shouldn’t Danny be going to school …? He spends 100% of his time riding a tricycle and getting haunted.

That damn mirror is back, along with Jack staring blankly into it before being creepy at his child for a while. Are we double-sure the overall problem isn’t actually that Jack’s a POS?

Oh, Danny has a great sweater:

And Wendy has a great overalls dress:

Danny has a bruised neck and Wendy deduces that a blank-faced Jack did it. Wait, is this whole thing an allegory for abuse?

A tuxedoed bartender shows up at the hotel bar just when Jack needs him most. Again, this dirtbag was supposed to quit drinking months ago. I still can’t decide if all the hotel people are ghost or if ghosts just live there alongside the people.

Shoutout to this film’s rug artist, and all the rug artists inspired by this film:

Jack gets chased by a decaying ghost-woman, which is honestly his comeuppance for being all “hehe, boobs” when he sees her in the bath instead of wondering what she was doing in the hotel.

Jack temporarily redeems himself by not being the person who choked Danny, then un-redeems himself by saying Danny did it himself. Also maybe I’m projecting, but it feels a lot like Danny has undiagnosed epilepsy that his parents should deal with.

There’s a ghost ’20s party going on in the house and Jack invites himself. You know what? Usually in horror movies I get annoyed with the people who go straight into clear peril, but I’d invite myself to a ghastly Gatsby party too.

[I do realize that Jack’s non-reaction to this scenario means his brain’s broke and we shouldn’t be holding him accountable for being a dirtbag, but isn’t it possible that Jack’s haunted/possessed AND a dirtbag?]

Anyone else find the blindingly red bathroom almost as creepy as the fact that Jack’s hanging out there with Mr. Grady, a deceased man who obliterated his family?

Danny starts using the funny creaky voice my littlest niece and I like to talk to each other in, and I can’t stop laughing. It’s supposed to be scary, I guess.

Dick Halloran hangs out in an airplane that, in true ’70s fashion, has seats that are about 3 feet wide.

There’s a lot of snow, and maybe this is just me being from a super-snowy city, but we’ve seen their stocked pantry and know the family doesn’t have anywhere to go (ahem, school). So I feel like it shouldn’t be a big deal?

I just googled Danny Lloyd (Danny) and found out they filmed the whole movie without him ever realizing it was a horror film. I love that so much! Stanley Kubric, ladies and gents. Legend for a reason.

We’ve now ticked off the following classic scenes: twins, redrum and All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. It’s been fun seeing them come up, but nothing has really shaken me yet because I knew more about this movie than I realized.

Shout-out to Jack Nicholson: the scene after Jack finds Wendy reading the manuscript is some of the best creepy-movie, sinister acting I’ve seen, ever. There’s no gore or jump scares or anything, yet it’s the most harrowing moment of the whole thing.

Danny says redrum (AKA murder backwards) near that mirror. Good work, Stephen King’s The Shining. I like your foreshadowing.

Mhmm, so everything from when Jack gets an ax through the end is edge-of-your-seat chilling. I love how the first maybe 2/3 of the movie are only slightly spooky, only to get full-scale terrifying at the end.

Did I or did I not see Mr. Grady doing it with a furry?? Why is this not a thing anyone has brought up when I’ve heard them talk about The Shining?

Dick Halloran, RIP, you were my favorite one of all these shit people.

When Wendy finds the ballroom full of spiderweb skeleton-people, I can’t help it – I start grinning. It’s not funny, I’m just so delighted by the Psycho/Miss Havisham-ness of it all. In this moment I understand how people who are braver than me get a kick out of horror movies.

I love frozen popsicle eyeroll Jack so much. More than I’ve loved Jack this whole movie.

The ending – where you see the photo of the ballroom from July 4th 1921 and Jack’s there in an old-school tuxedo? That right there has to be the best ending of a horror movie I’ve ever seen.

BTW, almost all pics in this post link to great related posts about people who are clearly a lot more savvy than I am re: this movie.

 

I made it! That wasn’t so bad, but I have a feeling horror movies where most of the scenes aren’t a part of our cultural shorthand already will spook me out way more.

 

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Pop Culture Blind Spot: The Babadook

When The Babadook took its rightful but confusing place as a gay icon after Netflix included it in its list of LGBT films, I had a real dilemma. I hate horror movies, but I love when everyone on the internet is joking about the same thing. As usual, my love for internet won out. It’s time for me to learn about the Babadook, a scary basement demon recently outed by Netflix.

The Babadook opens with a mom, Amelia,  dreaming about a car accident and waking up to her creepy Australian child wanting to read his favorite book. Australian children are less creepy than British children in horror movies, more than American. Fight me on it. If you were a British child, you wouldn’t have to. You’d just say something fairly innocuous like “I’m awake, mummy” and I’d run screaming.

The entire house is decorated in shades of gray and midnight, like they interior decorated for the comfort and preferences of the ghost. Demon, monster, whatever.

demon chic

Samuel (creepy-but-not-British-creepy child) tells a random supermarket lady that his “dad’s in the cemetery. He got killed driving mum to the hospital to have me.” Gay means happy and this is NOT.

Sam stands on the tip-top of a swingset while being a Babadook, I guess. Still not clear on what a Babadook is. A small white dog scratches at a locked door, which I gather is where the Babadook lives. Is it a closet??? Is the Babadook in the closet? I’m trying.

and dorothy. of you and me and dorothy.

Maybe everything is gray and colorless so it can become rainbow when the Babadook comes?? Kind of like The Wizard Of Oz… starring gay icon Judy Garland?? I’m reaching.

It turns out the Babadook is a terrifying pop-up book Sam has. For the record, they say Babadook to rhyme more with “look” than “Luke.” PLOT TWIST: the terrifying pop-up, which ends with the words “you’re going to wish you were dead,” ends up looking like a generic colorful children’s book when they pull back, and Amelia is reading a different story entirely. Amelia hides the book (rhymes with Babadook!) above her wardrobe.

Amelia watches black and white tv because that’s her aesthetic.

Sam throws firecrackers in anger.

Amelia: Where’d you get those firecrackers?

Sam: You got them for me on the internet.

Amelia: That’s the end of the internet.

Why did I love that exchange so much?

Samuel loves to play in a sequin cape,  a nod to Liberacci??

NOPE

Sam, or a Babadook, hung up an empty men’s suit on the wall and it’s very spooky. Also I KNOW that a hanging suit is, or should be, empty but that’s really the only way to describe it:

There’s glass in Amelia’s soup or thickened boiled milk that she’s eating. Sam said the Babadook did it. Maybe the real Babadook is SAM.

Sam watches an unsettling magic DVD. How does Sam keep getting these age-inappropriate forms of media? Don’t say the internet. Amelia swore off of Amazon.

Amelia goes upstairs to find the photo of her and Sam’s dad all scribbled out. Scribbled out like … bi erasure??? Guys I am so sorry but nothing’s gay yet.

At Sam’s friend Ruby’s birthday party, all of the moms wear black to look creepier for the Babadook.

In another feat of color coordination, the girl party guests wear pale pink with black accents. The party decorations are maroon, every child’s favorite color. There’s a clown because this is a horror movie, why not.

Amelia’s friend Claire doesn’t like going to Amelia’s house because it’s depressing, possibly because every surface from floor to ceiling, including the stairs and Sam’s bedroom, seems to be covered in black chalkboard paint. I really hope there’s a big reveal at the end at it was colorful all along.

Ruby taunts Sam for not having a dad. Maybe the real Babadook is CHILDREN’S CAPACITY FOR CRUELTY. Sam pushes Ruby out of a tree house which was still very unwarranted. Sam then appears to seize in the car, which makes me wonder why Sam hasn’t had a neurological and psych eval yet??

Amelia gets a new pop-up book… is something that should be a caption on a mommy blogger’s instagram, but which is actually a scene where Amelia gets a new gift from the Babadook about how the Babadook will take her over.

AHHHH. The Babadook calls Amelia on her land line and says “Babadook…dook…dook” in a croaky demon voice.

Let’s talk about acting. Essie Davis is fantastic as Amelia, who half thinks her child is losing it and half thinks she is. She’s extra fantastic in the scene where she goes to the police to report a children’s book. You can see her genuine belief that she’s correct right alongside her realization that what she’s saying sounds ridiculous. Noah Wisemen is also marvelous as Sam and he really does seem like an actual child, not a spooky horror movie child cliche. Also, this was Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut and it’s absolutely beautiful — not too scary, despite my protests against horror movies, but really thoughtful and nicely styled.

Amelia finds a hole in her kitchen wall. Beetles crawl out. She has made references to being poor but she has an expensive-looking vintage replica fridge so that doesn’t quite check out.

The Australian child Sam watches on TV sounds so much more Australian than Sam.

SHIIIIIT. The Babadook sneaks into Amelia’s bedroom by way of creaky door and croaks “Babadook…dook…dook” again. He kind of stop-motions around on the ceiling for a bit. Amelia has an outfit, complete with hat, on a mannequin in her bedroom. What is WITH this family? Anyway, it was a “dream” but surely it wasn’t really.

In keeping with her aesthetic, Amelia watches a black-and-white silent film that looks kind of like A Trip To The Moon, except with Babadooks all up in it.

this is why i don’t have cable

Amelia shouts at Sam to “eat shit,” but I’m certain that’s just the Babadook or the mean older brother in a John Hughes movie talking.

Amelia: 1. crashes a car because the Babadook was Babadook-dook-dooking her; 2. takes a bath fully clothed; 3. attempts to nap while cuddling a violin; 4. tromps around her house with a butcher knife; 5. forces Sam to take pills; 6. watches aesthetically-consistent black and white cartoons.

The dog won’t hang with Amelia, which is how we can be sure she’s harboring the Babadook.

SPOOOOKY. Amelia watches a news report about a woman who stabbed her 7-year-old to death; cut to Amelia in the news report looking out her window with an eerie frozen smile. NOPE NOPE NOPE. This is neither about the Babadook or the Gay Babadook, but when I was little my brother used to open my bedroom door and stare with an eerie frozen smile while singing that circus song, which was some clever sibling bullying. It’s a tattle-proof trick. “Mom, Matt’s smiling and singing!”

Amelia’s dead husband is in the basement. He’s surely a Babadook. He says “bring me the boy” in increasingly Babadookish tones.

Amelia kills the small white dog 😦  Then she Babadook-floats at Sam, who says she isn’t his mother and throws a firecracker and some darts at her.

The kind, elderly neighbor comes over and says that she knows this time of year is hard for Amelia. Maybe the real Babadook is HOW SAD SHE IS.

Sam brings a knife down on his mother with the most unsettling confused grimace/smile.

After some stuff, Amelia voms a black tar-like substance so who knows, maybe the real Babadook is an intestinal bleed and a bowel obstruction.

Amelia relives her husband’s gory death, and tells the Babadook that he’s nothing and not welcome in her house. The Babadook goes back to the basement. The real Babadook is grief and PTSD, just like I’ve been saying this entire time.

Almost right away, Amelia’s hair is MUCH fluffier, and a birthday banner is hung in the living room. They speak freely about Sam’s dad. Ruby was Sam’s… cousin? Which I did not realize. They feed the Babadook worms in the basement, because they somehow learned that he eats worms. The Babadook, which is grief, will always exist in their lives but that doesn’t mean it’s always invited to the party.

Sam does a worryingly good magic trick.

Fine.

Okay, so I still don’t know why the Babadook is gay but he doesn’t owe me an explanation. The Babadook is more than just gay, he’s also a basement grief-demon who eats worms and hangs suits up. I hope he has fun at all the parades and parties!