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.

 

First House Diaries #2: Rooms Of Your House, From Most To Least Haunted

When you’re buying a house all by yourself, you deal with the real life threats first: does this look like a neighborhood I’m going to get serial killed in? How many break-ins have there been nearby? Is the roof sturdy? All of that stuff. But when you’re going to open house after open house, there comes a time when your house hunting expedition becomes a ghost hunting one. You want to make sure you don’t get Amityville Horror-ed, right? So check your dream home in the following areas before you put in that offer. Here are the rooms of any house, from most to least likely to be haunted:

(1) Any Unexplained, Walled-Up, Partially Hidden Room

 

You know what should have absolutely nothing to hide? Your HOUSE. If there’s a hidden doorway, a room you can only access through a closet, or a Harry Potter-style Cupboard Under The Stairs, your house isn’t being up front with you and probably has a secret. And that secret is ghosts.

In one of the houses I toured, the attic had a hastily-constructed extra room with chipped, clawed-looking walls and creepy ’50s children’s book illustrations on the walls. When I walked in there, my very first thought was “oh hey, that’s where the ghost lives.” Basically if there’s a weird room that makes you say “that’s where the ghost lives” – yep, that’s where the ghost lives.

(2) Bedroom

Bedrooms aren’t the most inherently creepy-seeming room of the house, but think about it. Most people’s ghost stories start with them being awoken in the middle of the night with a ghost staring at them. GROSS.

(3) Bathroom

I know, not the attic or basement? No, not yet. If a ghost wants to be extra creepy, they’d definitely hang out in the bathroom. It’s really all about the shower curtain. Imagine leaving the shower to find a ghost staring at you. Or worse, opening the shower curtain and finding a little-girl ghost in an old-timey dress in there. Plus there’s the bathroom mirror, prime location for Bloody Marys and menacing fog-writing.

As a kid, my house’s bathroom gave me the willies, to the extent that I used to rush and take showers as quickly as possible. As an adult, this habit has helped me maintain really low water bills so I’m not complaining. But the wacky thing is that years later, my mom told me that she went to a psychic who out of nowhere mentioned that the tiny hallway in front of the bathroom was the portal that the ghosts came in and out of.

(4) Attic

Here’s my rationale for the attic being more full of ghosts than the basement. Attics are usually less readily accessible than basements, so if someone had something to hide they would probably keep it in the attic. Secret deformed children, a church of satan, a wall of victim’s photos: attic material, all of them. Plus while your basement probably contains frequently-used utilities that might deter a ghost infestation (washer, dryer, furnace), your attic is more stagnant so ghosts are more likely to accumulate. Also moths, spiders, etc. Pretty much just don’t go into your attic.

(5) Basement

Don’t get me wrong, basements are still creepy. The main reason is that these are the most likely place in your house for a body to be concealed. Unless someone really Telltale Heart-ed it, there probably isn’t a body under your floorboards, but there might be one under that weird patch of mismatched concrete on your basement floor.  Apparently my great-grandparents’ house had a notoriously haunted basement – like, they were known for it – so my fear of basements might be part of my genetic memory.

(6) Hallways and Stairwells

 

Again, I blame my childhood home, which had a stairway landing so creepy that I used to try to fly past it on my way up and down. Maybe I should just blame being a weird kid. Still, hallways are full of doors for ghosts to pop out of, or twists and turns where you can see a ghost in the distance. If you want an excellent example of the hallway as a ghost device, look no further than The Shining.

(7) Kitchens

Kitchens aren’t spooky, but if you have a Poltergeist-y ghost that likes to play with things you’ll probably find it in the kitchen. Between the stove, faucet, microwave and fridge door, there’s a lot to open and close or turn on and off – like a Melissa and Doug toy, only for ghosts.

(8) Dining Room

I’ve just never heard of anyone having a haunted dining room, you know?

(9) Living Room/ Family Room/ Den

Here’s how I feel. Poltergeist aside, I think TVs are inherently confusing to ghosts, who seem to always be from sometime pre-1950. Not that they have to be, but I’ve never heard of anyone say “yeah, there’s a ghost in my house. He always appears and disappears wearing zubaz and a slap bracelet with a hypercolor shirt” or “we keep seeing this woman at the attic window with a spiral perm and mall bangs, checking her swatch watch then staring into the distance through her Sally Jesse Raphael glasses.” So if your living room is your TV spot, the ghost is just not interested. Now, if you have one fancy living room that just has uncomfy couches and a piano in it, the ghosts might like that one.

Real rational talk: ghosts make no sense. I don’t know why I would believe in the spirits of dead people manifesting out of thin air, when I barely believe in … you know, myself. (JK, I think I’m pretty good.) But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind when I looked at houses – particularly the one with the ghost room in the attic.