Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Shining (1980)

How many "Scariest Movie of All Time" lists have been made since the beginning of the Horror picture? Quite a bit, no? Chances are more than a few titles on those lists are adaptations of Stephen King books and, I'm also willing to bet that The Shining is right up there.

By now, it's pretty well known that Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of Stephen King's 1977 novel about a haunted hotel taking its toll on a broken man differs greatly from its source material. Sure, it's not a page by page recreation of King's work, but Kubrick succeeds in making The Shining completely his own.

In case you're not familiar with the story, Jack Torrence (in a tailor-made performance by Jack Nicholson), a writer with an hopelss affinity for the bottle, is hired to be caretaker during the winter months at the Overlook Hotel. To keep him company, Jack brings along his mousey wife Wendy and their borderline autistic son, Danny. Almost immediately, strange things start to happen and it's quite apparent that the Overlook Hotel has some skeletons in its ballroom (the previous caretaker, Delbert Grady, killed his family and then himself).

The Shining is more than just a mere Horror movie; it's an exercise is fear and almost like watching a nightmare. Even if you've read King's novel, although you may see traces of its plot devices in Kubrick's film, it's still unclear what exactly is going on. In fact, the stedicam shots of Danny tearing through the Overlook on his big wheel are even terrifying!

Many could argue that Kubrick's film is a series of surreal images, strung together with the loose twine of Stephen King's novel. Kubrick uses static shots (or at least shots with very little to no movement) as he crafts some of the most memorable bits of The Shining: Jack, sporting an early beard and a black turtleneck as he stares at Wendy and Danny playing in the snow, the Grady twins in the hallway, and of course, the blood coming out of the elevator. It's as if Kubrick was trying to conjure up childhood nightmares as he made the picture!

At the end of the day, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, though flawed in the eyes of many (including King himself, who wrote the 1997 Mick Garris-directed ABC mini-series remake), stands on its own as a seminal masterpiece. Twenty-seven years after the fact, it still holds up as one scary as hell motion picture! See it!

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

"From the heart comes a warning filled with bloody good cheer. Remember what happened as the 14th draws near."
My Bloody Valentine is truly one of the best slasher pictures to come out of the first wave in the early 1980s. From start to finish, it's got the perfect formula: it's set on a holiday, likable characters, a solid setting, a tragic backstory, and a flawless killer. So, why has MBV fallen under the radar for so many people? For starters, when it was released in '81, Horror movies were enduring a lot of criticism for their portrayal of graphic on-screen carnage and, well, the MPAA swung its old proverbial axe down. Paramount Pictures caved in and cut MBV and Friday the 13th Part II (also released that near) of nearly all the gore footage fans would come to see. Aside from that tragic flaw (which Lionsgate may be correcting with a brand new special edition DVD due January 13th...just before the 3D remake hits theaters on the 16th), My Bloody Valentine is a true classic that any self-respecting Horror fan should have at least seen, if not own.

The story revolves around the Canadian mining town of Valentine Bluffs, where a certain holiday is pretty much the focal point, with locals looking forward to it every year. But there's also a heavy curse weighing in over the town; twenty years before, as the townspeople celebrated Valentine's Day, five miners were trapped in a cave-in at the Hanniger Mine. It took six weeks to find the men and, by then, there was only one survivor who had gone mad. His name was Harry Warden. And exactly one year later, Harry took his revenge in a bloody rampage, warning that if the town ever celebrated Valentine's Day again, he would return. Now, with Harry in a sanitarium, the young people in town decide it's a great idea to celebrate the holiday of the town's namesake. And then the murders begin to happen . . . again. Caught in the middle of the nightmare is the desperate love triangle of T. J., Sarah, and Axel.
As I said before, everything is solid with this movie. I can remember seeing it for the first time many years ago either on a late night movie channel or the USA network (more likely the latter). Right from the opening scene of a couple in miner's gear embracing before the woman is brutally impaled on the spike from a pick-axe, I knew MBV was something worth checking out! The writing and directing is tight enough that it keeps the viewer guessing throughout -- yes, there are a few surprises to be found in the Hanniger Mine. The acting is pretty much on par with what was found in cheap Horror movies on this era, but that's not necessarily a bad thing; for all intents and purposes, it's got "Fink" from Meatballs in it.

If you've read any of this blog before, chances are you've seen me talk about how Horror movies from the 70s and early 80s had "the look" -- MBV has it as well! There's just something about it that demands the respect it deserves. Also, even though it's not the theatrical version, just look at that poster art, will you?!? They don't make 'em like that anymore folks. As I said earlier, with a remake (in 3D no less!) set for release in January, here's hoping that a whole new audience and...generation (yikes)...finds the original My Bloody Valentine. See it!