Film Review: The Shining

One of the most complete horror movies gets a re-release in time for Halloween. It is a chance for UK audiences to see the original American version for the first time on the big screen.

Jack Torrance and his family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter. Jack sees it as an ideal time to do some writing whilst acting as caretaker of the hotel. A presence in the hotel appears to be effecting Jack, whilst his son Danny sees frightening visions…

Stanley Kubrick’s adaption of Stephen King’s novel is still as effective as ever. The director excels in generating mood. Kubrick manages to complete immerse the audience in the location. This is what makes The Shining work so well. Isolation is portrayed in the most convincing manner.

The narrative of Kubrick’s film is not overly complex. There are a few different elements at play which generate mystery. Jack’s descent is well paced, taking its time in order to make incidents believable. The Shining functions as a psychological horror, although there are other elements of horror present. Jack’s descent is both compelling and disturbing. The film mixes some tense and jumpy moments with the brooding horror of Jack’s state of mind.

The Shining uses music and sound to great effect. The film features some of the most memorable imagery of 20th century cinema. Graphic depictions are employed sparingly, which heightens the shock value. The long shots of Jack’s car driving towards the hotel work well to convey the isolation of the location.

In a career of numerous highs, Jack Nicholson delivers a stand out performance as Jack Torrance. Nicholson comes across as authentic at all times, even in psychotic moments. Shelley Duvall is also strong as wife Wendy, while Danny Lloyd is at times haunting as his namesake.

An undoubted gem of the horror genre, the re-release of The Shining should attract long time admirers and newcomers alike.

The Shining is screening at the BFI Southbank and venues throughout the country from 2nd November 2012, with special previews on 31st October 2012.

Film Review: The Amityville Horror

For a film with the word ‘Horror’ in the title, The Amityville Horror is not a very frightening film. Although the 1979 film is effective in building atmosphere, it is let down by the lack of frights.

George and Kathy Lutz and their three young children move into a house in Amityville, New York. The scene of a multiple murder, the couple begins to experience strange occurrences in their new home. After their family priest attempts a failed exorcism, things seem to get worse, especially for George…

Adapted from a book by Jay Anson, which is apparently based on true events, The Amityville Horror offers plenty of stock horror conventions. Influence from films such as The Haunting and The Exorcist are clear, in both theme and on-screen devices. Young Amy’s apparent connection with a spirit evokes William Friedkin’s 1973 film, while the moving chandelier can be compared to Robert Wise’s 1963 haunted-house classic. Nevertheless, The Amityville Horror perhaps has also influenced later films in the genre itself. The scene where George attempts to break through the bathroom door with an axe instantly recalls 1980’s The Shining, although Stephen King’s novel was published two years before in 1977.

The Amityville Horror is not usually remembered with such fondness as other horror pictures of the era. There appears to be two main reasons for this. Firstly, despite the supernatural context, there are very few actual scares in the film, and those that do appear are mild rather than shocking. Secondly, the pacing of Stuart Rosenberg’s film is awry. The film builds very slowly, and in comparison the ending feels rushed. The slow momentum of isolated incidents each day suggests a major pay-off, but sadly this never occurs.

Where the film excels is in generating a pervading atmosphere. George’s slow decline enhances the sense of unease, coupled with the gentle release of information about the house’s past. By far the most effective tool in building tension is Lalo Schifrin’s fantastic score. Given Amityville Horror‘s low budget, the filmmakers are wise to keep special effects to a minimum; the ones that are featured have not aged well.

James Brolin and Margot Kidder both do well as the unlucky couple, despite the material they have to work with. Rod Steiger brings passion and urgency as Father Delaney, while Helen Shaver is jarringly over the top as friend Carolyn. Natasha Ryan is well cast as the young Amy, providing both innocence and an air of menace in the role.

Although The Amityville Horror was a big box office success on its release, the film has not really stood the test of time. Sadly, there are plenty of other haunted-house movies that are far more affecting.

The Amityville Horror was screened at Union Chapel by the Jameson Cult Film Club, as part of their Chills in the Chapel Halloween event.