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The Sentinel

tn_sentinelI never really thought about this before, but I think maybe there’s such a thing as Upper Class Horror. Alot of the horror movies are about the middle class, kids from the suburbs, babysitters, etc. The kids in TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE driving around in that van probly don’t have a ton of money. And you got some working class horror here and there, some of the Romero movies, or different ones about cops or whatever. In PSYCHO you have a secretary desperate for money and a guy running a dying motel business. DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE the guy incinerates trash for a living.

But Upper Class Horror would be the ones about professors and celebrities and what not. THE EXORCIST, DON’T LOOK BACK, THE SENTINEL, these are movies about people with money. The men wear suits and ties. The heroines don’t have to get up and go to work every day. When they think they’re going crazy they have the luxury of just worrying about getting better, not about how they’re gonna pay the medical bills. They have the best doctors.

(SPOILER)
(SPOILER)

Sometimes they’re famous. In THE EXORCIST Ellen Burstyn’s character is a movie actress. In THE SENTINEL our heroine Alison (Cristina Raines) is a model who sometimes gets recognized for her shampoo commercial. Their lives are modern but they find themselves confronting ancient religious secrets and people who died in the past. The middle class tends to be attacked by random psychopaths wandering around their neighborhoods (or whose neighborhoods they wandered into). These people live in old buildings with metal gates in front, so they can only really be threatened by ancient supernatural forces.

They look for help from the Catholic church. Why call a cop when you can call a priest? They try to go on with their lives, enjoying themselves at cocktail mixers, but health problems caused by ancient evil will interfere. In this case she gets real dizzy. Because of a portal to hell, I believe.

Allison is looking for a new apartment. She could just marry her rich lawyer boyfriend (Chris Sarandon, with mustache) but she’s not ready yet. She finds a good deal on a place in the aforementioned old gated building and she takes it. Right away she starts meeting the neighbors. An old goofball introduces his bird and cat, an older lesbian couple freaks her out when one of them rubs her crotch right in front of her. She gets invited to the cat’s birthday party.

But don’t worry, she won’t have to learn to live with all these weirdos, because the next day she learns that none of them exist. The building is empty except for her and the one blind priest upstairs. Just a little misunderstanding I guess. You know how it is: I went to a birthday party for a cat. No you didn’t. Oh, whoops, my mistake.

Things keep getting stranger, she has fainting spells, she sees weird things, things that other people don’t see, like Latin in books that don’t have Latin in them. There’s an unusual structure where the movie is from her perspective but then about an hour in she’s sick and laying around and it switches to her sleazy lawyer boyfriend investigating what’s going on using his connections (both legal and otherwise) to get access to the other apartments in the building, to the church files, etc. Before that the guy seemed like a prick (and is) but you have to like him better when he believes her and throws himself into this problem.

I guess these upper class/religious/supernatural stories aren’t my favorite type of horror, but this one is pretty good and unique enough to respect. If I may interpret this thing I think Allison has an unhealthy fear of old people’s sexuality. As if the in-your-face lesbians weren’t enough of a sign there’s a flashback to a traumatic time in her past (or hallucination?) where she walks in on her corpse-like father rolling around in bed with two naked women, and they’re feeding cake to each other. That’s a good touch man, so non-perverted, but so decadent, that it just makes it ten times more gross. Nobody wants to think of their parents having sex, but what about their dad fucking two women and they’re feeding cake to each other? Isn’t that worse? Allison is so freaked out she runs to another room and immediately slits her wrists.

Every once in a while there’s a really crazy image like that that you haven’t seen in a movie before, and that makes it worth your time. Another highlight is when her dead father seems to be in front of her and she freaks out and slices off his nose. In general there are not enough nose-severings in horror, but that’s no fault of THE SENTINEL. THE SENTINEL is doing its part.

mp_beingdifferentThen at the end there’s a bunch of people that are supposed to be minions of Hell, and if you ever patronized video stores in the 1980s you can’t help but notice the dude from the cover of that old video BEING DIFFERENT. Yes, there are actual “freaks” appearing in the movie. The point of BEING DIFFERENT was to honor the people who have managed to live life despite the tremendous challenges and stigma of being born severely deformed. So this movie casts several of them as demons from Hell. It’s the kind of class act we’ve come to expect from sometimes great, often befuddling director Michael Winner (DEATH WISH 1-3). I’m not sure if it’s just a way to not have to spend a bunch of money on makeup or if it’s saying that these poor bastards are all going to Hell. Man, what did they ever do?

Those aren’t the only recognizable faces in the cast either. There’s Martin Balsam (Arbogast from PSYCHO), John Carradine, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Eli Wallach, Beverly D’Angelo, even Jerry Orbach (OUT FOR JUSTICE). DEATH WISH rapist Jeff Goldblum shows up a couple times as a hip photographer, Christopher Walken as a detective, and Tom Berenger has a bit part in the very last scene.

Raines is convincing as a model because she’s gorgeous. She’s also a likable and fairly capable heroine, at least until she gets sick and tired and somehow they really pull off the trick of shifting your interest to the douchebag boyfriend. I didn’t see that coming.

I didn’t exactly know what the ending was gonna be either, although if I would’ve seen any of the movie posters I would’ve. Great job, marketing people.

The script is by Jeffrey Konvitz, based on his novel. Writing it may have gotten him cursed. He went on to produce CYBORG 2, BLOODSPORT 2, SPY HARD and 2001: A SPACE TRAVESTY. But whatever. He can always be proud of this weird fuckin movie.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 20th, 2010 at 2:13 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

66 Responses to “The Sentinel”

  1. The original Paul

    October 20th, 2010 at 4:05 am

    You make an interesting point about the class thing Vern. I’ve always said that I’d like to see a really good horror movie based in (and credibly portraying) a working-class neighbourhood.

    “Candyman” is the only one I can think of offhand that does it really well; but there it’s more urban ghetto than the kind of place I grew up in, and the protagonist is a middle-class white female reporter. “The Tournament” is set in the kind of place that used to be my old hunting grounds, but instead of using it effectively it decided to be a second-rate Terminator / T2 ripoff (and succeeded admirably), plus it’s not really a horror movie.

    That just leaves “My Bloody Valentine” and remake. The trouble is that “MBV” was pretty awful, but still shone in comparison to the remake, which was somehow so bad that it made me look upon the original with nostalgia; and neither came close to portraying a mining town with any kind of accuracy. I grew up in one – the place in Wales I come from is famous for its mining towns – and while “My Bloody Valentine” gets the look superficially right, neither film captures the “feel”.

    I haven’t seen “The Sentinel”, although I’ve wanted to for some time – it’s an interesting concept, that’s for certain. I’ll check it out. In the meantime, examples of good working-class horror films guys. Any ideas?

  2. This is one of those films I watched when I was far to young. I didn’t have a clue what was going on, but I was terrified. I never trusted Burgess Meredith in the Rocky films because of it. And he was the Penguin in Batman. Evil bastard.

  3. There’s a show on TLC now that’s about people with the genetic defects like the guy on the “Being Different” cover here. In the ep I saw one of the guys had a loving wife and kids and was a manager at Arby’s, and so impressed a customer with his sunny demeanor that the customer paid $300K for surgery to fix his face. It was the best thing on TV I’d seen in forever, and made me kinda sad that most people would probably instantly change the channel to shit like Kate Plus Eight than watch truly heartwarming and thought-provoking stuff like this.

  4. What about SOCIETY?

  5. I watched this recently for my annual October horror-movie-a-thon-ing and was distinctly underwhelmed. I just watched it a couple weeks ago and have already forgotten most of it. Am I remembering this right: was there seriously a scene where the heroine couldn’t set down a bottle facing the right direction for a commercial, played for suspense? My standards for a good suspense sequence are a little higher than that, is my point.

  6. Paul – yeah, I see CANDYMAN as being all about class and race, but it’s from the perspective of the white academic who comes into the projects like a tourist or an anthropologist. There’s gotta be more examples we’re not thinking of.

  7. I’d say the original AMITYVILLE HORROR is a working class horror movie because money is very much a factor. It answers the classic question “Why don’t they just move out of the haunted house?” with a pragmatic answer: “Because they can’t afford to.” It’s up there with DRAG ME TO HELL in the sub-genre of economic horror. AH isn’t a very good movie, but the part that works best is when they lose that envelope full of money. Ghosts are scary enough when they just make the walls bleed, but when they’re fucking with your money, that’s a whole other level of terror.

  8. The original Paul

    October 20th, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Vern – definitely agree on “Candyman”, although it’s done much less obnoxiously than in some other films that I could name. (“The Last Samurai” springs to mind here.) For one thing, there was a clear plot-driven reason why the protagonist HAD to be an outsider; it’s made pretty clear that the insiders know a great deal about what’s happening, and are hiding it. There’s also a rather potent point made about the meddling outsider white girl who comes in and starts messing things up. In any case, it’s a very good film.

  9. I think this movie does a great job at cultivating a specifically Catholic kind of horror… fear of sexuality, fear and awe of the past, fear and loathing of modernity, fear of the body… but more than anything else, the fear of the infinite and the old school black-and-white morality which has infinite consequences.

    SPOILERS
    I think the scariest moment in the film is when we see that boyfriend Chris Sarandon (not one of his better roles — I didnt recognize him and thought he was an Italian actor dubbed in English) is actually damned to hell for all eternity. I mean, yeah, he sinned, and it was a pretty big one, but we also see that he’s at least a decent enough guy that he believes his girlfriend and wants to help her as much as he can. In any other movie, there would be some means to redemption for him, but not here — sinned = eternity of torture, end of story. And even our heroine, who is a pretty nice gal, is stuck for eternity in a pretty rotten role, just because God needs someone to do it. That’s some heavy shit.

    I was raised Catholic (outspoken athiest now) but that sort of shit is intended by the Church to scare the bejeesus out of you and it still gets under my skin, even if the movie is made with Winner’s usual shoddiness and sometimes unpalatable conservative prejudices (ooh, scary lesbians!).

    I must admit, I’m a little upset to learn that those are actual deformed people at the end. I loved the end because of its grotesque, surreal feel and now I feel bad realizing that that isn’t makeup. Way to make me an asshole, Michael Winner.

  10. Well, if we count CANDYMAN, can we count other urban and black themed horror movies like TALES FROM THE HOOD and BONES?

  11. Paul – that’s the genius of CANDYMAN, I’m not saying it as a criticism at all. You can read my review, the last time I watched it I pretty much decided it was a masterpiece. I’m just agreeing with you that it doesn’t really fit the type of working class theme we’re looking for.

  12. I guess THEY LIVE would be a little too much action/sci fi/comedy to count, although I still think it has distinct horror movie elements.

    How about ALIEN? Sure, it’s on a space ship, but a beat down grimy one, and I think the crew is mostly supposed to be working class types. Even if it is the future.

  13. Does The people Under The Stairs count in the working class horror?

  14. They Live should count too. I guess its more action/sci fi/comedy, but still a horror in many ways.

  15. Why is it the clergymen who get involved in horror stories are always Catholic? Wouldn’t a married protestant reverend be a nice change of pace?

  16. THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK has class subtext. David Hess plays a car mechanic/skeezy rapist who fixes a car for some rich people and gets invited to their party as an off-hand gesture. At first the rich people kinda put up with him and his friends as novelties, kinda like a carnival sideshow that just happens to be in their living room. But then Hess turns into Krug from LHOTL.

  17. Hmm, or the HOSTEL movies… the idea that rich people can buy backpackers to torture is a pretty overt comment on class…

  18. I think we’re getting a little off-topic. There are plenty of horror movies that play off of the class struggle. Many slasher flicks are about urban or suburban (i.e., upper middle class) folks going out to the country and pissing off the locals (i.e., the poor). But what about horror movies that are just about blue-collar people? The victims and the killer are both blue collar and nobody even thinks it worthy of mention. It’s just the milieu the movie happens to take place in. I think those are pretty rare. MY BLOODY VALENTINE sticks out for that reason. People in horror movies tend to have houses big enough to conduct cat-and-mouse chases in and enough money to go on vacation and rent cabins out in the woods whenever they feel like it. If the movies do show working-class folks, they’re usually painted as grotesque trailer trash who exist just to get killed in the second act.

    I was rewatching SCREAM recently and it occurred to me that the number one rule of surviving a horror film might just be “Don’t have enough money for your life to look attractive onscreen.” Everybody in that movie had a beautiful home with an amazing view, and none of the teenagers had jobs. If I’d have been in that movie, I’d probably have survived because none of those rich brats would have invited the poor kid in the secondhand clothes who worked at Kenny Rogers’ Roasters to that ill-fated party in the first place.

  19. Stu: You need a Catholic to fight the devil. A priest is like a religious ninja. A reverend is just a yellow belt. His kung-fu isn’t strong enough.

  20. Sorry, to clarify: might SOCIETY be construed as an upper-class horror film?

  21. What about ALIEN? I’ve also seen a number of very low budget horror films (slasher films, zombie films) with working class protagonists, primarily because it’s made by working class dudes who cast all their friends and families.

    Anyway, it’s not really unique to horror. Few movies feature working class protagonists at all, unless it as part of some overarching theme about class or race. As a kid, growing up outside the US while watching a lot of Hollywood movies, I assumed that pretty much everyone in America lived in huge 2-story houses in idyllic suburban neighbourhoods.

  22. Can’t believe no one else has mentioned American Psycho in this discussion of class based horror labeling.

  23. I guess we’ve got to add People Under the Stairs in there too. I’m pretty sure Everett McGill was supposed to represent “The Man”. It’s been forever since I’ve seen it so forgive me for beinig unable to cite specific examples. I do remember the end being extremely heavy-handed.

  24. You would probably want to add DEMON SEED to the list of upper class horrors, given that it’s basically about a non-working woman trapped in her fancy schmancy house where no one misses her because she has no job to show up to.

    Also I’m wondering if you meant DON’T LOOK NOW rather than DONT LOOK BACK, although if you didn’t I would have to agree that Bob Dylan’s fans are almost entirely upper-class and his music is indeed somewhat horrific.

  25. I keep thinking of JAWS as a good example of class issues coming into play in horror: you’ve got the higher-income sharkologist (Matt) and the position-of-prominence-but-still-has-to-bust-his-hump-for-a-living town sheriff (Brody) teaming up with the subsistence fisherman (Quint) to go tackle a monster that’s mainly threatening the income level of the little tourist town (okay, and some peoples’ lives, sure). The middle class + the working class sent out to do the upper class’s dirty work, and who suffers the most? That’s right, it’s the poor man who gets bitten in half. Fuck the Man. Especially if he looks like Murray Hamilton.

    Maybe one of the reasons I like zombie films so much is that they tend to have characters who have or had real, discernible jobs at some point in their lives. The TV news duo in DAWN OF THE DEAD (original), Jim the bike messenger in 28 DAYS LATER, hell, Ash the S-Mart employee in ARMY OF DARKNESS…these characters all have a little bit of flavor because they have some work in their backgrounds. It beats the shit out of “teenagers” as your protagonists, who require no pasts or interests in order to be made the center of attention, and so subsequently become blank and uninteresting (I’m generalizing; there are exceptions, but there are tons more “camp counselors” or “students” that are walking, talking missed opportunities).

    Finally, Vern, I should say that when you mentioned DON’T LOOK BACK in the list above, I seriously was spending about five minutes wondering how the Bob Dylan documentary DONT LOOK BACK was being classified as a horror film. Horrifying for everyone around him, I suppose.

  26. how about Rosemary’s Baby? it’s the story of a middle-class (i think? it’s been awhile…) couple’s descent into an either literal or symbolic hell, depending on how you decide to interpret the movie, by becoming subsumed into the old, rich, satanist, upper-class culture of their parents’ generation.

    i guess that makes it “yuppie horror,” not “working-class horror,” but it’s got to be the first yuppie horror movie ever made… i’m having trouble thinking of another one, in fact. does Beetlejuice count?

  27. I think Vern must have meant “Don’t Look Now,” although “Don’t Look Back” does explore the horrors of consumerism I suppose; hell, Pennebaker loved the money counting/artist performance juxtaposition so much that he recycled it for his Depeche Mode biopic: “101.”

    If I could throw out some suggestions vis-a-vis horror films that explore class issues, I’d pick “Stir of Echoes” for our side of the pond, and “Raw Meat” (also known as “Death Line”) for the UK. Both are excellent; “Stir of Echoes” one ups “Poltergeist” and presages the mortgage crisis by saying “yes, not only are we haunted, but we’ll have to default on our house loan in order to escape,” while “Raw Meat” pretty much says that class tensions (SPOILER) lead to the descendants of abandoned, buried subway miners to eke out a bleak existence eating porn obsessed commuters when not combating the plague. I’d especially point to the scene in Raw Meat where Donald Pleasance (local flatfoot*) and Christopher Lee (MI-5) have a showdown in the former creepy lecher’s/current victim’s bedroom/ s&m parlor; now that was one hell of a class scene.

    *Or is it Bobby? Any of you Brits want to help a Yank out on this?

  28. Gotta add NIGHT OF THE HUNTER to the mainly-working-class horror list. Two poor farmer’s kids being hunted by an ex-con for money they have hidden pretty much hits all the nails on the head.

  29. Rabid Grannies would be a good one to mention.

    Two Grandmas who turn into demons and kill off their yuppie family members. It’s been a while since I saw it but I seem to remember the grandmas being unimpressed by some members of their family seeing them as vultures waiting for them to keel over so they can get their money. Of course their greed eventually gets them killed when the grandmas turn into demons and shit goes BANANAS!

    Moral of the story – Love your Grandma because she’s a sweet old lady, not so you can be in her will otherwise she’ll kill you immediately after she makes you commit blasphemy to be sure you go straight to hell.

  30. I’d put The Omen in the upper-class horror section. Raising the antichrist isn’t cheap.

  31. I’m just happy for any horror film that has adults as protagonists instead of dipshit teenagers. I didn’t like that even when I was a dipshit teenager.

  32. Brian Yuzna’s SOCIETY is 100% about class, it even spells it out: One of the villains say, “The upper classes have always sucked out the lower classes” or something along that line.

    The protagonist is uncomfortable with his upper-class family, he feels like an orphan who’s living as a pet among alien, artificial people with depraved lifestyles. And it turns out he’s right — he’s an orphan, and the rich really are aliens.

  33. Frederick Jameson’s famous essay on THE SHINING proposes that the film is primarily about Jack’s aspiration to leave his working class roots and become a leisure class individual. The essay is a good read.

    Also, for my money the best nose-slice is in CHINATOWN.

    Stu: The dude in LAST EXORCISM isn’t a Catholic priest. He’s more of the denomination of Barnum & Bailey.

  34. Jareth: That’s definitely there, but I’ve always felt that film version of THE SHINING was about a guy who’s sick of his nagging wife and annoying kid and just wants to be left alone with his thoughts, even when all they amount to is “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” Where Stephen King saw it as a tragedy about a guy who loses the battle against his inner demons with the help of some supernatural chicanery, Kubrick saw it as a black comedy about how much marriage sucks and made Jack the subversive hero of all hen-pecked men who just want a little fucking peace and quiet for a change. Otherwise why cast Jack Nicholson in full-on hilarious asshole mode and pit him against Shelly Duvall, arguably the most annoying actress of her era, if he didn’t want our sympathies to lie with the husband? Imagine if he’d cast Goldie Hawn instead. Not only was she closer physically to the character as described in the book, but we’d be horrified to see America’s sweetheart menaced by a guy with an ax. Instead, Kubrick wanted the audience to be like, “Oh, just kill the bitch already.” I think this is what King took objection to. He clearly put a lot of himself into the character of Jack, and to see himself portrayed as a cartoon of egocentric male rage must have been upsetting. Of course, it’s his own damn fault. Rereading the book recently, I found that I preferred Kubrick’s interpretation of the text more than King’s. Jack was not a basically good man with some character flaws. He was a petty, spiteful, patronizing, self-pitying bully who never took responsibility for his actions and only ever behaved honorably out of some self-aggrandizing internal narrative that cast him as a tragic hero. King too closely identified with the character and thus assumed that we would feel sympathy for him. Kubrick knew a monster when he saw one, though, and gave us an anti-hero who could live out our very worst impulses.

  35. Majestyk – Is that what Pope King intended?

  36. Majestyk: In Kubrick’s film, it seems clear to me that the world represented by Lloydthe bartender is a fantasy that Jack aspires to – he almost starts strutting when he enters the bar – which seems to me more active than the idea that he wants to be “left alone with his thoughts.”

    Also, do you feel that the idea of Jack being a sympathetic figure is undermined by his relationship with Lloyd? Lloyd, you will remember, makes explicit racist, misogynistic and classist pronouncements. (Admittedly, Jack’s relationship with Lloyd and the washroom attendant is probably best described as “uneasy”).

    I also think that the tabeleaux we see of the guy in the dog suit giving a blow job, as well as the
    river of blood, is supposed to suggest that Jack’s fantasy isn’t especially healthy.

  37. Funny, I always thought THE SHINING was a thinly-disguised metaphor for colonialist genocide seen through the metaphor of a self-pitying bully who blames everyone else for his problems and is only too eager to turn murderous when the blandly menacing authority figures give him an easy target.

    I don’t remember if they mention Indian Burial Grounds in the book, but there are Amerindians in almost every frame. The fact that Kubrick makes explicit Jack’s connection to the past neatly summerizes how connected he is to the bloody history of American opulance.

  38. Jareth: I definitely think all the stuff with Danny is supposed to make us feel pretty gross about how much on Jack’s side we are, if only because of the unbreakable rule of cinematic sympathy: the more entertaining character is the one we root for. I’m not saying at all that Kubrick thought this fantasy of Jack’s where he’s this creative genius bound to earth by the petty concerns of wife and child and the responsibilities of the White Man’s Burden was a healthy one. But he let it run it course, unlike King, who chickened out and made it clear at the end that Jack had been bodily possessed by the spirit of the Overlook and thus wasn’t the one running around trying to murder his family. Kubrick didn’t let the character off that easy and made him responsible for his actions right up to the end.

  39. My impression of Jack’s character has always been closer to Mr. Subtlety’s idea of the “self-pitying bully,” but then I actually like Duvall a lot and can’t off the top of my head think of a better performance of the antagonized-female character in a horror/ghost film. The way she swings that bat at Jack, and the way she drags him into the meat locker, communicate volumes of wonderful conflicting emotions.

    But I can totally get behind the idea that Nicholson’s performance is something to behold, and that the audience is kind of swayed by sheer force of what they see on the screen. I guess to the audience members who see Jack as the put-upon hero of the film, that scene with the naked ghost must be a bit of a bummer.

    Anecdotally, I heard that many of the takes of Jack that we see in the finished film were shot as outrageous exaggerations that Kubrick persuaded Nicholson to perform after more subtle takes were in the can. Nicholson expressed surprise that Kubrick actually used these takes in the finished film. I might be remembering this story a bit wrong.

  40. all I know is, THE SHINING was a great fucking film.

  41. Words of wisdom, RRA, words of wisdom.

  42. Kubrick tends to be so unsympathetic to his characters its sometimes hard to know who we’re supposed to be identifying with, if, indeed, it’s anyone. But the script writes Duvall’s character quite sympathetically, methinks — since Kubrick co-wrote it, I have a hard time buying the idea that we’re supposed to be annoyed by her and want Jack to finish her off. They avoid having her make bad decisions and even let her get the upper hand for awhile; even though its obviously an emotionally wrenching experience, I’d say its hard not to feel like she does the best she can with a completely crazy situation, and if she spends most of the movie in various states of sobbing horror its sort of hard to blame her.

    On the other hand, there’s no denying that Kubrick had to know that Jack’s the character we want to watch — but I don’t know that he expected us to exactly side with him. More like he’s the one who’s undergoing the dramatic arc, and we’re interested in his story and his character even if we don’t really like him.

    Of course, Scatman Crother’s O’Halloran is easily the most likeable, charismatic character in the film, and Kubrick takes great pains to make him the source of safety and understanding (in one of the most devestating bait-and-switches in film history). He, not Jack’s wife, is supposed to be the hero, and that leaves her with the victim role. I think had Duvall’s character been played as too strong and charismatic, it would have a) make it hard to understand what she’s doing with a total fucking asshole like Jack and b) make the power balance between the two less interesting. She’s so mousy and obviously a little afraid of Jack from the beginning that its never really a fair fight and we are counting on O’Halloran to come in and save the day. That’s my take.

    Jareth — I’d heard that anecdote about using the most exaggerated takes told by George C Scott regarding DR. STRANGELOVE. Maybe Kubrick reused this technique on Nicholson.

    Btw, a good exploration of the SHINING-is-really-about-Amerindians theory is to be found here … http://www.drummerman.net/shining/essays.html

  43. Mr. Subtlety – I believe Kubrick follows Jack because he’s the most interesting and compelling character. Not because we’re supposed to side with him or root for him. Hell he’s an asshole really, self-righteously not taking any responsibility for slapping his own kid around, drunk or not.

    Then again I’m forever amazed with how many people I see who intentionally or not still maintain the cardinal theology that protagonists must be sympathetic and likeable. Which makes me wonder how GODFATHER 2 is pretty damn popular then. ;)

    Anyway, I always saw SHINING honestly besides horror and gothic and all that, its a tragedy. The total destruction, or perhaps more self-annihilation, of the American nuclear family. He may have gotten goaded by the ghosts, but fuck Jack did it. Ghosts don’t kill people, people do.

  44. The original Paul

    October 21st, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    I think Mr Question wins the “Working Class Horror” section of the thread for “Night of the Hunter”. Although that one is more overtly about religious struggle than class struggle, there’s definitely that element in it.

  45. I’m not sure I buy that we are supposed to root for Jack. He’s an indifferent ass to his family. Of course, Wendy is a shrieky mouse that gets really old REALLY quickly and the kid’s a pain in the ass. It’s almost like Kubrick is pulling that Alan Moore stunt and deliberatly stripping away anything that resembles sympathetic qualities and redeeming features. Everyone deserves the very worst. The thing of it is, that actually works GREAT for the Shining. The movie’s an indisputable classic. But it makes sense for King to be pissed off about it, I mean there’s so much of him on the page that, obviously it must have been frustrating watching Kubrick strip all of that away.

    MAJESTYK: I wouldn’t call it ‘chickening out.’ The book makes very clear that the Overlook is attacking Jack through his vices and weaknesses, and if he was a stronger person it’s possible they could have made it out. He has a brief moment of clarity sure, but he is ultimately responsible for much of the devastation. King’s proven himself as a humanist enough over the years that I don’t think he could ever bring himself to write a story where the villians were all victims who are given no chance whatsoever. There’s always an element of choice in the movement towards darkness.

    Can you even say the movie follows Jack? There’s three characters on screen for 90% of the runtime and the perspective is distributed faily even across the three of them. Jack goes crazy, Danny sees ghosts and Wendy freaks out unable to understand what’s going on. I think ultimately the audience decides who their sympathies lie with and who the movie is about, same way people can argue forever about whether the film is about colonialism or the Holocaust or whatever other theories people dream up.

  46. I think I’m taking a lot of my cues for my interpretation of Kubrick’s intent from the way he directed his actors. Look at the excellent behind-the-scenes footage on the DVD and you’ll see him berating Shelly Duvall into a state of exhaustion to get her to be more pathetic, more shrill, more annoying, while basically encouraging Jack to go bigger, bolder, and more awesome. You can’t tell me he was on her side. He cast her for a reason: so audiences would be as sick of the sound of that character’s voice as Jack was.

    But remember, I said I considered the movie a black comedy. Do I think Kubrick actually condoned the slaughter of one’s wife and child as a means to achieving self-actualization? No. But don’t tell me that some part of him, a noted cold-fish misanthrope and cerebral perfectionist, didn’t wish that he could make the whole world go away so he could spend eternity in a mansion of his own thoughts, which is really what the Overlook represents to Jack. And what person of artistic temperament hasn’t wished the same thing once or twice? It’s not right, it’s not moral, but it’s true. That’s why I consider the movie subversive in its depiction of inhuman selfishness over family values.

  47. King always summed it up by saying “Kubrick’s movie ends in ice. Our’s ends in fire.” And that’s a really good way of putting it. Kubrick’s approach to the movie is detached and emotionless. Almost like a God’s eye view of the situation. Garris’ movie makes you more involved with the characters. But what makes Kubrick’s approach superior to the remake (and the novel frankly) is the cold, aloof manner in which it’s filmed. If he had filled in every blessed detail and made Jack a wholly sympathetic character, I don’t think we’d still be talking about it thirty years later. Kubrick allows us to project our own feelings into Jack’s motivations (both before and after he goes nuts), which opens it up to interpretation. My own personal take is that the Overlook is isolated and cold
    and it is drawn to consume others that are isolated and cold. Just like Jack. Kubrick’s treatment of the material is also isolated and cold, which is a perfect fit for the film. The reason Danny survives is because of his psychic connection to Mr. Hallorann. He has
    a lifeline outside of the hotel. Whereas Jack’s mental energy is projected inwards, Danny’s thoughts can escape the hotel’s grasp, which gives him (and his mom) a fighting chance to survive. That’s just one interpretation. There are several others, which is what makes the movie great. You can watch it over and over again and come away with something different every time.

    Oh, and The Sentinel is kinda dull but that end makes up for it.

  48. You know, all this talk about Jack has really got me thinking of O’Halloran, and how much Kubrick likes him. He’s sort of the perfect man — this strong, warm, wise, empathetic, gentle, charismatic character (and just in case you think he’s a sissy cuz he’s nice to kids, check out his bedroom — he’s all man). Kubrick cast jazz musician and general charmer Crothers for a reason. He’s basically everything Jack isn’t. Also notably the only non-white character anywhere in sight, and a working-class character juxtaposed against the hotel’s lavishness. What do we make of that? Is it just to make him a more credible source of salvation, or is there more going on given the ridiculous effort Kubrick puts into making him seem like the perfect man?

  49. So it would hurt more when he got killed without accomplishing a single thing.

  50. Mr. M – Because he didn’t deserve to die? I know slasher movies have conditioned us to certain people expected to die (potheads, whores, etc.) so maybe this is an idea lost here and there around this joint sometimes. Just wondering.

    We must remember SHINING the book, its King writing basically about himself in his alcoholic days, and I think that he took it personal when Kubrick made it his thing and removed the whole redemption element. That’s always been my armchair theory on that ordeal.

    As for the endless adaptation debate between fans of movie and book, let me ask you all this: Which movie version will be remembered 20 years from now? Kubrick’s or the TV mini-series?

    My gut is thining Kubrick will triumph here. Just a hunch.

    FUN FACT: Apparently both versions are looped endlessly on a channel at the Stanley Hotel, which was King’s inspiration.

  51. I don’t know about the second version of The Shining but I know first hand that they loop Kubrick’s The Shining and Dumb and Dumber.

    My brother got married up there in Estes Park and those were the only two movies we watched there because those were the only two movies playing which isn’t a bad thing. They may be playing The Shining remake now but it wasn’t playing when I was there.

  52. For anyone who cares:

    http://www.drummerman.net/shining/essays.html

    http://mstrmnd.com/log/802

    I love THE SHINING, but I still can’t figure out why Kubrick pushed Nicholson into being so OTT from the get-go. This is not a sane man going crazy; it’s a crazy man fulfilling his destiny. Maybe that’s the point.

    Funny how we somehow wind up talking about Kubrick. Poor Michael Winner.

  53. King talks about the ‘economic horror’ thing in his book Danse Macabre…

  54. I honestly do not know how anyone could think about the things you all are writing about in the case of the shining, after reading the book or seeing the film. To me, prime feeling, or rather instinct, was “RUN!!”. I was sooooo scared, especially because I was 13 I think when I read it, and I couldn’t escape the fear when I managed to dare to see the film almost 10 years later. But, come to think of it, it was a good scare though.

    on topic of class-denominated horrors: how about The Tenant (if that is a horror movie at all) – it is very specific about the social ranking of its characters. It’s like a meticulous study that is found in everything, the interiors, the clothes, places characters go to, how they speak, etc. it is almost like that Indian theatre thing, where each color or move or facial expression means a specific thing, so you have a lot of meta-material to read from.

  55. Robinzon, of course our primal reaction to The Shining is “Run!” (as you put it), but you tend to notice little touches and subtexts with repeated viewings, which is what makes revisiting the film so much fun. You can pick up on stuff (whether it was intentional or otherwise) and make your own judgements and assessments. For example, I don’t think the filmmakers intended Top Gun to be a statement on homosexuality, but one night Tarantino got drunk, watched the movie and figured it out and told the world about it in Sleep with Me. Now it’s commonly accepted as a gay statement.

  56. um, maybe, if I just dared to see the film again, maybe I would see other then purple rivers of horror. but I still can’t, I admit it.

  57. Vern, if you want to watch an horro mvoie about social class, then whatch SOCIETY, if you haven’t already. If you don’t like rich, previledged people born into money (or nouveu riche for that matter), that movie will be a treat for you.

  58. frankbooth: It’s true that we often end up talking about Kubrick. We also often end up talking about horse fucking. I blame Mr. Subtlety.

  59. I’ll take undeserved credit for Kubrick, but I am on record opposing frivolous discussion of horse-fucking.

  60. I only approve of gratuitous horse-fucking when it’s necessary to the plot.

  61. Depends on who the horse is fucking.

  62. The Shining is one of those fascinating movies that has enough arch-ly loaded symbol-ogy embedded into the visuals that you can read all sorts of wacky things into it (see also, Eyes Wide Shut), this is my personal favourite read of THE SHINING, as a ‘clandestine confession that Kubrick filmed scenes of the Fake Moon Landing and wanted to cover his ass.’ – The very idea that anyone would think this, let alone defend it in 2500 words is marvelous.

    Onward to Obsessive-Compulsive-Hilarity: http://www.jayweidner.com/ShiningSecrets.html

  63. Kurt — thats awesome. The great thing is, the guy doesn’t seem like a total loon until midway through page 2. I went in expecting to laugh, but he makes some arguably valid points about the hotel representing the American Empire, and the “deal” that Jack makes with it. And the guy actually called the hotel to ask if they had a room 237! Thats some real journalistic zeal, right there!

    And then he argues that Jack is supposed to be Kubrick because they have the same hair color (do they? Kubrick looks like he has black hair, to me) and Jack appears dissheveled (just like Kubrick does! In some pictures!). And that the only explanation for Kubrick to feel victimized by America is if he faked the moon landing and the feds were leaning on him for it, and that obviously Kubrick spilled the beans to someone (Halloran) and feels guilty because the feds offed him. It’s the classic Glen Beck approach — offer some genuine facts, and then tie wild assertions to them as though it adds up to a complete arguement. Bless you, internet!

  64. Wait, what’s this I hear about Kubrick fucking horses on the moon? I only cursorily scan the things I read but I still feel confident in browbeating people with my ill-informed opinions at parties.

  65. No no, he faked the who equine molestation moon thing for the CIA, and then hid a series of elaborate and seemingly inconsequential clues to the truth in his films. John Rhys-Davis stars in THE KUBRICK CODE.

  66. Mr. Hands was an inside job.

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