Most of the scary movies on my list so far have been of the gothic horror variety—small groups trapped in small spaces . . . with a monster of some kind knocking them off, one at a time.
The next film on my list also of that genre. But it’s even more insidious than The Thing, Psycho, Jaws or Alien, because the monster is actually one of the small group of trapped people. From a kid’s perspective, it is at least as scary as Invaders from Mars, where an eight-year-old boy discovers that his parents have become aliens.
In this one, there are only three people trapped together, in the mountains, for an entire winter—one of which is a little boy. The other two are his parents. I’m referring, of course, to the cataclysmic combination of America’s best storyteller and one of America’s best filmmakers of all time: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, adapted from the novel by Stephen King. With the passing of Ray Bradbury, I think it’s safe to say that King is our greatest living teller of tales. And I think Kubrick was the apotheosis of American filmmaking in the second half of the twentieth century.
If you are a movie fan but not familiar with the films of Stanley Kubrick, rent them, download them, or find another way to view them. Just to name a few: Paths of Glory (1957); Lolita (1962); Dr. Strangelove (1964); A Clockwork Orange (1971); The Shining (1980); Full Metal Jacket (1987). Wow.
In The Shining, Kubrick takes a brilliant ghost story by Stephen King and makes it scarier, more personal. We find out early on that Danny Torrence’s father has previously done physical damage to the boy, a combination of frustration and alcohol. And those were the good days for this family. Jack Nicholson’s descent into madness, along with the fact that the Overlook Hotel is haunted, let’s you know fairly early on that this won’t end well. The inevitability of doom is palpable, almost unbearable. King reveals in Doctor Sleep, the new novel that is a sequel to The Shining, that the Overlook is not just haunted; it is a place of evil. Kubrick got that in a heartbeat . . . and lovingly shared it with the viewers from that first overhead tracking shot of the family in its little car driving up to the mountains and away from civilization. You can almost see the sign floating above the hotel’s entrance, “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter.”