Abattoir Blues #4 – Watching The Shining at 100 BPM
For Hallowe’en, I went along to a special screening at the Mayfair Curzon put on by internet retail giants Rakuten’s Play.com, because, as Gore Vidal didn’t quite say, “Never miss a chance to have sex or participate in a PR stunt involving hospital equipment.”
The pitch – to sit us in front of The Scariest Movie of All Time (with numbers two and three having already been screened) with heart-rate monitors on our fingers in an attempt to find the Scariest Scene of All Time, presumably so drunk Eli Roth can upset James Wan when he collects his MTV Movie Award for The Conjuring.
Here’s what I learned from the experience.
Sometimes you CAN Trust the General Public
We know not to trust the public. Trusting the public gets ‘You’re Beautiful’ voted into Virgin Radio’s (are they even a thing any more?) Top Ten Songs of All Time. The general public FREED BARABBAS. The general public voted in the Gracchi brothers, who kicked off the collapse of Roman democracy and got hundreds of people bludgeoned to death. And then someone got molten lead poured down their throat. NEVER TRUST THE PUBLIC.
But Rakuten’s Play.com (sorry, going to have to keep that up) decided to flagrantly disregard these written-after-the-fact facts, and took to their Facebook page to ask their fans to fight it out over The Scariest Movies of all Time. And, somehow, they didn’t do a bad job at all. The results, in descending order of scariness, were:
1 – The Shining (1980) [My joint favourite horror movie]
2 – The Exorcist (1973) [My OTHER favourite horror movie]
3 – A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) [Fair]
4 – Ring (aka Ringu) (1998) [Fair]
5 – Alien (1979) [Fair]
6 – The Silence of the Lambs (1990) [Fair]
7 – Poltergeist (1982) [Alright, junior]
8 – Insidious (2010) [Careful now]
9 – Halloween (1978) [Fair]
10 – Saw (2004) [Woah there]
That said, screw the general public, because this was near enough my twentieth viewing of The Shining, and my second in a fortnight. More on that later.
The Shining is Scary the Whole Way Through
I can’t remember ever not being aware of The Shining. It was in the list of films that my mum liked to talk about because they scared her, along with Dead Calm, Hallowe’en and Midnight Express, which was mostly just scared her out of smuggling hash out of Turkey. I also remember kids at school going on about how THEY watched it and THEY didn’t get scared, but one of them was just arrested for throwing money at a policeman, so I reckon they may’ve been full of it.
The first time I saw The Shining, it came on the telly around 11. I was just about to go to bed, but when Mum and I saw it coming up in the listings we decided that it was IMPORTANT for 14 year old me to see it. Only trouble is, the sound was up way too high, and we were too scared to get close enough to the TV to turn the sound down. That’s the thing about The Shining. It’s always at least a little bit scary, thanks to the near omnipresent score, Jack Nicholson’s Kubrick-as-balls performance and the fact that everything is very very slightly wrong. I had to be peeled off the sofa by the time Jack Torrance showed up in that picture.
This is reflected in the results from Rakuten’s Play.com’s (sorry) experiment. While Nightmare on Elm Street produced the highest overall heart rate elevation of the top 3, mainly on the strength of Robert Englund leaping about and going “Wargh!” many, many times, The Shining was a long straight line with a handful of pimples, allegedly at the level of “light exercise”.
I’m Quite Weird Though
Thoughts I had while waiting for the film to start:
“I can’t believe I thought Suspiria would win this”
“Will the girl sitting next to me, who’s clearly sexting someone, skew the results?”
“Seeing as I saw the extended cut of The Shining AND Room 237 in a double bill exactly two weeks ago, is this even going to scare me?”
As it turns out, the answer is… yes. Just about. But the bits of The Shining that scare me the most aren’t the bits that scare everyone else. Check out this rad infographic:
“Here’s Johnny!”? Word? Aren’t we all, as a collective hive mind, pretty much deadened to that bit now? I’ll give you “Redrum”, bolstered as it is by an agonizing build and brutal soundtrack jabs and crash zooms, and, as mentioned above, the moments preceding “Come and Play” still grip my throat and firmly squeeze. But the bits that get me range from weird to “you’re overthinking this”.
Such as the bit when we first see Lloyd (and the similar shot of Delbert Grady), his features hidden in plane sight as our view is distorted by the blinding light behind him. He looks like THE DEVIL.
Or the first appearance of those terrifying horns during the slow zoom towards Danny brushing his teeth, followed by the first ‘blood elevator’ flipbook nightmare.
Or, obviously, Room 237. Seriously guys, what doesn’t horrify you about the ENTIRE Room 237 sequence.
Or.. um.. the title cards. Because they’re scary and sudden and loud. “TUESDAY”, ARGH!
But even though people being weird about The Shining is well documented, it turns out that I had wildly overestimated its penetration. Of the people I chatted to in the lobby, only one had actually seen the film before – and only once. So, it’s entirely possible that “Here’s Johnny!” freaked everyone out, purely because they were expecting Homer Simpson screaming “I’m Mike Wallace, I’m Morley Safer, and I’m Ed Bradley. ALL THIS AND ANDY ROONEY TONIGHT ON 60 MINUTES!”
POST SCRIPT: The Extended Edition of The Shining is Bullsh*t
Just quickly, having seen both the Extended and original cut of The Shining within a fortnight of each other, I can confirm that, save for a few wicked tracking shots and weird moments which are all covered, in depth, in Room 237, the Extended Edition is boring boring BORING and contains a shot so hysterically dumb it’s kind of amazing. Voilà.
It is, however, still better than the Stephen King-approved TV version.