Disclaimer: The Midnite Drive-In is not responsible for nightmares, insomnia or fear of going to sleep as a result of reading this post. Read at your own risk.
Entry #1 in the 3 part series of "My Favorite Horror Movies"
Stephen King is a master at horror. My first introduction to King was as a high school junior. A friend of mine described several stories in a book called "Night Shift". I borrowed the book and was entranced by the stories, and immediately sought out more by this fascinating author. I had been introduced just in time, because not long after that, the TV adaptation of "'Salem's Lot" came on TV. I had to be relegated to the bedroom and watch it on my tiny black and white TV because the rest of the family had no interest in it.
I read everything that King put out over the next 20 years or so. I admit I've grown lax on his more recent stuff, but I still recall being fascinated by "The Stand" (which I am ashamed to admit I didn't get around to reading until I had a job as a night watchman in 1984). From 1980 (after I turned 18 and could watch any damn movie I wanted to without permission), I went religiously to the theater to watch every film adaptation of a Stephen King work. Some were decent (from my point of view, not necessarily from the author's...). I loved Silver Bullet and Maximum Overdrive (and I'm in a minority for both of those...). And I am a huge John Carpenter fan, so I liked Christine. The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me, although not horror movies, are two that can also be included in the list of favorite King adaptations. (The only reason Carrie is not included is this list only includes movies I got to see when they first came out...after "1980", y'see?. Carrie came out in 1976, well before my attaining the age of deciding my movie watching schedule on my own.)
Some were only passable. And some were just downright terrible. I'll always be disappointed that the great George C. Scott had to add to his resume that stinker Firestarter. And just what the hell did the movie The Lawnmower Man have to do with the Stephen King story? With the exceptions of 'Salem's Lot and The Stand, most of the TV movies of King's works have been crap, too, But It is watchable. Mostly....
Here we present two Stephen King films, both of which are in my top 10 favorite horror movies. (see the final installment of this series on Halloween night for a complete list of the top 10.)
The Shining (1980)
The Shining is possibly the worst King adaptation, according to the master himself, anyway. It's on record that he disapproved of Kubrick's vision. And in King's defense, there are quite a lot of differences between the book and the movie. Even today, many King aficionados think it's less than the best of King's movie adaptations. But if you can watch it, as I did, without having read the book first, it is a great horror movie.
A decent into madness. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) are taken on as caretakers of a huge resort hotel in the mountains of Colorado while it is closed for the winter. The reason the hotel closes, despite the fact that the tourist skiing season would be in full bloom, is given that the winters are so harsh in the area that access to the hotel becomes entirely unprofitable. So Jack is essentially there to keep the building from falling into disrepair over the winter.
|The whole gang|
This movie benefits immensely from the music, more than any movie I've ever seen. From the beginning, Wendy Carlos' haunting thump as Jack drives to his interview at the Overlook takes over your feelings. Even if you didn't know you were about to watch a horror movie, the opening sequences can instill a sense of foreboding and dread.
Jack's son, Danny, is an enigma. He is a loner as a child, and apparently does not make friends easily. I can see Danny as a recluse, as an adult, living alone, unmarried, and avoiding any extracurricular activities besides his job. (King wrote a sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, which takes on Danny as an adult. Since I haven't gotten around to reading it yet, this postulation on Danny's future is purely from my mind, only.)
Danny has a talent, a mental precognition, an ability to see things that aren't there yet. He also has an "imaginary" friend, Tony, whom he claims lives in his, Danny's, mouth. Tony is the source of Dann's precognitive abilities, and warns Danny that danger lies ahead in the Overlook. Both Jack and Wendy treat Danny like a precocious child, but don't take his "imaginary" friend seriously. At the last day of the Overlook's operation, Danny meets Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers), who recognizes Danny's ability, as he, too, has such a talent, although he recognizes Danny's as being much more powerful.
As time progresses over the winter at the Overlook, things gradually become more isolated. This is intensified by the fact that the Overlook is haunted. Jack, a recovering alcoholic, begins to see them, especially the bartender, Lloyd (Joe Turkel), and Delbert Grady (Phillip Stone), a former caretaker who, a few years previously, went crazy and killed his daughters, wife, and then himself.
|Lloyd the bartender|
Danny also sees ghosts, that of the two daughters, twins (Lisa and Louise Burns), who try to get him to play with them. Enhanced by the music of Carlos, I'm sure, the appearance of the girls is one of the scariest scenes in the movie. No, not the bloody corpses that appear, just the presence of the two girls alive, who look pretty creepy anyway.
|The Grady girls|
Jack, as time progresses, becomes more abusive towards Wendy, telling her to leave him alone when he his writing (did I mention he was an aspiring writer? I think, at times, although not always, that Jack is a substitute for King himself, who quit drinking and drugs about the time of writing the novel). The isolation is increased by the winter storm, which takes out the phones, and makes the roads virtually impassable. At least for a time, the Torrances still have the shortwave radio, but as Jack descends into his madness he manages to disable that piece of equipment.
The final scenes, with Jack having gone fully mad and chasing Wendy and Danny with an axe are part of the legendary memorable scenes of the movie. Most people have probably seen at least a still frame, if not a clip, of Jack sticking his face through an opening in a door he has just chopped through and maniacally saying "Here's Johnny!"
Kubrick's goal, according to him, was to create the absolute paragon of scary horror movies. It is up to you to decide if he succeeded. Personally, I don't think so (The Exorcist scares me more). But it is still a great movie and of my favorites in the horror genre.
Note: It is virtually impossible to do a review of this movie without revealing a lot of spoilers. If you prefer to watch the movie first, come back some other time to continue.
The whole essence of this film lies in it's brackets. The movie is bracketed by scenes in which a father (played by John Carpenter and George A, Romero stalwart actor favorite, Tom Atkins) berates his son (played by King's own son, Joe) for reading what he considers a trashy horror comic called Creepshow. The father throws the comic away, leaving the boy, called Billy, to mutter to himself wishing death to his father.
The movie contains five creepy stories, all supposedly in the trashed issue of Creepshow. Each story is prefaced by a cartoon sequence showing the issue of the comic book blowing in the wind, accompanied by the frequent appearance of our esteemed escort through this nightmare, a character referred to in the story as The Creep. The Creep appears very briefly at the beginning as a live-action character, but thereafter is only shown in cartoon form in the segueing sequences.
The first story is titled Father's Day. At the outset we see a family consisting of a snooty quartet of an apparently spoiled rich family. Present are the progeny of Nathan Grantham ( played in flashbacks by Jon Lormer); his granddaughter, Sylvia (Carrie Nye), his great-grandson, Richard (Warner Shook), his great-granddaughter, Cass (Elizabeth Regan) and her husband, Hank (Ed Harris). They are awaiting the arrival of Aunt Bedelia (Viveca Lindfors), the matriarch and daughter of the dead patriarch.
(Can you believe I can't find one lousy picture of brother Richard...?)
Aunt Bedelia it seems has a tradition of being punctual, but always stops off at the grave of Daddy Grantham to pay her respects.
Meanwhile, we are treated to the family rumor, back at the mansion, that it was dotty old Aunt Bedelia who in a fit of rage killed her father. The irascible old coot just wanted his father's day cake. But he was being a horse's patootie about it, so she conked him on the head with an ashtray. So the family rumor goes.
|Old Nathan himself|
Back at the grave site, Bedelia is in for a surprise. Daddy Grantham won't rest until he gets his cake.
|Nathan still wants his cake|
The second story is called The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill. Stephen King himself plays country hick Jordy Verrill, who finds a meteor that crashes in his farm's back yard. Stupidly, he touches it, burns his fingers, and gets a bucket of water to cool it off, which causes the meteor to crack open in two pieces. Thus ruining his dream of selling the meteor for a buttload of money. But in the process he gets "meteor s**t" on him. This stuff makes having a green thumb turn from a pipe dream into a nightmare. He is eventually overwhelmed by green stuff growing on him.
|Jordy Verrill, green, but not with envy...|
The third story is tale of a man cuckolded by his wife, who gets his own brand of revenge on her and her lover. Leslie Nielsen, in a rare dramatic role (in his later career it was "rare"...), plays Richard, a man who is used to having things go his way and who is not about to let a young playboy like Harry (Ted Danson) take his wife away from him.
|Playboy Harry and ruthless Richard|
He takes Harry down to the beach where Harry is forced to bury himself up to the neck in a hole on the beach. Harry is then shown by remote where Becky (Gaylen Ross), his lover and Richard's wife, is also buried up to the neck on the beach, and where the tide is coming in.
Satisfied with getting his revenge, Richard goes back to his well fortified beach house. But Harry and Becky want to show him a special plot of land they have rerserved for him on the beach.
|Real estate entrepreneurs.|
The fourth story in this quintet of tales, The Crate, is by far the best, not the least because it features Adrienne Barbeau, albeit as the most despicable harridan you ever laid eyes on. Barbeau plays Wilma (just call her "Billie"), the wife of Henry Northup (Hal Holbrook), a professor at a university. She is an annoyance a a pain in the ass to everybody, and you can see the disgust Harry has, as well as the embarrassment she causes him.
|Henry and "Billie"|
Henry's best friend (and colleague), Dex Stanley (Fritz Weaver), gets called away from a party they are all attending because the janitor at the university found a previously undiscovered crate beneath the stairwell. It is dated as an exhibition find from 1837. What is in the crate is not your usual specimen, especially considering it has been under the stairwell for almost 150 years. Don't ask why no one had discovered it before, it will ruin the surprise...)
|Denizen of "The Crate"|
Anyway, there is a unique surprise in the crate, one that creates a job opening for "janitor" at the university, and also frees up a scholarship for another grad student. Stanley runs to Henry's house in terror and explains the situation. Henry realizes that he has a way to create a new opening himself, that of a second wife...
The final story, titled They're Creeping Up on You, features a cast of thousands (millions?), with a guest starring role for E. G. Marshall as Upton Pratt, a germophobic and entomophobic recluse, rich enough to have his own penthouse apartment, which he berates his employees for not being able to keep completely bug free. I highly suggest you make sure you have your can of Raid handy when you watch this sequence...Nuff said.
Time to shut the gates on the theater. Keep sharp lookout for ghoulies and goblins on the way home.
Tune back in Tuesday , Oct. 25th, for the second installment of this celebration of horror.