Torrents of claret. Ghost girls. “Heeeere’s Johnny.”
The key scares of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 art-horror are such staples of Scary Moments schedule-filler, it’s tempting to think we know the Overlook inside out.
This bang-up reissue says otherwise.
Seen in its rightful place on the big screen, it’s clear to see how hard Kubrick’s Steadicam symphony of sound, space and seductive motion works to unsettle certainty: to make itself unknowable.
Don’t be fooled by source novelist Stephen King’s simple “homey”-horror set-up, where blocked writer and (barely) recovering boozer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) finds that winter with wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and kid Danny (Danny Lloyd) in a haunted, high-altitude hotel isn’t healthy.
Madness ensues but the fact that Kubrick screened David Lynch’s Eraserhead for his crew proves he wasn’t serving up stalk’n’slash gruel.
He was aiming for mind-mashing mystery, blurring place, spooks and psychology in ambiguity.
Unreliable POVs help, from the eye-in-the-sky (whose?) opening to crackers Jack, wired Wendy and odd Danny, with juggling viewpoints that throw our orientation.
But the crux of his design is the construction of the Overlook as a world unto itself, not just in its isolation but in his abstract orchestration of its parts.
Watched in this (25 minutes) longer version on the big screen, the oppressive reds, mounting heart-thump noises and deep corridors all bring a sense of cabin fever: we’re right in it.
Nicholson’s perhaps overbearing big bad wolf-ery almost shatters that air of elevated control, though not without purpose: when he axe-chops door/screen simultaneously, Kubrick strikes with subliminal, metahorror intent.
The cinema becomes the Overlook’s double and the brilliantly teasing final image entangles us further in its enigmas.
As recent docu-essay Room 237 showed, the Overlook’s mysteries aren’t spent. We’ll always go back.
Watch the trailer
Reopened for business, Kubrick’s hotel horror holds surprises around every corner. Back where it should be – the cinema – its artful ambiguities are immersive. Check in.