A staple of horror is the haunted house. Typically, the haunted house comes in two subtle varieties: spirits within the house torment occupants or the house itself causes whoever enters to be tortured. In the first, spirits haunt the house; in the second, the house itself is the entity. The greatest weakness of this kind of flick is the jump scare, especially when the haunting turns more on ghosts than the house. The strength of it is the variety of madnesses which can be paraded through and/or provoked by the house.
When dealing with the supernatural, I’m less interested in ghosts than I am in the denizens of the afterlife (i.e., angels and demons). But these entities share the animus of being entities intruding upon our world.
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is arguably the best haunted house film ever and, perhaps, the best adaptation of a Stephen King novel. It blends the two varieties of haunting leaving viewers unclear as to which is the true source of horror (the ghosts or the place itself) while reveling in both.
Kubrick frames some brilliant shots in this film and some lovely sequences, but I feel the story is rather uncertain. This is my problem with a good deal of Kubrick. With The Shining it seems as though the story isn’t sure what it wants to be or, rather, where it wants to go eventually turning towards something banal. The madness of Jack Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance, is mitigated by the possibility that as an abuser and alcoholic in withdrawal, he is merely following an inevitable path.
But the psychic abilities of Jack’s son Danny and the Overlook Hotel’s chef Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) make clear this place is either possessed or possessing. I’m of the opinion the hotel itself drives particular occupants to madness and then keeps their spirits imprisoned to torment future occupants. So while we have Jack’s madness and Danny’s visions, caught in-between is wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) occupying the most sensible place in the narrative trying to figure out what’s wrong with her son while mitigating the abuse of her spouse. Honestly, it is Wendy who is the most grounded/grounding character being tormented not by the hotel but by the men in her life. But throw into this a malevolent building filled with aggressive, restless ghosts still enduring the trauma which made them so, and we’ve got a recipe for chaos.
For me, there is more depth to this story than what Kubrick is able to bring out. Specifically, the achingly long and ultimately pointless sequence of Hallorann ‘coming to the rescue’ sours me on this film. However, the glimpses of the past horrors the hotel has gathered are just enticing enough to have the film linger in the mind–pestering, haunting one’s thoughts–making it more than a success.
Vintage performances blending madness with possession.
At the time of its release in 2005, I was one of the few people I knew who really enjoyed Constantine. I remember most of my friends interested in geekery and/or film wrote it off. This is grossly unfair. Constantine is well-plotted and paced with special effects which hold up surprisingly well. Also, Keanu Reeves was able to take an iconic comic book character and make it his own while still embodying its spirit. John Constantine is a deeply British character. But move the story to L.A. and visualize him as Keanu Reeves and he becomes something entirely different. Or could have. Instead, we get simply the American side of the coin and this is pleasing.
Also, unlike many who take the theology of the film far too seriously (most likely because they themselves subscribe to particular fairy tales), I find the Heaven and Hell of Constantine to be entirely adequate and clearly stated. A horror film requires of the audience that it accept the world it presents, to not do so sets a viewer up to quibble and bicker and ultimately be a boor.
Rather than a battle between angels and demons, the film guised as a detective story is about maintaining the status quo. Reeves’ Constantine is literally trying to keep the peace in a rather Nixonian manner–contemptible, amoral, and desperate. Just how Constantine moves away from this towards virtue is what gives this movie its action-hero slant. The horror of the film resides in the existential dilemma embodied by Constantine as well as the mere fact humanity is simply a resource vied for by otherworldly entities. And these entities are portrayed wonderfully; Tilde Swinton’s archangel Gabriel and Peter Stormare’s Satan are brilliant imaginings and performances. The film is not so much scary or frightening as it relies on conflict (action) to generating entertainment, yet in this capacity it succeeds while creating a world far more supernatural than most.
A pleasing action horror film.