Friday, October 11, 2019

"Vote Smart! VOTE S-MART!"

Hey, folks!

The ol' Eee Cee Pee is back...just in time for the next Federal Election on Monday, October the 21'st!

In this short-n'-sweet entry I'm gonna reveal why I'm voting with my head and not my heart...but you might not have to!

This post, in part, is inspired by all of those lovely folks on Bookface who are shitting on Justin Trudeau without ever admitting that Andrew Scheer exists. This is likely because they’re secretly ashamed to publicly admit that they intend to vote for a soulless, Ayn Randian, Objectivist, socially regressive, corporate thimbot who’s entire political career is more U.S. Republican and less PROGRESSIVE Conservative.

For me, every word and deed from Scheer and his ilk just drives home the fact that they're all a bunch of Alliance and Reform scumbags with the serial numbers filed off.

As someone who's actually voted Progressive Conservative in the (distant) past, I can't vote for this current incarnation of the Conservative Party in good conscience because they go against my personal definition of what it means to be Canadian. And as much as Justin Trudeau has screwed up and disappointed me, my memory of Stephen Harper is still waaaaay too fresh in my mind to ever vote for another ethically bankrupt Conservative creep.

This post is also inspired, in part, but all of the sweet, naive, idealistic young people out there who are all like "Fuck the status quo! I'm voting for the Flying Yogic Party!"

Hey, don't laugh, kids! That last one used to exist. In fact, I actually voted for them one year on a lark.

Look, your optimism is all well and good. Trust me, I'd like nothing more than to vote for Elizabeth May's Greens. But, since Justin Trudeau decided to fuck us all by reneging on his campaign promise of election reform, likely out of an instinct for self-preservation, I still can't vote with my heart. But you might be able to.

So, how can I determine this, you ask? Well, just follow these two easy steps:

(1) Follow this link and plug in you postal code to determine your electoral district. For example, I just confirmed that I'm in the Halifax-West riding.

(2) Google the name of your riding, look up the Wikipedia page and scroll all the way down to the "Election Results" header. It's here that you'll see the voter history of your area.

To follow through on my example, my riding has voted Liberal in the past four elections. Great. Unfortunately, the runner up in these same contests has been whatever white-bread Miracle Whip sandwich the Conservative Party has decided to proffer up on my doorstep.

Now, if things had continued to trend like it did back in 2008, when the Liberals were first and the NDP was second, I would merrily vote NDP or Green with a song in my heart. But because the Conservatives are the historic runners-up in my 'hood, I'm gonna hafta vote Liberal in the next election.

Now, I know that's a bitter pill for some of you out there to swallow, but, hey, hate the game, not the player. Honestly, until we get rid of this antiquated "first past the post" bullshit and evolve to a more progressive and fair proportional representation process, there's absolutely nothing you can say or do to convince me to vote otherwise.

I also have a memory that goes back more than four months. I remember back in two-thousand-ought- ought when hordes of crusty, old Conservative a-holes came out in droves to vote for their single option while progressives fractured their votes between the Liberals, NDP and Greens. The result? While the majority of folks voted for a change in government, our screwed-up political system handed Harper's Conservatives the full reigns of power with only 39% of public support.

Sorry, but if I have to limit my options in order to prevent a blatantly-reptilian, Parseltongued choad like Andrew Scheer from becoming our Prime Minister, I'll game this shit outta this crooked system until the flying yogic cows come home.

EPIC: It's time to shift the status quo.


FAIL: Just because we've had something forever, it doesn't mean that it's good.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Obligatory Halloween Post Has Risen From The Grave

Beast Witches to Boo on Halloween!

So, here we are yet again, scare addicts! It's that time of year when I talk about a movie that took a sizable chunk outta my sanity as an impressionable yoot!

In past chapters I've talked about some of the scariest fright flicks ever made, including An American Werewolf in London, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alien, The Return of the Living Dead, The Evil Dead and The Shining.

I'm not sure how old I was when I first saw this year's entry, but I learned of its existence when my parents inexplicably let my buy The Encyclopedia of Horror edited by Richard Davis back in 1981.

At the tender age of 11, I certainly wasn't prepared for the gruesome image I saw on page 139:

A distinct look of revulsion played over my face as I read that the still was from a movie that "showed in macabre detail what happened when zombies overran New York."

I can already hear the hard-core horror hounds out there screaming "What?!? New York?!? It happens in Pennsylvania, you dumb-ass!"

But back then I didn't know any better. I took the writer at face value as he went on to add: "Most of the action takes place in a large supermarket (?) which becomes awash with blood."

I was officially intrigued. As I read through the book I encountered more details on page 149:

"Mr. Romero now has color, and blood is gorier in color. Mr. Romero has never been one to eschew physical grue. Characters have the tops of their heads blown off in graphic closeup. Bolstered by larger budgets, Mr. Romero doesn't always resist the temptation to indulge himself, and is danger of overstatement as far as his moral message is concerned."   

The intensity of the movie was further bolstered by the following lurid image on page 153:

The pic was captioned thusly:

"In the 1970's, horror movies, with their surfeit of blood and special effects, were becoming almost too gruesome and frightening for the average horror fan." 

Yeah, no shit, Rich.

Prior to reading this book and seeing these images, the most graphic violence I'd seen in a film was likely Raiders of the Lost Ark. It would still be a year or so before I'd see "Mr. Romero's" notorious first feature film, a nasty little piece of celluloid which I've already talked about here and here.

In fact, the experience of seeing that particular magnum opus traumatized me so badly that I swore off Romero movies for at least two or three decades. I honestly didn't want to subject my embryonic  wits to any more of this madman's nightmare fuel. But every subsequent horror book I collected talked about this nasty sequel in hushed tones, as if daring me to watch it.

Here's what Tom Hutchinson had to say about it in Horrors: A History of Horror Movies two years later:

"Most of the later part of the action takes place in a huge shopping mall to which the zombies come. 'They gravitate to places that have meant a lot to them when they were living,' says one of the characters in the most overt statement yet about such a consuming and consumed society, although the sight of redneck farmers out on a zombie-shoot is a fairly obvious comment on our sporting lives."

And whereas its predecessor was in black-and-white, this sequel was in color, which meant "the gore was more realistically effective in the way it looked on screen. So heads explode in wincing close-up, because that is still the only way to eradicate the zombie plague, as once again a small group of people flees the rotting wrath to come. The plague analogy is very relevant for, besides being cannibalistic, the zombies pass on their contagion to whomever they bite, so that a man on the run dies of the bite and is then revived as one of the living dead." 

By this time I'd seen Romero's debut film and knew I wasn't even vaguely ready to watch it's gorier color sequel. Especially based on what I read and saw in Nigel Andrew's book Horror Movies.  

This book featured another stomach-turning still from the movie:

Now, it's one thing to screw up the courage to watch a movie that's scary but its a completely different bag o' rats to stare down the barrel of what my increasingly-frantic horror library was calling one of the goriest films ever made.

But eventually my horror movie apprenticeship hardened my stomach to the point where I thought I could tackle this one. So I took a trip down to my local video store, rented the town's single threadbare copy and followed my usual masochistic ritual. I turned off all the lights and crawled up on the couch. Given the film's reputation for vomitorial visceralism, I eschewed the snacks that I normally set aside for movie time. 

Despite my precautions, I had no idea at the time that nothing can prepare you for your first viewing of...

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

If you've never seen this classic horror movie, then what the hell are you doing?!? Go watch it first and then come back to read what this inconsequential jack-ass has to say about it!

After pressing "PLAY", I watched with dread as the movie began with a television station in turmoil. Nothing directly ties Dawn to its predecessor, but I like to think that this flick continues the story started in Night of the Living Dead...and the zombie plague has gotten a helluva lot worse.  

People are shouting, papers are flying in the air and two "experts" are hotly debating the current situation, leading to one of the film's many memorable quotes:

"Every dead body that is not exterminated becomes one of them. It gets up and kills! The people it kills get up and kill!" 

For some reason the yahoos gathered in the studio started heaping scorn upon the guy for saying this. Were they oblivious to what was going on all around them? Hadn't they seen the first film? In some weird way, this presages the current Trump-era tend of dismissing clear and present dangers like climate change as "fake news." 

So Romero, sneaky bastard that he is, wasted no time sneaking in some sly social commentary. Beyond this scene parroting the growing trend towards "circus" television, I watched as Givens, the unscrupulous station manager, forced his employees to keep broadcasting a list of non-existent rescue stations. One of our protagonists, Fran, played by the delightful Gaylen Ross, kicked back against this, which led to the following exchange:

Givens:    Garret, who told you to kill those supers?
Fran:        Nobody. I killed 'em. They're out of date. 
Givens:    I want those supers on the air all the time! 
Fran:        Are you willing to murder people by sending them out to stations that have closed down?
Givens:    Without those rescue stations on screen every minute people won't watch us. They'll tune out!

This introduced a pretty constant theme in the movie: seeking diversion and comfort from a world spinning down through through materialism and short-term gain. Realizing that all semblance of remaining order is lost, Fran agreed to escape in the station's news helicopter with her partner Stephen, a.k.a. Flyboy, played by David Emge. 

We then smash-cut to a S.W.A.T. team that's poised to raid a dilapidated tenement building. At least I assumed they were S.W.A.T.; most of them looked like hippies dressed up in Halloween costumes and awkwardly toting plastic M-16's. Clearly the movie didn't have the budget nor the inclination to hire real S.W.A.T. guys or train the extras in weapon handing and police tactics. As I would quickly learn, these petty observations would soon be rendered inconsequential. 

At the time I had no sweet clue what was supposed to be happening in this scene. And that's what I love about independent movies from this era. Unlike modern studio films, you're not spoon fed information and you've gotta puzzle things out for yourself.

Distracted by trauma during the introduction, I'd missed out on the reference to martial law. Apparently, things have gotten so bad that citizens were no longer able to occupy private residences and the bodies of the recently deceased had to be turned over to authorities for proper disposal. Well, the folks in this particular building weren't too keen on the idea of the cops bombing in and taking over their turf. An armed conflict ensued, giving Romero and horror movie makeup maestro Tom Savini an excuse to set off more explosive blood squibs than what was used to kill Sonny Corleone in The Godfather.

As someone who was still squeamish about seeing on-screen blood and graphic violence, this scene quickly caused my stomach to curdle. And when one the S.W.A.T. guys, appropriately named Wooley, suddenly veered deep into the weeds, things got much, much worse. 

I remember thinking to myself: 'Yeah, I know society is falling apart here, but how did this sloppy, psychotic fuck pass his last psych exam? Or his fitness exam, for that matter? Sorry, but as soon as this loon racked his shotgun and started raving about how Martinez needed to show his "greasy Puerto Rican  ass" so he could "blow it off", I was hoping the field commander would show up, take Mr. Electricity off to the side and ask him to "ex-nay the whole Uuertopay Icanray thing". Oh, and maybe encourage him to switch to decaf.

But nope, I sat there, jaw agape, as this lunatic went into rampage mode throughout the building. At one point Officer Batshit kicked down a random door, fired his shotgun, and blew the head off the poor fucker who just so happened to be standing there. 

This prompted me to punch the "STOP" button on the VCR remote control, for the first of many, many times during the movie.

"Wha-wha-what the fuck was the point of that?!" I muttered to myself, reflexively putting the back of my hand up to my mouth. Clearly the years hadn't caused Romero to go soft. If they're starting with a full-on head explosion, what they hell were they gonna do next?

Tentatively I pushed the "PLAY" button again and recoiled away from the television screen. 

My answer came pretty quick. I watched as a bunch of zombies got released from one of the quarantined rooms as they tried to put Old Yeller down. One of ghouls grabbed his unwitting girlfriend (?) and chomped down on her neck and then her arm. Again, Tom Savini's gut-wrenching makeup effects prompted another pause.

'I'm not gonna make it,'  I thought to myself, trying to stem the rising tide of bile. As my horror books had blithely observed, the gore in Night of the Living Dead was repellent enough, but this time out things were in color. Lurid, realistic, stomach-churning color.  

When I resumed the movie, my nausea got a brief reprieve but my nerves didn't. I was introduced to two of the S.W.A.T. team members, namely Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott Reiniger), who have an encounter with a one-legged priest who's unpretentious delivery gives added resonance to the following chilling line:

"When the dead walk, señores,we must stop the killing or we lose the war."

Much to my complete and utter lack of delight, I got to see what this creepy and cryptic reference meant in the very next scene. As it turned out, the people in the tenement building have been stashing their dead and dying loved ones in the basement, who are then zombie-ing out and eating each other. *HUUURRRKK* Romero and Savini, the sick little monkeys that the are, document all of this in a series of devilishly-sadistic closeups.

I swore under my breath as I mistakenly hit "PAUSE" instead of the "STOP" button, inadvertently lingering on the sight of a gross, putrefying zombie gleefully munching away on a leg bone. Averting my gaze, I started mashing random buttons until the screen mercifully went black. 

"Jesus Christ!" I yelled out loud, likely causing my parents in the next room to stir. "What the fuck is wrong with these people?

Now, it wasn't as if I was watching this movie at an impressionable age and I couldn't tell the difference between reality and fantasy. It was just so vile, repulsive, realistic and nightmarish that it was starting to make me feel sick. After resuming the film, I managed to get to the end of the scene, feeling a palpable sense of relief every time Roger and Peter delivered another merciful head-shot to each of the rotting, cannibalistic aberrations.  

Something else worth noting at this point is the film's production design, or lack thereof. Dawn of the Dead wasn't shot on some hermetically-sealed, pre-constructed back-lot set that was made to look grungy. Nope, Romero went out, found the gnarliest, most dilapidated, run down, filthy apartment building he could find and then just started crankin' the camera. Between the vile setting and Michael Gornick's sickly-looking cinematography, Dawn of the Dead actually looks like it smells bad. In fact, to paraphrase my recent review of Terrifier, this movie looks like it was shot in "Smell-O-Vision" and the knob got permanently stuck on the "Devil's Anus" setting. 

As it turns out, Roger and Stephen are bros, so both he and Peter go along in the chopper flight. As the foursome get a bird's eye view of the countryside, we witness the full scale of the zombie apocalypse as packs of armed rednecks and military types are shown roaming the countryside, gunning down any wandering ghouls they encounter. 

Many times I've bitched about movies being tonally inconsistent, and this one is no exception. In fact, a case could be made that Dawn is tonally schizophrenic. After all, movie drunkenly careens from one of the most intense moments of visceral horror to a scene where roving bands of heavily-armed yahoos are wandering around, sport-shooting ghouls and enjoying an outdoor boil-up, all to the tune of "'Cause I'm A Man" by The Pretty Things.  

But somehow it worked for me. Maybe its because Romero had given me just enough down time in the helicopter to get to know our main characters. Perhaps it was because a moment of levity was just what I needed after all of that extreme brutality. Maybe it was the oddly-reassuring connective tissue (pun not intended) that this sequence provided to Night of the Living Dead. Whatever the reason, it didn't feel completely out of place to me. 

Eventually our heroes were forced to land and refuel. It was at that point when I really noticed the film's oddball musical choices. Speaking of schizophrenic, Dawn of the Dead's soundtrack is just as patchwork as its tone, featuring genuinely-creepy tracks by legendary Italian prog-rock band Goblin sandwiched between incongruous clips of generic stock music. The music is super-weird in the airport sequence; kinda like a bandsaw being oscillated back and forth at high speed. It really adds to the feeling of creeping doom. 

As our heroes explored the abandoned airport, a deader popped out of nowhere and tackled Flyboy. At the time I chuckled to myself, thinking 'Wow, dude might be an ace pilot, but he's pretty useless when it comes to hand-to hand combat. What the dell was that whole cross-body-block thing? Honestly, that shit's funnier than the redneck cook-out scene.'

Moments of black comedy dispensed with, it was clearly time for Romero to get down to the task of scaring the shit out of me again. I watched as a cadaver started to creep up on an oblivious Roger as he re-fueled the chopper. Now, in a crappy horror movie, this would result in some big showdown between the two, but not here. Here it's all about the gag. Driven by pure instinct, the zombie climbed atop a pile of crates interposed between him and Roger, inadvertently stuck his Frankensteinian melon up into the helicopter's rotor blades and promptly got more than a little taken off the top. 

Moments like this started to take the sting out of the graphic violence for me, to the point where the movie started to transition from balls-out horror to something kinda comic book-y. Having said that, not two minutes later, in one of the movie's more subversively-tasteless scenes, I watched in abject terror as Peter was forced to gun down two prepubescent ghouls who bushwhacked him in the airport office.

My nerves scarcely had a moment to recover before one of the most iconic zombies in cinema history made his debut. I squirmed in my seat as this bald rotter with the hideously decayed face and chest started silently closing in on a distracted Peter. Given his black and red plaid shirt, I idly wondered if this guy had inadvertently wandered down south from Mississauga.

As Flyboy aimed his rifle at the encroaching ghoul, I knew that he'd never owned a Daisy air rifle as a kid since he'd clearly never been exposed to even the most basic gun safety rules. His shot missed the zombie and nearly hit Peter, requiring a timely intervention from crack shot Roger.

Now refueled, our heroes quickly got airborne again. Eventually they flew over a massive parking lot and an equally-sprawling two-level complex. This led to one of the most gloriously-dated exchanges in film history:

Stephen: What the hell is it?
Roger: It looks like a shopping center, one of those big, indoor malls

Even in the mid-Eighties this was a really antiquated reference. By then, consumerism was at its zenith and shopping malls were everywhere. After touching down, our heroes looked down into the parking lot where scores of zombies were aimlessly milling around. This led to the following dialogue between Stephen and Fran, which continued to hammer home the film's theme:

Fran: What are they doing? Why do they come here?
Stephen: Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.

Fun fact: after you watch Dawn of the Dead you'll never look at shoppers in a mall around the Christmas season the same way again.

As the characters first ventured inside, I was really impressed by how well the movie used the mall as a location. Sometimes it felt as if Romero was shooting the flick in real time as the actors explored their surroundings. At one point the lights, animated displays and the incongruous muzak got turned on, leading to yet another funny tonal shift. I even found myself chuckling as Romero juxtaposed more over-the-top gore with scenes of zombies bumping into one another on the escalators and tumbling over the railing and into the fountain. 

At this point I really took notice of the low-fi makeup job on most of the zombies. In Night of the Living Dead, the make-up artists had it relatively easy. Since it was in black and white, all they needed to do is slap white makeup, facial appliances and chocolate sauce on a bunch of extras and *poof*, instant zombies. But in Dawn, Savini had a much bigger challenge.

Between shooting in color, the on-set lighting, the film stock used, and the sheer number of zombies that were needed, Savini's plan to shellac the background performers in a flat grey hue kinda backfired since it ended up photographing blueish-green. But considering the film's budget and time constraints, I find it easy to suspend disbelief and just go with it.

I also noticed that the blood in the film didn't really look like blood at all. I didn't know it at the time, but the egg tempera candy apple red gore used on-set was actually mass-produced by the 3M corporation. When the dailies started to come in, Tom told George that he hated the color of the blood, but George thought it was reminiscent of the EC Comics of his childhood and they decided to just roll with it.

After Peter and Roger took off to look for supplies, I felt a rush of anger as Stephen charged after them, effectively leaving Fran to her own devices. With everyone running riot around the mall, a Hari Krishna zombie slipped into the stairwell, leading to a legitimately creepy scene where he menaces Fran. Mercifully she managed to hold the l'il undead bastard at bay long enough for the guys to get back and help her.

Wow, and you though Hari Krishna's were pushy in real life!

This brings me to actress Gaylen Ross and the character of Fran. Compared to the shell-shocked  Barbra in Night of the Living Dead, Fran is practically Ellen freakin' Ripley. Sadly, she's also kinda useless at the start of the film, leaving Stephen to fend for himself during the airport attack and then retreating from the Hari Krishna zombie quicker than if it was alive. But the good news is, Fran does have an arc. She starts out about as valuable as a screen door on a submarine but by the end of it, she can handle herself quite well.

Nowadays you'd probably get criticized for showing a female character experience any sort of courage or competency struggle *cough, cough* Rey in Star Wars *cough, cough* but, in my humble opinion, that isn't realistic either. Hey, I'm big enough to admit that, if I was faced with what Fran had to deal with in Dawn of the Dead, I'd probably be the first one to go "full Barbra" on my fellow survivors. 

It's then revealed that Fran isn't at the top of her game because she's got a bun in the oven, prompting this bizarre exchange between Peter and Stephen:

Peter: Do you want to get rid of it?
Stephen: What?!?
Peter: Do you want to abort it? It's not too late...and I know how.

When I heard this I thought to myself: 'How the hell does Peter know how to abort a baby?!? Is he just gonna boot her in the stomach?!?' As a good Catlick boy, hearing this casually-thrown-out line was more shocking than some of the gore effects. This leads me to another point: sometimes George Romero's dialogue is pretty tin-eared.

Anyhoo, back to what was happening on screen. I was really enjoying how every part of the plan to seal off and then secure the mall was being documented in loving detail. It was almost as if Romero and company were providing a real zombie apocalypse visual survival guide. But every time Peter and Roger haphazardly tore-ass through the parking lot with another set of trucks, I couldn't help but wince. To this day, I'm stunned that no one was killed while making the film.

After fooling the zombies time and time again, ol' Rog starts to get pretty cocky, bordering on Wooley-levels of unhinged. This leads to one of my all-time favorite lines in cinema history:

I felt myself growing increasingly nervous as Roger's overconfidence started to get the best of him. He let his guard down at one point and got chomped on both the arm and the leg. Now, you gotta understand the context here. This was very likely only the second or third movie I'd ever seen that  featured zombies. The concept of a dead body being reanimated, walking around and spreading its infection by biting other people was nebulous, mysterious and decidedly vile.

Notwithstanding the compelling visual evidence that at least a baker's dozen aspiring stuntmen were maimed or killed during this scene, the chaos was palpable. A lot of the gore is incidental; such as the throwaway moment where a zombie gets run over, stands back up, ripping his own arm off in the process, and then continued to attack the truck. Again, going back to the golden zombie rule: these things weren't dropped until the creature's nexus of animation, the brain, was destroyed. Needless to say, the implications for this rule is a gore hound's wet dream.

With all of the entrances sealed off, our heroes set their sights on exterminating all of the zombies inside the mall. This was kicked off with a wonderful scene where they raid a gun shop, montage-style. Say what you want about Romero practically bolting the camera down as well as his workmanlike dialogue coverage, he's undeniably a crackerjack editor and this sequence is pure gold. Keep in mind: this pre-dates Ash getting prepped in The Evil Dead by three years. Oh, and you gotta dig that weird-ass tribal music playing in the background!

Eventually Peter, Roger, Stephen and Fran managed to put all of the zombies down and life slowly started to return to some semblance of normalcy. For one brief shining moment we got a chance to breathe a sigh of relief. But even then, the ever-present sound of the zombies pawing away at the mall's entrance doors was a constant reminder that a tsunami of death and chaos was lurking just outside, seeking to find and exploit a single crack in their defenses.

This led to the movie's most iconic scene where our Fantastic Four are standing together up on the top floor of the mall, looking down and listening to the slathering horde pounding and clawing away outside. Even though Romero's dialogue can falter at times, it's bone-chillingly effective in this sequence:

Fran: They're still here.
Stephen: They're after us. They know we're still in here.
Peter: They're after the place. They don't know why; they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here.
Francine Parker: What the hell are they?
Peter: They're us, that's all, when there's no more room in hell.
Stephen: What?
Peter: Something my granddad used to tell us. You know Macumba? Voodoo? My granddad was a priest in Trinidad. He used to tell us, "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth."

Like all the best campfire tales, Ken Foree's accomplished delivery sent chills down my spine and prompted me to seek comfort in a...well, a comforter that was lying on the couch. I bundled myself up, steeled my nerves and kept watching.

This dire speech was immediately re-enforced by poor Roger finally succumbing to his zombie bites. Between Scott Reiniger's stirring performance and the eerie musical cues, it was really, really hard to watch. Especially as Roger's corpse started to stir under the sheet and sit up, eventually revealing yet another classic Tom Savini makeup job.

Side note: every once and awhile the character's turn on their television, and we see a dude I originally dubbed "crazy eye patch guy" appear in emergency news broadcasts. For the record, the character's name is actually Dr. Millard Rausch and he's played with aplomb by Richard France. Only in a 70's-era low budget indie horror flick would a guy like France be cast as a scientist. Nowadays it would be some prim n' proper Anderson Cooper-looking motherfucker.

But no, here we get Richard France, yet another gloriously-distinctive weirdo that Romero loves to cast in his movies. I immediately fell in love with this guy. Thanks to his deep, baritone voice, matter-of-fact delivery, strange mannerisms and absolute certainty in delivering the script's whack-a-do lines, he effortlessly commanded every single scene that he was featured in. Plus, I admired his penchant for screaming "DUMMIES!!! DUMMIES!!! DUMMIES!!!" over and over again.  

Eventually life became so domesticated inside the mall that, at one point, Peter prepared an elegant anniversary dinner for Stephen and Fran in has to be the most gloriously-dated 70's-era scene in any film. Even though the couple are surrounded by the trappings of normal life all around them, there's something supremely claustrophobic and depressing about the whole thing. If anything, this sequence embodies Fran's prescient prediction from earlier in the film:

"You don't see that it's not a sanctuary, it's a prison!"

As if in response to this, a huge pack of motorcycle-riding lunatics showed up to invade the mall. Again, Dawn shows it's influence by presaging Mad Max by a year and The Road Warrior by four. Prior to the big show down, I watched with growing concern as Peter, Fran and Stephen removed all of their jewelry and fancy clothes and donned their survival gear again. The message wasn't lost on me: if the world is falling apart you can only distract yourself for so long before you're forced to deal with it.

What followed over the next thirty minutes could only be described as an orgy of blood and mayhem. After getting past the barriers, the invaders drove their bikes en masse right through the mall and then started to pillage everything. Witnessing the looters snatch up property that he thought now belonged to them, Stephen snapped and started sniping away at them.

During the ensuing chaos, I was witness to approximately one-hojillion explosive blood squibs, a multitude of hacked-off limbs, decapitations and at least one nauseatingly-realistic disembowelment. Presiding over this insanity was a gleefully-anarchic Tom Savini, providing the gore effects behind the scene and inhabiting the role of lead-biker Blades. Witness the scene where he buries a machete in the head of one of the zombies, resulting in the iconic third still at the beginning of this entry. 

I didn't know it at the time, but, just like every other setting for Dawn of the Dead, the mall was a very real location: namely Munroeville Mall in Munroeville, Pennsylvania. Every night, after the place closed closed down for the day, Romero and his cadre of cinematic horror nerds would bomb in, shoot all night long and then try and clean everything up before the place re-opened in the morning.

Re-watching the film, I'm stunned that they managed to make the place presentable every day, what with cars and motorcycles ripping around, mannequins being run over and gore flying everywhere. I've always wondered if any casual shoppers ever slipped in an errant patch of blood in the sporting goods section of JC Penny or noticed a random ear stuck to the inside of the photo booth.

Whereas the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake featured the fast-moving zombies which were de rigueur at the time, I still maintain that Romero's shambling ghouls are much more interesting. Eschewing the fantasy logic that re-animated dead bodies shouldn't even be physically capable of sprinting around like Usain Bolt, the shufflers really lull you into a false sense of security. They may be clumsy and inherently pathetic, but if you aren't paying attention and they come at you in a clutch you can find yourself proper fucked without much ado.

By the time the pie scene rolled around, I really didn't know what to think. I remember having a really hard time reconciling the violence with the humor. Towards the end, Dawn of the Dead is like a live-action Road Runner cartoon where Wild E. Coyote's resulting wounds are realistically and clinically depicted by a crazy former Vietnam combat photographer cum supremely-talented makeup artist. I didn't know if I should laugh, scream, cry or projectile-vomit onto the television screen.

As the zombies began to overwhelm the bikers, something happened that made absolutely no sense to me. With the ghouls closing in all around, one of the raiders inexplicably strapped himself into a heart monitor machine and gamely followed through with the test, even as the creatures fell upon him like a living luau. I sat there in stunned silence, listening to the monitor's readings screech as they literally tore him limb from limb right before my disbelieving eyes.

This necessitated another pause. As gross as the visuals were, even I knew that Romero was clearly fucking with me at this point. The thing that surprised me the most is that I hadn't stopped the movie in quite awhile. So, either I was becoming numb to the cavalcade of gore or the film's humor had de-fanged any cruelty inherent in the act. 

But even then, Romero still had one final, amazingly-memorable trump card to play. After Flyboy got lethally nibbled he came and back almost immediately as one of the most iconic zombies in cinema history. As if Tom Savini's hero-level makeup job wasn't amazing enough, David Emge completely sells the illusion. When he emerged from that elevator, eyes and mouth agape, covered in hideous wounds, revolver dangling abstractly off one finger, Emge became the prototypical zombie in my mind. To this day I still have no idea how he managed to walk around on his ankle like that.

And with that, the living dead reclaimed the mall. As if to reinforce the whole "zombies gravitate to places that are familiar" angle, Zombie-Stephen instinctively staggered his way back through the mall, tore through the wall and incrementally made his way back to the hero's secret safe-room. Unfortunately his new squad of undead bros came along with him.

This led to an absolutely insane climax. With a tidal wave of ghouls now streaming past their barricade, Peter told Fran to escape in the helicopter while he held off the horde. But, then, right at the last second, instead if Peter shooting himself in the head, he jumped up, battled his way through the slavering undead and fought his way towards the helicopter. The musical accompaniment for this sequence, by the way, sounds like it might have inspired the opening title score for the A-Team.

Years later I found out that Romero's original ending was crazy-bleak. Peter shoots himself in the head and Fran decapitates herself by sticking her l'il blonde noggin' into the helicopter's rotor blades.¡Ay, caramba! I'm super-glad Romero jettisoned this downer ending. Between the pie fight and the death of Stephen, I don't think my poor brain could have coped with yet another whiplash-style tonal shift. 

As the orchestral strings swelled and the helicopter flew away, I breathed a palpable sense of relief and felt kinda proud of myself. I'd managed to make it all the way to the end without tossing my cookies or pausing every five seconds to dry-heave into a beef bucket. If anything, Dawn of the Dead truly reinforced the artistry of horror films for me. Even if they weren't made for a lot of money, they could still be epic, tackle big themes and resonate with you long after the credits rolled.

I'd also finally come to the conclusion that cinema gore was illusory. Convincing and gross, sure, but an illusion nonetheless. From that point forward, whenever I saw a practical effect, my first question was " did they do that?" instead of "Oh gawd...can I reach the terlet in time?"

Whenever I re-watch Dawn of the Dead, my respect for the movie continues to grow. To me, it's more than just an iconic horror flick. I see it as a direct response to film critics and the moral majority who continue to complain that movie violence begets real violence.

To me, it's the other way around. Compared to news footage of kids coming home from Vietnam in body bags or students getting shot in cold blood by National Guard at Kent State, movies like Dawn of the Dead were just a reflection of the turbulent times that the creators lived through. In fact, by combining extreme gore with black comedy, Romero was telling us not to get bent out of shape over the fake stuff but to pay attention to the real horrors inherent in our reality. 

So, this Halloween season, avoid Zack Snyder's serviceable but vapid remake and check out the one and only Gone With The Wind of zombie flicks, Dawn of the Dead.

EPIC:  Recent documentary about the making of the film, included in Anchor Bay's marvelous DVD boxed set from 2004. WARNING: SPOILERS AND NOT EVEN VAGUELY SUITABLE FOR WORK!

VINTAGE EPIC:   This once hard-to-find doc from 1985 talks about Romero's early career and features some stellar behind-the-scenes footage from the production of Dawn of the Dead:

IRONIC FAIL: The reason Dawn of the Dead is currently unavailable in hi-def form is because the film's original producer and current rights holder, Richard P. Rubenstein, blew six million dollars inexplicably converting this classic horror movie into 3-D and now he wants a ludicrous amount of money for the rights to try and recoup his losses. Read the infuriating details right here.  

Friday, April 6, 2018

Taktical Error

Salutations, Suspicious Minds!

Yes, I know this blog is deader than the Professional Pog Circuit, but occasionally things happen to me which provide some inspiration. Case in point: this unsolicited, non-sequitur email I received back on March 14'th:

Hey David,

I saw here, that you've written about cars. If you’ll be covering similar topics in the future, such as auto tech (like driverless cars), or safety tips for new parents using carseats or new teen drivers, I’d love to be a source or contribute a unique article.

Are you taking pitches?

Best, __________________ 

Now, just because I'm a nice guy I'm not gonna use her real name. So, for the purpose of this sordid tale I'll just call her "Fibby McSneakypants" or some derivation thereof.

So, let's take a quick inventory here. On the plus side, the email is lucid and well-composed; unlike the typical "Nigerian Price"/ "English language set on frappé"-style of diction that typically characterizes the average phishing scam. On the other hand, there were a few things that made my "Spider-Sense" go off like the warning klaxons on a star destroyer.

First off, my last blog entry was back in October. Ever since I started writing for actual money as opposed to loose bits of string and dead budgerigars, I haven't been posting here very much. So, I really couldn't conceive why someone would want to be published on an obscure, borderline-defunct blog.

'Well, maybe they're a fledgling writer looking to establish a portfolio,' I thinks to meself. 'Baphomet knows I could have used some help when I first got started, so maybe I'll humor her.'

Now, if you read the article that she's referring to, it bears as much resemblance to cars as Ted Cruz does to a human being. The piece is all about making universities teach courses that will give students genuine life skills instead of imparting theoretical and / impractical nonsense.

As such, my two speculative automotive courses were:

First Car 100 This class will give students valuable advise on how to buy their first vehicle without getting sucked into a maelstrom of hidden charges.  After learning how to avoid paying salesmen to do their own jobs, students will be given several creative suggestions as to what orifice will best accommodate the dealership's sleazy 'Administrative Fees'


Car Maintenance and Repair 102  This course teaches students the importance of having a friend as an auto mechanic and how to determine what shops in your area are guilty of overt rip-offery.  Please note: any students who have already completed Canadian Tire Avoidance 101 will receive partial credit towards Car Maintenance and Repair 103.

So, Kind Reader, the question I put to you is: what the actual eff does any of that have to do with driver-less vehicles, car-seats or the perils of zit-covered teenagers drunkenly careening  all over the road, armed only with a learning permit and an unwarranted sense of immortality?

But, hey, once again, I'm a nice guy and so I just assumed that these topics were within her wheelhouse and she felt comfortable writing about them.

Sure, I'm nice but I'm also inherently suspicious and guarded, mainly because a disproportionate number of humans I've met over the years come pre-loaded with ulterior motives. The specter of "Exhibit Y" soon presented itself when a simple Google-fication of her email address led me directly to an outfit called Taktical Digital.

So what's this place all about? Well according to their minimalist webzone:

"Taktical Digital is an internationally recognized performance digital marketing agency. With an obsessive focus on maximizing ROI, Taktical Digital clients have seen tremendous revenue driving success across e-commerce and lead generation verticals. We are an industry leader in paid social advertising, search marketing and lead generation."

Sorry, I gotta pause for a sec. Reading all that CorporateSpeak in one go has a tendency to make me break out in hives.

Full disclosure: I can't prove that the Fibster works for Taktical Digital. I just think its telling that their site is the only thing that pops up when I search just her email suffix (

With this revealed I was 99.9% sure that it was all going to be a colossal waste of time. But then I thought, why not have some fun with it? At the very least, I might come out the other end with an amusing anecdote; sort of a virtual version of one of my earliest job experiences, but, this time out, I'D be the one carrying the oversized tote bag, bee-hotch.

So I proceeded to execute Step One in my plan: radio silence. In fact, I let a full week go by before she sent me the following missive:

Hi again - I just wanted to follow up as see if you had a chance to read my previous email.
Let me know if you are interested in a guest contribution from us - we love to get involved.

Thanks for your time, 

The Fibinator

Needless to say, after reading this it was on like Rae Dawn Chong. So I wrote back first thing the very next day:

Hi, Fibby.

I'm always interested in guest contributors to my blog. Unfortunately I'm not in the position
to pay writers at the moment.

If that isn't a deal-breaker, I'd be more than willing to publish an article on a topic of your choice, perhaps with the inclusion of an appropriate ad or link to something that you're keen to promote. 

The only criterion is that the post's style has to dovetail with the established spirit of the blog, I.E. "a humorous exploration of education, career, employment, lifestyle, politics and pop culture." 

Other guidelines include:
  • 200-600 word length.
  • Well-researched with supporting links.
  • Conversational, breezy tone with liberal doses of relevant comedy.   
If you're still interested in contributing, or if you have any follow-up questions, please let me know.



To my complete and utter lack of surprise, this came back a few short hours later:

Hi David,

Thanks for getting back to me--that sounds absolutely perfect to me!

I have a couple of ideas for you: 
  • How much will driverless cars cost?
  • Issues with drowsy driving laws and the efforts in preventing driving accidents
  • Have ride-sharing services led to a notable drop in DUI Accidents?
Do any of these seem like they'd be a good fit for your site? Let me know what you think, and I'll get started on writing something up for you!


Fibmaster General

Even though the answer to her question was a resounding "NOPE", I was kinda getting into it. So I did my best Arianna Huffington impersonation and wrote back:

Hi, Fib! Can I call you Fib?

Your suggestions have really gotten my brain percolating.

One related subject that I'd love to see explored is the current aptitude of driverless cars. How reliable is the AI at this stage? What kind of preliminary service records do they have? How do driverless cars cope with anomalous road conditions or emergency situations? What improvements can we expect as technology advances exponentially? 

Not only could this be an informative topic for readers, it could also be a great framework to hang some observational humor on. What do you think? Is there an angle there?


Her response, which arrived early the following day, clearly indicated that this marlin was decidedly on-hook.

Hi David, 

I think you're on to something... A piece about the reliability of AI could be really great. And I definitely think we could work some humor in, too!

I'll get started on it right away. Our turn around time is about two weeks, so I should reach back out by April 6 with your finished piece.

Happy Friday!


After reading this I was tempted to lean back in my pneumatic chair, adjust my monocle, stroke my pussy and begin cackling uncontrollably like Ernst Stavro Blofeld. But instead I just sat there and thought 'Huh, I wonder if this person is actually on the up-and-up?'

This thought was particularly strident when I received the following email on April the 2'nd at 2:09 in the pee em:

Hey David,

I hope all is well! Here is your finished piece. 

Let me know what you think! I'm happy to make any edits or changes you think are necessary.



I sat blinking at this for a little while, like the (in)box at the end of Se7en. After dealing with a few pressing personal deadlines, I finally sat down at the end of the day, clicked on the attachment and gave the article the once-over.

It was good. I'd have to tweak a few things but nothing major. So I responded thusly:

Hi, Fibby.

Thanks for sending this through. It's been crazy busy on my end and I've only had a cursory glance but it looks great!

I'm going to set aside a few hours tomorrow to review and post it. Related question: are there any personal links you'd like to include with the story? Your own blog? Website? LinkedIn page? Let me know.

Thanks in advance!


Forty-five minutes later I get this:

Hi David,

I'm glad to hear its looking good so far, I hope it holds up to snuff when you give it a closer look tomorrow! 

There are no personal links that need to be included on our end.

I'm looking forward to hearing what you think!


Scooter Fibby

Now, before we go any further I really need to draw your attention to the line "there are no personal links that need to be included on our end". Beyond the not-even-vaguely-suspicious "our end" reference, this entire statement is patently false. Show me a creative person that doesn't wanna flog their amateurish self-published book (guilty), lame blog (present company included), self-indulgent podcast (ditto) or boring Twitch stream (give me time) I'll show you a filthy, filthy liar.

So the next day I went over the article with a fine tooth comb, scanning for literary lice. Despite the fact that the content was about as funny as a syphilis diagnosis, the story read rather well. Even more encouraging: a quick Google search seemed to bear out her claim that the article was original, at least in part. The very last thing I needed to do was to verify the links.

Even this looked promising. I clicked on every single one of them and was pleasantly surprised. Her claim that Americans were still largely skeptical about driver-less cars was backed up with a related article from the Insurance Journal. A potential falling out between Tesla and Nvidia was documented by an appropriate report from CNBC. A twenty-seven page study panel report from Stanford lent credence to her claim that driver-less cars will help bolster the public's trust of AI.

But then I noticed something weird. Like really weird.

Her main thesis, that driver-less cars will eventually reduce accidents and injuries, should have been the easiest thing to link. Hell, after a quick bash at the ol' Google-O-Meter I came up with thisthis and this.

But, no, instead she'd embedded a link to a website for this sketchy, ambulance-chasing law firm that specializes in car accident personal injury cases. I scanned through the page looking for any shred of supporting information but the only thing I got was a pop up query from "Mike", who was manning the site's online support desk.

"Hi there! Would you like to tell me about your case for a free legal evaluation?" he chirpily inquired.

"Um, no thank you," I typed back in a daze, immediately wondering why I'd gone through the bother of  typing "um".

And with that, funny l'il fascinatin' Fibby finally stood exposed. She was contacting backwater blogs like mine with an offer to write vaguely-related articles for the express purpose of sneaking in some back-door, borderline subliminal advertising for a skeezy law firm. With another quick search I found an eerily similar article of hers which had been published on a site that looked a lot more legit than my lame-ass blog. And, hey, guess what? She used the exact same incongruous "source" to "back up" the exact same claim.

Hmmmmm, I wonder why the publisher later "redacted this article to conform to our style and usage guidelines."

With the scam now revealed I could easily have fucked with her mercilessly. It took every bit of my willpower not to respond with this:

"Hey, yeah, this is great an' all, toots, but the tone is waaaay too egg-headed and dry for the tens and tens of people who read my blog. So, lissen, I needs you to punch up tha funny. Can't we just make up a news story about how one o' these fancy-assed smart cars went all HAL-9000 on its owner? Mebbe after missing one too many detailing appointments the car snaps and tries to kill the driver by sealing the windows and reversing the exhaust? Oh, and wouldn't it be funny if we said the car found a radio station that was playing Pink Floyd's 'Goodbye Cruel World' while it did the deed? LOOOL!"

Instead I decided to act my age and and replied:

Hi, Fibster.

We're almost ready to go. Just a few things.

As an unabashed Canucklehead, I'd prefer we said NORTH Americans instead of just Americans, with a link to match. If we can't find a link with the same verbiage, no worries. 

Also, the link you provided  to back up your injury claim takes readers to an actual law firm with a very pro-active chat representative who immediately starts to bombard visitors with free consultation offers. Perhaps you can just link an article with some basic stats RE: auto-related injuries in North America last year. 

Finally, every one of my entries includes an EPIC / FAIL. The first is a link to a good news story about the topic and the latter is a comedic glass-half-empty observation. There can be written articles or links to videos. Please let me know what you'd like to include to cap off this great article.



So, bless her heart, she replied:

Hey David,

I'm having trouble finding a link with a statistic for North America as a whole--I've got Canadian family and am well aware of what a misnomer 'American' is! I have found a link to some Canadian statistics, so I'm not sure if you'd rather include that instead? ("That's the reason that barely half of Candians trust triverless cars").

In regards to the car accident link, would this link be better? *** INCLUDES LINK TO EXACT SAME WEBSITE, JUST A DIFFERENT AND EQUALLY USELESS PAGE *** 

Finally, I love the idea of an EPIC/FAIL!
Here's something I think could work for fail:
And this would be my pick for epic:

Let me know what you think!


Grandfibster Flash

After heaving a heavy sigh I shot back:

Hi, Fiborina.

Everything is great, but I don't feel comfortable linking anything to a 1-800-SUE-4-CASH law firm. 

Especially considering that its the same exact link you've used in the past. 

At best, it's scarcely related to the content and at worst its thinly-veiled advertising.


And finally, the predictable denouement:

Hi David,

Unfortunately, on my end we would need to include a link to that page. I can see you're uncomfortable with leaving it in your piece, so I'll ask you instead to refrain from posting it. 

I really appreciate you taking the time to work with me, and for the opportunity!


Erica VonFibbentrop

Whatta shocka. This was my last message to her:

Oh, no worries. I certainly won't be posting any portion of this in whole or in part. It has, however, inspired an original  post of my own, so thanks for that. 

I also hope that, from here on in, you let people know up front what your intended motivation is. 

I suspect it'll save you and the person that you're soliciting a lot of valuable time. 

Curiously, she hasn't written back.



Gentle Readers,

We live in a time where nothing can be taken at face value. With most of us asleep at the switch, the lunatics are currently running the asylum. And although the story I just told is admittedly kinda penny ante, it does showcase a few issues that are critical in this age of fleeting truth, rampant white collar crime and cartoon presidents.

They are:
  1. Don't trust anyone. Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't give people the benefit of the doubt, just don't blindly assume that people are telling you the truth. Do your own independent research and find out what's really going on for yourself.
  2. In the immortal words of Harry S. Plinkett: "The devil's in the details, my lovelies." Sometimes you gotta dig deep for the truth but it's that sort of diligence that will allow you to distinguish "fake news" from reality. Remember: the last thing the powers-that-be want is a population of independent, nosy, details-oriented, well-informed critical thinkers. 
  3. Corporations are inherently scummy. Lies and deceptions are their bread and butter so, for the love of everything holy, try to be better then them. Make an effort to be up-front with people, always broker in facts and don't be afraid to stick to your principles. 
The funny thing is: my very first reply to her gave her the perfect opportunity to be forthright:

I'd be more than willing to publish an article on a topic of your choice, perhaps with the inclusion of an appropriate ad or link to something that you're keen to promote. 

Ergo, I might have done the Fibster a solid if she'd just been up front and said "Look, I wanna advertise something on your blog. It's not really related to your content and I don't wanna pay you, but maybe if you publish it we can promote your writing to our clients".

Instead she decided to use subterfuge and chicanery, a tactic that's, sadly, probably worked more times than its failed.

Oh, well, at least I got a (vaguely) funny story out of it.

EPIC Successful bloggers will often find themselves navigating a veritable minefield of considerably-more-nefarious scam artists. Here's some tips on how to recognize and report one of the scarier ones.

FAIL: Autonomoose? Autonomoose?!? Really?!? Man, if "pandering" were a crime, this chick would be on death row.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Obligatory Halloween Post...MUST...BE...DESTROYED!!!

*** WARNING ***

What follows is a pretty deep dive into the most labyrinthine horror movie ever made. Plot points will be discussed in detail, so be warned of spoilers. Particularly spoilers in bathtubs. F#ck, I've already said too much! God dammit, why are you reading this when you haven't even seen the movie yet? 
That makes no sense! If your choice is to watch one of the scariest movies ever made around 
the perfect time of year or listen to some asshole on the internet run his mouth off, 
then I think the choice is pretty obvious. Go watch the movie first and
 then come back to see what this asshole has to say about it.   


Harpy Hell-O-Ween, Super-Creeps!

Yeah, I know, I know: this blog is deader than disco. But I still can't shake my annual desire to talk about the horror movies that scared the ever-livin' fertilizer outta me as a formative human.

In previous entries I've talked about early childhood scares as well as my personal run-ins with such formative, bone-chilling horror fare as An American Werewolf in London, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alien, The Return of the Living Dead, and The Evil Dead.

As I rabidly began to consume every example of the genre I could get my hands on, I started to hone in on what really scared me the most. It wasn't movies featuring masked killers, suave vampires or monstrous bug-a-boos, it was spiritual stuff. For some reason, films featuring spectral threats such as ghosts and phantoms really had my number. Looking back on it now, I suppose it had something to do with my lapsed Catholic faith. After all, when you're raised as a good Cat'lick boy, the Holy Ghost constitutes one-third of your irrational belief system. 

Ergo, if there are Holy Ghosts, why not Unholy Ghosts? 

The next movie I saw on my cavalcade of terror came relatively late in my career as a horror fan. I think I was eighteen or nineteen at the time when I first saw it. This is partly because the movie had been almost universally panned by movie critics when it first came out back in 1980. For example, Nigel Andrews, in his book Horror Movies writes:

"Though one admires the film for its metaphysical and mazy obsessionalism - here are Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd endlessly chasing each other's psyche's in an inner circle of their homemade Hell - it seldom harrows or terrifies."

Hmmm, I don't think "mazy" a word. Nor is obsessionalism for that matter. Oh, well.

At the time, I thought this rather surprising, given the film's pedigree. After all, I'd seen many of Stanley Kubrick's other movies and I thought they were all rather effective. To this day Dr. Strangelove is still my favorite comedy, 2001: A Space Odyssey blew my fragile, eggshell mind and both A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket rocked me to the core by shattering on-screen taboos and depicting visceral violence. At the very least, I knew that Kubrick had the balls to go there in the horror genre. 

What I didn't know was that Kubrick had crafted a film so dense, so bold and so innovative that it would come to revolutionize the horror genre in much the same way that those aforementioned films redefined comedy, sci-fi and war movies. Just like all of his previous projects, Kubrick was so ahead of pack that it took everyone else on the planet about a decade to catch up to him. 

When I sat down to watch The Shining late one night sometime back in the late 80's, I honestly wasn't expecting very much. I certainly didn't expect to see my worst nightmares made incarnate in film

The Shining (1980)

As soon as I pressed the "PLAY" button on my VCR's remote control, I immediately started to feel unsettled. The credits, the effin' credits, fer Chrissakes, were creeping me out. Between the sweeping helicopter shots conveying shades of omniscient, disembodied forces keeping watch on us overhead and the discordant, banshee-like wails on the uber-spooky soundtrack, I was already starting to come down with a serious case of the wiggins.

We're soon introduced to Jack Torrence, played by the incomparable Jack Nicholson. When we first meet Jack, he's being interviewed for the job of caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel. We learn that Jack is a struggling writer who's looking to winter at the hotel with his family and perhaps finally start working on that elusive GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL he's been telling people at parties all about. He accepts the assignment, even when Ullman, the hotel manager, sneaks in a colorful little eleventh-hour vignette about a previous caretaker who went Coo-Coo for Cocoa Puffs and chopped up his wife and two daughters with an axe. Fun!

Inter-spliced between this is a scene where we meet Jack's wife Wendy, played to pathetic perfection by Shelly Duvall and his young son Danny. Quite often child actors are so dreadful that they completely take me out of the film but young Danny Lloyd plays disassociated and shell-shocked so well here that I think he's on par with his adult peers. I'm not sure what Kubrick did to wring such an amazing performance out of him. Hopefully it's never revealed that Danny's pet rabbit was kept hostage in the walk-in fridge until he hit his marks. 

Anyway, young Master Lloyd does a tremendous job conveying trepidation and trauma. Adding an extra layer of oddness to the proceedings is Danny's invisible friend Tony, who he talks to by wiggling his finger. What's even stranger is that Wendy just rolls with it, even going so far as to directly address her son's bobbing digit from time to time. I get the impression that poor, pale, chain-smoking Wendy has been so badly beaten down by life's incessant worries that she's like 'F#ck it, I gotta pick and choose my battles so I'll talk to the finger.'

By that point in my life I'd seen enough horror movies to know that it's a generally a good idea to listen to kids, particularly psychic ones. After croaking out that he "doesn't want to go", Tony gives Danny and the viewer a delightful little sneak peek at things to come: namely a veritable tidal wave of blood gushing through the hotel's elevators doors. Not only does this cause Danny to black out, it forced me to shut off the VCR at the time and create a notable spike in my parent's power bill. 

After humming cheerily and basking in the florescent light of the kitchen for awhile, I eventually trudged back to the T.V. room, eased into the sofa and pressed "PLAY" again. Mercifully, I was treated to a bit of a reprieve as a doctor comes to visit Danny to make sure he's alright. That's right, kids, we might have smart phones and online banking now but back in the day, doctors made house-calls! #darkageconveniences

I remember feeling decidedly jealous of Danny since he seemed to be taking all of this in stride a lot better than I was. After wringing very little information out of Danny about Tony or the vision, the Doc digs up some interesting trivia while chatting with Wendy. As it turns out, Jack inadvertently hurt Danny one night after he'd been drinking, leading to a five month stretch of sobriety. The plot thickens.

Instead of taking Danny's fainting spell as an omen (or an ottoman, as the case may be), Jack packs up the fam and whisks them off to the hotel. En route they have an absolutely whack-a-do conversation about the Donner Party, whereby Jack almost gleefully explains how this poor, lost clan had to eat each other in order to survive. When Wendy chides Jack for talking about this in front of Danny,  the boy casually replies: "Don't worry, Mom. I know all cannibalism. I saw it on T.V."

This scene forces me to make a confession: I had issues with The Shining the first time I saw it as well. That's not to say that it didn't scare the ever-lovin' crap outta me, I just had some pretty hefty issues with the plot. For one, I'd already read the book by that point and, like Stephen King himself, I though that Kubrick took too many liberties with the plot. Chief of which is how quickly Jack Torrence goes over the deep end.

The first time we see Jack during the interview, he appears to be just fine. If anything, he comes across as a bit too conciliatory. But now that we see him with his family, he seems to be decidedly out of patience and humors the practical aspects of turning your kinfolk into bouillabaisse. Upon first viewing this kinda pissed me off since it jettisoned the natural arc of deterioration Jack experiences in the book. Now I just look at it as another way for Kubrick to sow those early seeds of discord and ensure that we never feel sympathy for this died-in-the-wool asshole. 

More on that later.

Kubrick continues to ratchet up the creep-factor. While playing darts by himself in the hotel's game room, Danny gets the feeling like he's being watched. He turns around to see two pasty-faced girls with abnormally large foreheads staring at him. Without saying a word they gradually turn around and slowly drift out of the room. Eeeeee. Then, while Ullman, the site manager, is escorting Jack and Wendy around the property, he lets another chestnut casually slip about how the hotel was built on an ancient Indian burial ground. Man, this guy is THE ABSOLUTE WORST real estate agent on the planet!  

All of this spooky preamble comes to a head when the Torrances meet Dick Halloran, the head chef of the Overlook. After sharing a silent tete-a-tete with Danny, the two have a private conversation and the boy finally learns about the nature of his special abilities, which Halloran calls "shining". Dick explains that a rare handful of people have the ability to see psychic residue left over at places where bad things happened. Since I've always subscribed to this concept, at least in principal, hearing this actually voiced in a movie was particularly troubling to me.

Halloran insists that he's "scared of nothing here" and that the Overlook's own macabre version of "shining" is harmless, just like pictures in a book. But then Danny plucks what must be a glaringly-obvious splinter out of the chef's brain and asks a very specific question...

DANNY: "What about Room 237? You're scared of Room 237, ain'tcha?"

HALLORAN: "No I ain't."

DANNY: "Mr. Halloran, what is in Room 237?"

HALLORAN: "Nothing.  There ain't nothing in Room 237. But you ain't got no business going in there anyway, so stay out!  You understand, stay out!" 

Before Kubrick gives Halloran a chance to elaborate we smash-cut to another title card that simply says "A MONTH LATER". This is sheer brilliance on Kubrick's part. For those keeping score at home, so far we've gotten an eerie "spirits in the sky" intro, Danny's oddball visions and behavior, the threat of total isolation for six months, creepy stories about the hotel, Jack's past history with anger management and alcohol and now, a "Bluebeard"-style mystery about Room 237. So, with that simple little title card, Kubrick informs us that this poor family has already been marinating in this polluted psychic stew for thirty days.

And I'm just taking into account all of the overtly weird stuff. I haven't even mentioned all of the inexplicable subliminal shit that your woke mind probably missed but your brain is subconsciously gnawing away on like a rat chewing on the bars of its cage. For example, how can Ullman's office possibly have an outdoor window? Why is Jack reading a copy of Playgirl while he's waiting to meet his new employer in the lobby? Why are the girls identical twins when they're described as sisters aged eight and ten?

There are a lot of visual anomalies in The Shining both before and after the Torrances move into the hotel. Now, normally, I'd just chalk this up to simple continuity errors, but Kubrick was notoriously anal retentive about every aspect of his films. Yes, I know the movie has a few unintentional flubs but I think a lot of what viewers see as goofs are just designed to keep our unconscious minds off-kilter. And by the time the film reaches the mid-way point, this incessant parade of discordant, under-the-radar noodle-bending starts to chip away at the viewer's mental state.    

Anyhoo, we're a month in and already Jack is starting to exhibit signs of writers block and fatigue. He tells Wendy that he "fell in love" with the hotel from day one and the place gives him a preternatural sense of deja vu. "It was almost as though I knew what was going to be around every corner," he tells her, then makes light of it with a pretty bitching "spooky ghost" impersonation. This segues into an unsettling shot where Jack takes a break from his fruitless labors by throwing a tennis ball incessantly against the wall and then gazes down at a model of the nearby hedge maze where he envisions his wife and son getting lost in the labyrinth.  

Things continue to go downhill. Via a revolutionary continuous Steadicam shot, we see Danny Big Wheeling around the hotel and encountering the notorious Room 237. He gets a vivid mental flash of the same two creepy girls from earlier so he gives up on testing the locked door and wisely books it out of there. Then Jack completely loses his marbles on Wendy when she interrupts his fevered writing. Later we see him looking decidedly unhinged as he stares out the window at his family who are frolicking outdoors in the snow.

A heavy winter storm blankets the hotel, making things feel even more insulated and claustrophobic. Kubrick once again follows Danny around on his Big Wheel as he bombs around a corner and runs smack dab into the same haunting twins we've seen before. This time, after staring balefully at him for a bit, they finally speak, and what they say doesn't come as a relief:

"Come play with us, Danny.  For ever and ever..."

Kubrick then turned my brain into gibbering mush by inter-splicing a few frames of the two girls lying bloodied and all hacked up on the floor. For the record, this ghastly image is single-handedly responsible for my irrational fear of old, underpopulated hotels and children. Particularly British children. 

This charming little scene necessitated yet another break. I shut off the VCR and hyperventilated for awhile under the comforting glow of every 60-watt bulb in my parent's house.

'This effin' movie is really getting under my skin,' I remember thinking to myself as I poured a few ketchup chips into a bowl. I looked down at them, suddenly felt queasy and immediately put them back in the bag.

Resigned to my fate, I returned to the haunted environs of the T.V. room and tentatively pressed the "PLAY" button. Damned if this movie was gonna get the best of me tonight.

Once again, Kubrick cleanses the palate by serving up a scene of relative domestic normalcy. But even now he can't help but needle our subconscious brain by showing Wendy and Danny watching a television set that isn't even plugged in. Dafuq?

Anyway, this false tranquility is soon torn asunder when Danny tries to tip-toe through their living quarters and encounters his dad, who's sitting on the edge of his bed looking disheveled. He invites his son over for a heart-to-heart, and the resulting exchange gives a pretty reliable sneak peak of what to expect during the second half of the film. When Danny asks Jack point blank if he plans to hurt him and / or his mum, Jack doesn't deny it right away, instead choosing to ask if Wendy put the idea in his head.

Then, in a "methinks thou dost protest too much" kinda moment he tells his son:

JACK: "I love you, Danny.  I love you more than anything else in the whole world, and I'd never do anything to hurt you, never. You know that, don't you, huh?"

Fun fact: Steven Spielberg once told Kubrick that he thought Jack Nicholson's performance in The Shining was so over the top as to be out of sight. Kubrick responded by asking Steven who his favorite actors are and Spielberg reflexively rhymed off "Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Cary Grant, Clark Gable." Kubrick stopped him and asked why the legendarily-hammy James Cagney wasn't on the list, because he was one of Stanley's all-time favorite actors.

I will also concede that Nicholson goes completely yooka-laylee mid-way through the film and his performance borders on parody at times. But the more I see The Shining, the more I realize that Kubrick and Nicholson took the right approach, especially after witnessing this subtle and chilling scene with Danny Lloyd. Let's face it: legit crazy people don't care if their mask of normalcy slips off. If anything, Jack's performance is very Cagney-esque: completely free of pretensions and unrepentantly unhinged.

Literally two scenes after reassuring his son that he won't touch a hair on his angelic l'il noggin, Jack has a harrowing nightmare about Ginsu-ing Wendy and Danny up with an axe. Wendy tries to re-assure him but then Danny stumbles into the room looking borderline catatonic. She runs over to him and notices that his shirt collar is ripped and he's got a dirty big red welt on his neck.

After spending about two milliseconds in her mind-palace, Wendy logically concludes that Jack had his ham-hocks all over the boy. But, then again, Wendy didn't witness the previous scene.

We, on the other hand, did see what happened. We saw a tennis ball roll towards Danny as he was playing with his toy cars in the hallway. We watched him stand up to investigate where it came from and then notice that the door for Room 237 was ajar. We didn't get to see what Danny witnessed in that room, but given the physical marks on the boy, we now suspect that Halloran's "harmless pictures in a book" theory isn't 100% accurate.

Or is it? More on that later...

Now tried and convicted, Jack goes on a tantrum-fueled stomp through the deserted hotel, eventually ending up in the Gold Ballroom. He grabs a seat at the bar, lamenting that he'd "sell his goddamn soul" for a glass of beer. And then, right on cue, the spectral bartender Lloyd appears, leading Jack to a confessional of sorts.

What's interesting is, up to this point in time, Jack has already been acting vaguely intoxicated. But when his enabler Lloyd shows up, he falls completely off the sanity wagon. This whole concept is inherently terrifying since Ullman has told us in no uncertain terms that every drop of booze has been removed from the hotel to cut down on off-season insurance costs.  

Sharp-eyed viewers among you might also notice that Jack praises Lloyd for his exemplary bartender skills but when he orders a bourbon, Lloyd clearly pours him a whiskey out of a J&B bottle. In the immortal words of Harry S. Plinkett: "you might not have noticed it, but your brain did."

Anyway Jack spends the next little while bad-mouthing Wendy, calling her "the old sperm bank" and a "bitch" at one point. He tells Lloyd that Wendy never let him forget about accidentally dislocating Danny's shoulder, even though we've seen absolutely no evidence of her harping on him. In fact, the only time she loses her shit on him is when the evidence points to no other possible suspect.

This is particularly telling when she shows up moments later and tells Jack that Danny was strangled by a  "crazy woman in one of the rooms".  Even though she's letting Jack off the hook by subscribing to their son's fevered retelling of events, Jack still comes back with "Are you out of your fucking mind?" Nice, Jack. Real classy

Of course, this sets up a scene where Jack investigates Room 237. When I watched this for the first time, I remember being positively shit-baked. This place had been built up right from reel one as the absolute nexus of horror for the entire film and considering what I'd suffered through thus far, I was nearly sick with dread.

We see Jack inch his way through the oddly-appointed suite, seemingly oblivious to the ominous music shredding what was left of my wits to ribbons. We see his hand on the bathroom doorway as he pushes it open and enters. We see the intimation of a figure in the bathtub behind the shower curtain. Slowly the curtain is drawn back by the occupant, revealing a gorgeous naked woman in the tub.  

Despite the fact that Jack has no clue who this woman is, he's clearly pleased by his good fortune. Especially as this mystery woman stands up, climbs out of the tub and starts walking towards him. With 'YOLO', the battle cry of horny men everywhere firmly in mind, Jack follows suit, embracing and then kissing her passionately. 

It's at this point when Kubrick clobbered me right between the eyes and the legs. We get a glimpse of the woman's true appearance in the mirror and what happens next is a masterclass in horror editing and sound design. It's so effective that I don't think its ever been rivaled in cinema history. 

Plot twist: all this time Jack has been snogging a dead elderly woman, her saggy, wrinkled flesh marred by wide-spread patches of rot. Relishing her deceit, the hag starts to cackle like a witch in a Disney cartoon. Then we get an unexpected shot of Danny experiencing some sort of seizure. Then back to the tub with the old woman's decayed body under water, her skin discolored and eyes agape. Naturally this is lit with the most harsh, unforgiving florescent lighting possible. 

Kubrick cruelly refuses to release us from this seemingly-endless symphony of terror. Next we cut back to Jack as he retreats from the room. Then we see the naked old crone, walking towards him, her wet hair like strings of seaweed, her toothless grin perverse and leering. Then over to a convulsing, drooling Danny. Then back to the corpse in the bathtub. Then onto Jack stumbling in reverse though the living room. Then back to the woman reaching out to him. Then back to Danny. Then back to the body RISING SLOWLY OUT OF THE BATHWATER, eyes still open and vacant. 

Even as Jack escapes the room, shuts the door and then bars it behind him, we can still hear that hideous, hair-raising cackle as he flees down the hallway.  

I distinctly remember turning the movie off at that point, if only to exert some terrestrial control over it. I turned on all of the lights again in an effort to drive back any malevolent threats that might be lurking in the shadows. During my tour of the house, I caught myself appraising common household objects for their defensive capabilities against disembodied entities. That's when I chided myself and realized that the only threat to me at that moment was Stanley Kubrick's fevered imagination.

Looking back over this series of Obligatory Halloween Posts, it's pretty easy to see one common denominator. All of these horror movies were helmed by a directors who's field of fucks were clear and presently barren. They shattered taboos right in front of you and then proceeded to rub your nose in it. They were fearless in their pursuit to scare the ever living shit out of the audience.

And that's what dutifully sent me back to the VCR. I felt that if I could get through The Shining, it would be the cinematic equivalent of eating the heart of your enemy and gaining their strength. So, once again I dimmed the lights, settled in and shakily mashed the "PLAY" button.

What happened next baffled me even more. Wendy asks Jack about what he saw in the room and he plays dumb. At first I was completely confused by this, but then I realized that if he'd come clean, Wendy would have thrown Jack and Danny over her shoulder, run down to the snow cat, thrown them both inside, started it up and wouldn't have stopped driving until they hit the first off-ramp to Boulder. Sure, Shelly Duvall is pretty spindly in the movie, but, hey, when the spirit moves you, so to speak...

Even without his confession, Wendy makes a cut and dried case for evacuation. Danny has another one of his perfectly-timed, patented blood tsunami visions just as Kubrick hard cuts back to Jack who violently rails against the very suggestion that they leave.

JACK: "It is so fucking typical of you to create a problem like this when I finally have a chance to accomplish something. When I'm really into my work. I could really write my own ticket if I went back to Boulder now, couldn't I? Shoveling out driveways, working in a car wash - any of that appeal to you? Wendy, I have let you fuck up my life so far, but I'm not going to let you fuck this up!"

Wendy is left reeling in the wake of Jack's caustic vitriol. He tears ass back to the Gold Room, where he inexplicably finds the place packed with revelers who all apparently share the same passion for "Roaring 20's" cosplay. After collecting another free drink from Lloyd, he mistakenly bumps into one of the servers, who spills several drinks onto his jacket. The waiter offers to clean Jack up and escorts him into the washroom.

In the next scene the butler is revealed to be Delbert Grady. At first we assume that it's the same Grady that Ullman was talking about at the beginning of the film, but that was "Charles" not "Delbert". Jack tries to get Grady to admit to being the former caretaker who murdered his own family but the waiter remains elusive and turns the focus back on Jack.

GRADY: "I'm sorry to differ with you, sir, but you are the caretaker. You have always been the caretaker. I should know, sir. I've always been here."

Grady does a complete bait-and-switch on Jack, warning him that Danny has already sent out a psychic S.O.S. to Dick Halloran after his harrowing encounter in Room 237. In many ways this discussion between Jack and Grady is just as spine-tingling and shocking as the visuals that came before it. Particularly caustic is how Grady refers to Halloran and how quickly Jack identifies Danny as "willful" and Wendy as someone who always "interferes".  

As soon as the cat is out of the bag, Grady sheds any pretensions and starts talking about his own struggles, albeit under the cloak of euphemism.

GRADY: "Perhaps they need a good talking to, if you don't mind my saying so. Perhaps a bit more. My girls, sir, they didn't care for the Overlook at first. One of them actually stole a packet of matches and tried to burn it down. But I corrected them, sir. And when my wife tried to prevent me from doing my duty I corrected her."

Upon hearing that, Jack's face lights up in a wolfish smile and you know that the denouement of the film will be as certain and unavoidable as the end of a Greek tragedy. Up to this point, the movie was running at about a "10" on the ol' Scare-O-Meter but this conversation cranks things up to a Spinal Tap-ian "11" and then breaks the knob off.

From here on in the film's pace becomes an unstoppable juggernaut. Danny is so traumatized by this point that Tony has taken over as the dominant personality. Wendy leaves the apartment to find Jack and tell him that she's taking Danny out in the snow cat. Clearly she's so troubled by these prospects that she brings a Louisville Slugger along with her for self defense.
Wendy goes to find Jack in the Colorado Lounge and discovers that the manuscript that he's been obsessively working on is a rather one-note autobiography that's admittedly no worse than your average Stephanie Meyer novel. Instantly her worse fears are confirmed and she's forced to face the fact that her husband has gone totally and irrevocably mad.

What follows is a scene that reportedly took one-hundred and thirty seven takes to get right. Jack pops up out of nowhere and starts berating Wendy. She tries to retreat back up the stairs, waving the baseball bat like a wand of protection out in front of her. Eventually she corks her manic husband in the melon, sending him tumbling down the steps.

It's breath-taking to watch this sequence for several reasons. For one, it's impeccably shot. Kubrick placed stacks of high-wattage floodlights just outside the fake windows of the lounge's studio interior, creating a genuinely over-exposed "snow blind" effect that you would typically only see during the dead of winter. This subtly conveys hints of cold isolation. There's no way out. He also uses the newly-minted Steadicam to great effect, making it feel as if camera's perspective, and the audience's P.O.V., is that of a disembodied voyeur. 

But it's the performances that make the scene particularly hard to watch. Jack is inhumanly cruel to his wife, mocking her voice, making light of her concern for their son and giving her a supreme guilt trip for not keeping the focus where it belongs: on her husband. As he backs her up the steps, Wendy begs him not to hurt her and he replies:

JACK: "Darling, light of my life, I'm not going to hurt you. You didn't let me finish my sentence. I said 'I'm not going to hurt you...I'm just going to bash your brains in!'  I'm going to bash them right the fuck in."

Sure, Jack is great, but the real super-star here is Shelly Duvall. By all accounts, Kubrick was inordinately cruel to her on set, to the point where she fell ill for months, suffered from fainting spells between scenes and her hair started falling out in clumps. I wouldn't be surprised if the seed of her current lamentable mental state was planted on the set of The Shining.    

In this scene, she isn't acting. She's just trying to get through it, which just so happens to be Wendy's motivation as well. All she wants to do is get away from Jack and get back to her room. Which begs the question: did Kubrick's unorthodox methods justify the means? Personally, I wouldn't have had the "belly for it" to paraphrase Grady, but it did result in one of the most memorable and authentic performances in cinema history. It's baffling and frankly unforgivable that Shelly Duvall was callously nominated for a Worst Performance Razzie Award in 1981. 

Wendy drags Jack's unconscious body into the food store room and locks him in. When Jack comes to, he tries to use every underhanded trick in the book to convince her to let him out, but she won't budge. When she tells him that she plans to take the snow cat into town and then come back with help, Jack ominously replies that she's got a "big surprise coming to her" and "she isn't going anywhere". 

Sure enough, Wendy discovers that Jack has disabled both the radio and the snow cat. As the realization dawns on Wendy that they're completely isolated now, we cut back to the store room where Delbert Grady turns up again. He mocks Jack, calling into question his ability to handle the escalating situation. Jack assures him that this is just a momentary hiccup and that he's fully committed to follow through on their verbal contract.

GRADY: "I fear that you will have to deal with this matter in the harshest possible way, Mr. Torrance. I fear that is the only thing to do."

JACK: "There's nothing I look forward to with the greater pleasure, Mr. Grady."

That's when we hear the pin being removed from the lock. It's the only instance in the entire film where the environment gets physically manipulated by "spiritual forces". I have a theory about that, which I'll mention later, but if you take the film at face value and believe that the hotel is indeed rife with malevolent ghosts, this is your biggest piece of supporting evidence.

From here on in it's just one visceral body blow after another. Drained, exhausted and oblivious to Jack's escape, Wendy falls asleep in their locked apartment. Danny wakes up, the voice of Tony muttering "REDЯUM, REDЯUM" over and over again. He picks up a knife, writes this cryptic word on the bathroom door and then starts to approach his sleeping mum. Does he intend to do her harm?

Watching this for the first time I could feel the hackles rising on my back as Tony's eerie mantra got increasingly louder and more shrill. Roused by the unsettling noise, Wendy wakes up and immediately embraces her son, even though he's standing over her with a butcher knife. Set to the cacophonous strains of the spine-jangling soundtrack, Wendy looks up and sees the word "REDЯUM" reversed in the mirror as "MURDER". At that self-same moment, the head of Jack's fire-axe hits the apartment door for the first time. 

This is yet another bravura example of music, editing and deft camera work. I love the quick zoom in on "MURDER" just as the soundtrack kicks in. Also amazing is how Kubrick manages to keep the head of Jack's axe in the center of the frame every time he draws back and swings at the door. Sharp-eyed audience members will also notice that the music is largely absent while this is happening. 

Though terrified, Wendy has the presence of mind to gather up her son and the knife and retreat into the bathroom just as Jack breaks through. Shelley shoves Danny through the outside window / mail slot and then tries to follow suit but is surprised to learn that she's too big (!) to squeeze through. She tells him to run and hide and then turns back just as Jack makes his first connection with the bathroom door.

Moments before her psychotic husband is about to break through ("HEEEEERE'S JOHNNY!!!"), Jack hears the sound of a snow cat outside. He leaves her to stalk and murder the "intruder" Halloran with the axe, which has become another source of criticism of the film. I can sorta see this if only because Kubrick goes out of his way to show every step of Halloran's odyssey to get back to the hotel. He finally gets there after an epic trek only to get hacked down by Jack as unceremoniously as a kid knocking over a pile of Jenga blocks.

But there are many reason why things happen this way. First off it shows that Jack will murder anyone that stands in the way of his fantasy life at the hotel. On a merely practical level, it provides Wendy and Danny with a possible means of escape. Next it subverts audience expectations that anticipates some big clash between Jack and Halloran. Finally, I believe that it dove-tails with the film's theme which I'll touch on later.

Jack then chases Danny out of the hotel and into the nearby hedge maze. This leaves Wendy alone in the hotel, searching frantically for her son while trying to escape. This results in one memorable system shock after another for both the viewer and the beleaguered mom. 

Kubrick annihilated what was left of my frazzled nerves by having Wendy stumble upon some sort of lurid, surreal, half-glimpsed costumed coupling going on behind a half-open door. Just thinking about this image and the teeth-jangling music always gives me chills because its so fucking inexplicable. My brain always short-circuits whenever I see it. I guess, in full disclosure, I need to add "furries" to my list of irrational fears, along with British kids and old hotels.    

Another jolt to the nerves. Another pause for air. At least when I went back to the movie that last time I could see the maze's exit in the distance. 

After the costumed shenanigans, Wendy gets treated to the hotel's greatest hits package: including a zoom in on Halloran's bloody corpse, a formally-attired wraith with a massive head-wound who casually remarks "Great party, isn't it?", a dusty, cob-webbed chamber filled with funhouse skeletons and finally her own private showing of the blood-filled elevators. All told, it's a last final "fuck you" from Kubrick to all of those pretenders who claim to be "masters of horror".  

By now, Danny has managed to outwit his psychotic pops in the maze by back-tracking in his own footsteps and jumping off the path. Jack roars by and Danny follows the prints out to the exit and reunites with his mom. They escape in the snow cat and we get one final smash cut into the harsh light of day and the jarring sight of a frozen Jacksicle.

Of course the movie can't end without yet another Kubrick-ian head-scratcher. The camera slowly zooms in on a photo hanging on the wall which shows an impossibly-young Jack standing front and center among a huge throng of  period-attired revelers. The cryptic caption on the image reads "Overlook Hotel - July 4'th Ball, 1921."

At first I just assumed that Jack was either a re-incarnation or just a distant relative of someone who once worked at the hotel. This sort of explains why Jack was drawn there and why he has such an odd affinity for the place; a case of "ancestral recall" as it were. Now I think the entire mise-en-scene is just one big analogy. Specifically I think the Overlook Hotel is a representation of America, and everything that happens during the film is just a rumination on white privilege, cyclical abuse and historic gender roles.

Hearkening back to the roaring 20's is nothing new. Sure, it was a boom time, but it was also rife with racism and exploitation. It's the same myopic nostalgia that Donald Trump and his ilk have for the 1950's, which was a real Golden Age so long as you weren't black or a woman. I think the Overlook itself is an idealized view of the kind of America that people like Jack dream about.

America was built on the backs of natives, slaves and immigrants but the country's success has almost universally been claimed by white people. The film drives home this point when Ullman casually mentions that the hotel was built on an Indian burial ground and Jack later makes a non-sequitur reference to "white man's burden" while drinking with Lloyd. This is a reference to a hideously-racist poem written by Rudyard Kipling which posits that "civilized" nations should be encouraged, nay obliged, to help out more "primitive" races under the guise of imperialism.

This is also why Grady is so adamant that Jack eliminate "outsiders" like Halloran. It's to keep the environment, or "America" pure. Sound familiar? I also think that's why Halloran gets disposed of so easily. Kubrick shows him doing the right thing, busting his ass to respond to Danny's alert and come save the hotel that he has a vested interest in. But as soon as Halloran tries to right the wrongs, Jack just bombs in and cuts him down without hesitation in a selfish, wasteful moment of self-preservation.

As for the rest of the film, I believe that it's largely psychological. Jack, like the average guy, was probably told during a formative age that having sex with as many women as possible is a large part of being a man. I think that he got Wendy pregnant by mistake and was then baffled when those same societal forces demanded that he marry her and raise his son. Unable to reconcile these two directives, he now simmers away in a stew of resentment, silently wishing that they'd just go away because he thinks his life would be better without them. That's why he's hostile to them right from their first scene together. Remember, "All Work and No Play makes Jack a Dull Boy."

This resentment boils over from time to time, which results in physical and verbal abuse. That's why I believe Jack injured Danny in Room 237. After all, isn't the tennis ball that rolls towards Danny the very same ball that Jack was firing against the wall in those earlier scenes? This also reaffirm's Halloran's belief that the visions are all harmless. Danny's coping visions aren't aren't going to leave a physical mark, but his father's hands will. 

But what about Jack's own encounter encounter in Room 237? Well, I think the whole thing is a manifestation of his guilt over Wendy. When he sees the hottie in the tub he doesn't think twice about making out with her, because that's what happened when he met Wendy. But when the hottie starts to turn into something flawed, aged and imperfect, he's repulsed.     

Now I hear you asking, "Wait a minute, Dave! What about Grady?" No worries, I was just getting to him.

You'll notice that every encounter that Jack that has with "ghosts" in the movie (save Room 237) is a positive experience. They're welcome residents in a fantasy world of his own creation. The same goes for Grady. There's a reason why Jack and Grady converse in a mirrored bathroom and why the bartender Lloyd seems to emerges from a mirror. I believe that Jack sees both of them as a reflection of his own self.

Grady and Lloyd are dichotomies: they may be servants, but they're posh servants. Jack sees himself in the exact same manner: he's a blue-collar shlub, workin' for "that man" but he has lofty ambitions. He's protective of the status quo yet resentful that this hasn't paid off in dividends yet. He's got the right skin color to match society's elite but not the right bank balance. 

I think the reason why Grady is given two different first names and why Lloyd fucks up the drink order is because they're both constructs of Jack's psyche and the product of his own incompetence. Lloyd justifies Jack's drinking (I.E. insanity) while Grady is Jack's sounding board to work himself up to whacking his family. He sincerely thinks that by rebooting his personal life and keeping any "undesirables" away he'll finally get the full windfall of white privilege that's owned to him. This, in spite of the fact that Jack is lazy, entitled and seems himself as thoroughly blameless for his own lot in life.

Which brings me to Wendy. She's the glue that holds the family together, even if the family should be crumbling by rights. Have you noticed that Wendy is the only person who actually does any work? She cooks the meals, tidies the place up, keeps tabs on the weather, monitors the boilers and regularly checks in with the forest rangers. So when Jack suggests that Wendy is trying to get him to shirk his responsibilities to his employers, this almost comes off as laughable. 

In contrast to the male paradigm of "go forth and conquer", women of Wendy's generation were told that they'll be successful if they found a reasonably-suitable man, got married and had babies. If the man is scarcely suitable, then women are told that she should do whatever they can to change him and if she can't improve him, this might be seen as some sort of personal failure. This holds especially true in the movie since Wendy is more apt to believe Danny's "crazy-woman-in-one-of-the- rooms" yarns then accept the fact that Jack hurt their son again. 

And I think that's why Wendy finally starts to see "spirits" during her escape from the hotel. She's forced to confront the fact that her raison d'etre, her husband, is a psychotic monster and this shatters her entire paradigm. The resulting shock causes her own psychotic breakdown, which manifests in all of the crazy shit she sees.

As for Danny, I believe his visions are just a symptom of the routine abuse he suffers at the hands of his father. Tony is more than just an imaginary friend, he's part of split personality that ends up assuming control of the boy when the trauma becomes too much to bear. I also think that Tony is the one who releases Jack from the storage room because he wants Jack to get his comeuppance, perhaps at the hands of Halloran or Wendy. When this doesn't happen, it's up to Danny / Tony to lure Jack into the maze and make him pay for all the grief he's caused. Danny does this by literally back-tracking in his father's foot steps and not leading the vanguard into another cycle of abuse.  

And finally, there's the photo. I really don't believe it represents a previous incarnation of Jack. I believe its a commentary on Jack's antiquated beliefs. Spiritually, he's more at home in 1921 then he's ever been in present day. Rather than see the flaws in the hotel and everything it stands for, Jack keeps glorifying the setting and the era. So instead of forging a real future with his family, his soul becomes forever lodged in what amounts to a Star Trek-ian temporal causality loop.  

Or, hey, maybe the whole movie is just about evil spirits in a haunted house that goad a mentally unstable former alcoholic into trying to murder his wife and child.

I'm serious. Kubrick was once asked about symbolism in The Shining during a interview and he said that "For the purposes of telling the story, my view is that the paranormal is genuine. Jack's mental state serves only to prepare him for the murder, and to temporarily mislead the audience". He also went on to state, in no uncertain terms, that "the ballroom photograph at the very end suggests the reincarnation of Jack."

But that's what makes this movie so great. It's like the Dagobah tree in The Empire Strikes Back; viewers always take out of the film precisely what they bring into it.

Like I said before, The Shining was practically pilloried by critics when it was first released. In addition to poor Shelly Duvall getting a wholly undeserved Razzie nomination for Worst Actress, Kubrick was inconceivably nominated for Worst Director. It's hysterically short sighted looking back on it now. 

Perhaps the film's most notable critic was Stephen King himself. He thought that Kubrick had taken far too many liberties with the original source material. Interestingly enough, when King personally oversaw a slavishly-faithful television movie version in 1997, the results were tepid and forgettable at best.

Personally, I think King hated this version because the character of Jack was largely autobiographical. King hated to see Jack portrayed as an asshole from the beginning because he took it as a personal affront but nothing could be further from the truth. I just think Stanley hated the idea of the audience having any sympathy at all for Jack. In Kubrick's eyes, Jack is a self-centered, misogynist, racist, serially abusive prick who's obsessed with self-betterment to the ruination of all else.

Whenever I re-watch the film I get the impression that Kubrick read King's novel at arms length. That distance and perspective gave him the ability to hone in on the novel's true subtext which he went on to underscore in his film version. The resulting picture is a lean and mean masterpiece. It's one of the most artistic, epic, psychologically-complex and flat out terrifying movies ever unleashed on an unsuspecting public.

And every year I test the film again to see if it still holds sway over me and guess what? It never fails to frighten the crap outta me. Even now, just as I'm writing about it, I'm getting chills up and down my spine. 

So, for its memorable setting, brilliant cinematography, go-for-broke performances, labyrinthine subtext and eternally haunting, perverse imagery, The Shining scores a "4" out of "5" on the ol' Evil-O-Meter:

So, there you have it, kiddies! Join me again same time next year for yet another installment of my Obligatory Halloween Post.

EPIC: Even thought Kubrick is quoted as saying "If you submit it to a completely logical and detailed analysis of (a supernatural story) it will eventually appear absurd", it hasn't prevented cinephiles from dissecting every aspect of The Shining in excruciating detail. This resulted in the gloriously loopy doc Room 237, which isn't so much about the movie as it is about bending the interpretation of art just to suit your questionable agenda. 

ALSO EPIC (BUT FOR TOTALLY DIFFERENT REASONS): Stanley's daughter Vivian shot a "behind the scenes" doc during the making of The Shining that really gives a lot of insight into the production, particularly where it concerns the cast and crew dealing with her father's eccentricities. It's buried in the middle of this low-fi episode of BBC's "Arena" but its still worth a watch.

FAIL:  There's a reason why movies are different from books, Stephen.