RETRO REVIEW Still Trapped in the Overlook After All These Years: The Plaza Theatre Presents Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING and Documentary ROOM 237!

Posted on: Jun 6th, 2014 By:

THE SHINING (1980); Dir. Stanley Kubrick; Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers; Friday, June 6–Thursday, June 12 (see Plaza website for times and ticket prices); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

ROOM 237 (2012); Dir. Rodney Ascher; Starring Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan and Jay Weidner; Friday, June 6–Thursday, June 12 (see Plaza website for times and ticket prices); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

The Plaza Theatre is presenting an intriguing pairing of films this month. Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece of horror, THE SHINING, is being coupled with Rodney Ascher’s documentary on that film’s obsessives, ROOM 237. See both: marvel at Kubrick’s handiwork and then marvel at the interpretations offered up by the movie’s most hardcore fans.

Recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) has just accepted a job as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. The hotel, which was built on an Indian burial ground, gets snowed in and inaccessible during the winter, and constant care must be taken to ensure that the elements don’t take a toll on the building during those harsh months. The Overlook also has a troubled history—the previous caretaker lost his mind and killed himself and his family, and other horrors are suggested to have occurred during its many years of operation. Jack sees this assignment as a perfect time to get some writing done, and to rebuild his relationship with his family: wife Wendy and son Danny (Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd). However, Danny has “the shining”—the power of telepathy, and the ability to see visions of past and future events…a power that the hotel itself seems to share, and which could bring down the already-unstable walls of sanity that Jack Torrance has tried so hard to build.

Okay, last time we spoke, I described MARK OF THE VAMPIRE as being one of the more controversial classic horror movies. Well, THE SHINING is probably the most controversial modern horror film. It seems that most folks find no middle ground when discussing this movie: it’s either one of the greatest horror films of all time, or it’s an overrated piece of tripe. Very few people come away from it thinking “meh, that was okay.”

Why is that? Well, there are a number of reasons.

Firstly, there’s the temperament of the viewer, and a lot depends on how they feel about the change in direction Stanley Kubrick’s films took with his 1968 science fiction epic 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. While his earlier films are certainly full of extended takes, deep focus and long tracking shots, those films are also more dynamic—typically full of emotionally-charged, dramatic moments. 2001 established that he was unafraid of presenting long takes in a quiet and lingering manner that seemed to examine the characters from a distance. The shots seem to emphasize the isolation of his movies’ central characters in an oppressive, surrounding environment. Paradoxically, the combination of deep focus and extended shot length creates an immersive experience: the viewer feels the same overwhelming subjective experience of the film’s characters, but the tone of Kubrick’s approach keeps the viewer knowingly at arm’s length from those characters. The viewer feels as if he or she is there, but still distanced from the action. Depending on your taste, you can find this compelling and suspenseful, or you can find it cold, detached and boring.

Secondly, there’s the question of fidelity to the film’s source. Stephen King has never cared for this adaptation of his novel (though his initial hatred of it has calmed over time). And that’s kind of understandable. The novel was written largely as a way of dealing with his own alcoholism and the anger issues he encountered as a husband and father, and to see his sympathetic stand-in Jack Torrance depicted as being pretty well off his nut right out of the gate…well, I might take it personally too. Beyond the treatment of Jack Torrance, King has been consistent in his criticism that the film abandons many of his own novel’s themes. King also felt that Kubrick (being a staunch atheist) tried to muddy the waters of the supposed reality of the ghosts that haunt the Overlook Hotel—that he shifted the balance too far in suggesting that the spirits seen are all products of the mind’s eye. So if you’re among those who feel that a filmed adaptation needs to remain as faithful to its source as possible (particularly if you’re also a fan of King’s novel), you may walk away disappointed.

Thirdly, there’s the question of the acting in the film. To be sure, everyone’s performances in the movie are pitched over the threshold of what is considered normal. Jack, Wendy and Danny are all higher-strung than your everyday family members. Jack isn’t just crazy, he’s berserk. Wendy’s not just growing more upset, she’s panic-stricken. Danny isn’t just frightened, he’s rendered wide-eyed and speechless. And it’s easy to get rubbed the wrong way by what can be seen as overacting.

But, man, I can’t get on board with any of those criticisms.

I’m a huge fan of Kubrick’s technique. His utilization of these long takes creates a tension that I find nearly unbearable. The viewer remains merely and consciously an observer to what’s going on. And as you witness the events of THE SHINING snowballing while the film progresses, it’s as if the film’s compositional structure itself is telling you that there’s not a single thing you can do to help these people. You can sympathize with them if you like, but you remain at a distance. It is a detached aesthetic, yes, but there is purpose behind it.

Also, when it comes to fidelity to source material, a filmmaker should not be forced into a promise to remain faithful to any work they’re adapting. Film and literature are two completely different animals; what works in one does not necessarily work in the other. And an adaptation is an interpretation by definition, not a direct copy of what is being referenced. Criticizing THE SHINING for straying from King’s novel is like criticizing Picasso for not painting a photorealistic depiction of the bombing of Guernica, or John Coltrane for recording a My Favorite Things that only glances occasionally at Rodgers and Hammerstein’s original composition. Kubrick has his own goals, and uses King’s source as a jumping-off point to achieve those goals. Judge his film on its own terms, not the terms King lays down in his novel. (If a close adaptation is what you seek, search out the 1997 TV mini-series. It’s remarkably close to its source novel, thanks to King adapting his own novel for the screen, while faithful King director Mick Garris helms the production. It’s also dreadful.)

(Side note and potential spoiler: Kubrick fully expects you to come away believing that the ghosts are real. His aim, stated in interviews at the time, was to have the viewer question whether the hotel is really haunted, or if the visions are the product of Jack and Danny’s haunted minds until the latter choice becomes impossible. Ask yourself this: if the ghosts aren’t real, who opens the supply room door?)

And then there’s the acting. I agree that it can be over-the-top. However, some things should be kept in mind: both Wendy and Danny are still traumatized by the abusive acts of Jack Torrance (which are only hinted at; one event of abuse is detailed, wherein Jack broke the young Danny’s arm, but the implication is that this is the only thing he did that left a physical mark and that Wendy is able to admit). So “naturalistic” acting is probably not something that would fit. Wendy is constantly in a nervous state of denial. Danny is withdrawn and in a constant state of unease. Additionally, everyone’s fragile state of mind is being affected by the presence of the power that permeates the very walls of the Overlook Hotel. And then there’s the technical issue that all of the actors simply must deliver large performances, lest they be completely overwhelmed by their surroundings. The Overlook is such a huge, overpowering presence, that meeker performances would be lost in competition.

And let’s not forget the set design of the Overlook itself. It doesn’t make any sense. Look at it. Windows to the outside are present in rooms nowhere near an outside wall. Paths taken through the hotel don’t add up. It is subconsciously upsetting because we constantly get a sense that something is wrong, but we can’t quite put our finger on why. The “why” is that we try to force a logical layout on the landscape that is rejected by the hotel itself. The Overlook is like some Escher-esque labyrinth of madness, waiting to ensnare anyone who wanders inside and who is sensitive to its forces. The repeated patterns of the hotel’s décor lull us into accepting that this is order. But these merely disguise the chaos that undulates underneath this superficial fabric.

(In case I’m not making myself clear here, I love this movie.)

In short, it’s a masterpiece of horror cinema, and one of Kubrick’s most towering achievements. And like all great works of art, it has inspired debate and subjective interpretation. This is where Rodney Ascher’s documentary ROOM 237 comes in. Told entirely in voiceover and using a brilliantly conceived montage of images from Kubrick’s filmography and sources as disparate as SCHINDLER’S LIST and Lamberto Bava’s DEMONS, the film details the many theories and interpretations of Kubrick’s movie. These theories range from the outlandish (THE SHINING is an apology for Kubrick’s alleged part in faking the moon landing) to the less-outlandish (THE SHINING is a metaphor for the constant recurrence of violence in America) to the “let’s sync up THE WIZARD OF OZ and DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, man!” level of stoned college student ingenuity (THE SHINING is meant to be played forward and backward at the same time).

Smartly, the documentary doesn’t take a stance; just presents each person’s take on the film without judgment and allows you to evaluate each wildly differing interpretation on your own. For my money, the structure of the documentary is a little haphazard, jumping around from viewpoint to viewpoint, but it’s hard to argue with the ultimate brunt of Ascher’s film. This isn’t really about THE SHINING. This is about obsessive fandom. This is about film geekery. And to the subjects of ROOM 237, THE SHINING is like that elusive monolith in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. It stands impenetrable, but if you could only touch it, it could unlock untold worlds. All of the narrators feel like they’ve touched it and come away with The Truth. But in reality, they’ve been sucked into the labyrinth that is the Overlook Hotel just like poor Jack Torrance. It’s just not quite as unsettling to see them navigate their way around it.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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RETRO REVIEW: Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre Unearth a Blood-Soaked Valentine With CEMETERY MAN!

Posted on: Feb 9th, 2014 By:

CEMETERY MAN (1994); Dir. Michele Soavi; Starring Rupert Everett, Anna Falchi and François Hadji-Lazaro; Tuesday, February 18 @ 9:30 p.m. (photos and merch table open @ 9:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Bringing classic gore flicks back to life is the mission of Splatter Cinema, and this Tuesday’s engagement at the Plaza Theatre is a special one indeed: Michele Soavi’s brilliant CEMETERY MAN!

Along with his compatriot, Lamberto Bava (son of the legendary filmmaker Mario Bava), director Michele Soavi breathed a bit of life into the twitching corpse of the Italian horror renaissance kicked off by Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. Both worked under Argento as assistant/second unit directors, while Soavi took on acting roles in a number of Italian horror films as well (that’s him as the metal-faced mystery guy in DEMONS and as the boyfriend forced to watch his girlfriend puke up her intestines in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD). And while Bava’s films typically went for the blunt, straight-ahead shocks of DEMONS and gialli like DELIRIUM, Soavi typically gravitated toward the surrealistic and fantastic elements of SUSPIRIA and THE BEYOND. 1989’s THE CHURCH and 1991’s THE SECT—both made under the auspices of Dario Argento’s production—both showed the kind of promise that he held as a filmmaker, but were hindered by scripts that drew too freely from highly influential works (THE CHURCH hews closely to Argento’s SUSPIRIA and INFERNO, while THE SECT is ROSEMARY’S BABY redux).

But once out from under his mentor’s wing, Soavi soared with perhaps the last great film of the Italian new wave of horror, CEMETERY MAN (released in Italy with the much better title, DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, a pun on the main character’s name which translates as either “about death and about love” or “about the death of love”).

Francesco Dellamorte is the caretaker of the Buffalora cemetery, assisted by his mentally handicapped assistant Gnaghi, who can only speak the syllable “gna.” Dellamorte’s humdrum life consists of maintaining the grounds, crossing out the names of the dead from phone books and killing the reanimated corpses that rise after seven days of interment…all of which he undertakes with the same bored stoicism. It’s a job, after all, and shooting the zombies is easier than going through the paperwork needed to get any help. When he becomes infatuated with a young widow and Gnaghi falls for the mayor’s daughter, however, things take a turn for the worse.

Soavi’s film is full of delightfully dark comedy and the kind of atmosphere the Italian horror scene hadn’t witnessed in years, comparable to the best of Bava, Fulci and Argento. The tone and visuals not only echo the best of Italo-horror, but also the best of Terry Gilliam’s works—no surprise, as Gillaim devotee Soavi was second unit director on 1988’s THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN and reportedly shot about a quarter of that film. Rupert Everett is especially effective as Dellamorte, bringing the right amount of pathos and longing to his dour role, while still delivering believable doses of sarcasm, wit and violence. And while the film isn’t quite as graphically violent as many of its Italian zombie counterparts, its effects (by maestro Sergio Stivaletti) are expertly pulled off.

It’s a rare film that can combine detailed character study, an exploration of the joys and pain of love and romance, rollicking comedy, explosive violence and the inevitable reanimation of the dead. But CEMETERY MAN is it. If just about anyone else tried to do it, it would likely come out as pretentious and scattershot, but Michele Soavi is the man who proved it could be done and done successfully.

Unfortunately for the Italian horror film scene and its fans, Soavi retired from feature film work after CEMETERY MAN to care for his ailing son, though he took on some television work in the years following. And while rumors of a return to horror have been suggested (with news of a potential sequel to CEMETERY MAN floated over the past two years), Soavi’s resurrection remains something the faithful still anticipate with bated breath.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Kool Kat of the Week: Goddess, Giallo & Gorezone: Jeremy Morris Conjures Up a Twisted Fears Weekend to Kick Off a Hellacious Halloween Season for Atlanta Horror Fans

Posted on: Sep 25th, 2013 By:

Ruggero Deodato and Jeremy Morris. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Morris.

Ultimate Scream Queen Barbara Steele! Italian giallo director Lamberto Bava (DEMONS), son of Mario Bava! Ruggero Deodato, as in the original DJANGO (1966) and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979)! These names are simply legend among cult cinephiles, and they all will be in Atlanta for Twisted Fears Weekend, a three-day horror convention Sept. 27-29 at the Atlanta Marriott Perimeter Center. And that’s just the terrifying tip of a Retro-tastic guest line-up that also includes Linnea Quigley (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD), a SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE  (1982) cast reunion, Tony Todd (CANDYMAN ), Fred “The Hammer” Williamson  (BLACK CAESAR , FROM DUSK TILL DAWN ), Geretta Geretta  (DEMONS ), Lynn Lowry (original THE CRAZIES ), and more.

The eerie event also will celebrate the worldwide re-launch of Gorezone, the even more splattery sister magazine of Fangoria . Needless to say, ATLRetro couldn’t help but declare con organizer Jeremy Morris Kool Kat of the Week to find out all the deadly details.

ATLRetro: I’ve heard so many local horror fans express absolute surprise and delight about Twisted Fears. Did it get started with the Gorezone anniversary or was something else the catalyst?

Jeremy Morris: Twisted Fears was formed a year ago by my twisted imagination. I have been in the convention scene nearly 20 years. I have met a lot of great people along the way. The true reasoning of the creation of Twisted Fears was a part of my true love of the horror genre. I have lived in Atlanta all of my life and I felt it was time to do a show with a twist, something different than what fans may be accustomed too.

Twisted Fears has an amazing guest line-up, including a lot of celebrities known for their European horror work, making it very different from Days of the Dead, Dragoncon, or even most horror cons around the country. Why take that the con in that direction?

This question is very easy to answer. As a long-time fan of this convention scene, I have always wished to see more international guests at shows because there are a lot of films [that are] forgotten. I chose to bring in guests that you may have not seen in a long time or possibly never, which gives the fans a fresh new roster of celebrities.

GOBLIN’s playing a few days later on Tuesday Oct. 1. Their shows are selling out across the country, and Fabio Frizzi  also is doing a Halloween concert  in London. AMERICAN HORROR STORY  has a clear giallo influence, which many think will be even more so this fall with its “Coven” storyline. Why do you think there’s such a resurgence of interest in giallo right now?

In my opinion, some of the greatest horror films originated from the Italian genre. People are craving fresh, new ideas while sometimes new ideas consist of rejuvenating past genres of films and the Italians are one of them.

Fangoria ad for Twisted Fears. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Morris.

We are just privileged and honored that Barbara and Lamberto have chosen to join us for the inaugural year of Twisted Fears. I consider them legends in their own right. They have influenced some of the greatest films that we know of to date.They will be participating in a Q&A panel on Saturday.

I am sure you don’t want to play favorites, but is there anyone you are particularly excited you were able to book?

I am truly excited for all of my guests I was able to book because I took great pride in the guest selection as a fan first. If I had to choose one that made me giggle it would be Ruggero Deodato because he is so rarely seen, but I consider him the master of Italian horror.

Jeremy Morris. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Morris.

Did you grow up reading Fango and Gorezone? What impact did these two magazines have on you?

Yes, I grew up reading Fango, I actually own the first issue. I have considered it the Godfather of all horror publications. I am truly honored that we were hand chosen to re-launch Gorezone after so many years of absence. It makes me giddy inside to think Fangoria wanted to be a part of this show.

One of the anniversary treats is a virtual interview with Fango Editor Chris Alexander, who’s based in Toronto. Can you talk a little about that

It is an anniversary treat so you need to be there to find out!!!

A lot of folks might think about just coming on Saturday. Why should they buy a full weekend pass instead? Or kick in the extra bucks for a VIP pass?

We have a lot of panels, events, night-time parties scheduled. The signature event is the first of it’s kind, our own Twisted Feast Dinner Party, with a very intimate setting for all fans to have a quiet dinner with all of the guests in attendance. This is a chance to truly have an experience of meeting the guests like no other.

What else do you want horror fans to know about Twisted Fears Weekend?

I want the fans to know that Twisted Fears will continue to be a show of firsts on every level as we continue to grow. Most importantly I am a fan and always will be a fan first. And I will see you in May 2014 for the sequel.

Hours for Twisted Fears Weekend are Friday Sept. 27, 4-10 p.m., Sat. Sept. 28, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., and Sun. Sept. 29, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more info and to purchase advance VIP and general admission tickets, visit http://www.twistedfears.com/.

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