Tag Archives: Shelley Duvall

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

Confession time: I saw Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining for the first time last night. I know, late to the party. Gotta say, I get the hype. From the first haunting, magisterial helicopter shots that follow Jack Torrence’s car up a gorgeous Montana mountain road to the icy snowbound finale in and around the deserted Overlook Hotel, this is one effective chiller that doesn’t quit, and succeeds in whipping up an atmospheric mania that culminates in the final shot, a simple black and white photograph that says it all. Nicholson is terrifying in every staccato gesture and possessed, ravenous glare as Torrence, a man who already has the capacity for volcanic violence if pushed, and all it takes is the seething malevolence of the hotel to push him right over that edge and turn him into a homicidal monster. Danny Lloyd is appropriately creepy as his kid and handles the dual voices thing in creepy fashion. My favourite performance of the film has to be Shelley Duvall though, and now it stands as one of my favourite works of acting in the horror genre itself. I’ve heard that Kubrick pushed her to some pretty dicey places to play Wendy Torrence, and fuck man she really got there. When shit starts getting freaky, she reacts in a raw, naturally progressive way that shatters all artifice and practically burns organically right into the celluloid, I believed her outright terror and her work pulled me right into the situation. Joe Turkel and and Philip Stone are super creepy as, shall we say, permanent residents of the Overlook, and Scatman Crothers is good if a little cartoonish as Halloran, the head chef who tries to help the Torrence family before it’s too late. Now, it’s no secret that Stephen King dislikes this film, and honestly I can’t see why anyone was surprised. I’m a huge King disciple and I’ve noticed that literally every other adaptation of his work but this one has felt like King, without really doing its own thing. Kubrick boldly went and made a totally different vision than King had, and that’s fine. This is a cold, desolate chiller with none of King’s trademark emotional beats or fiercely internal storytelling, and it works wonders as that. It isn’t perfect, some of the dialogue in the first half is awfully stilted and awkward, but that was sometimes a hallmark of the 70’s. I also wish there was more character development with Jack before he goes postal, it sort of makes it so you mostly only care about Wendy as opposed to the family as a unit, which would have been more effective. The film overall is brilliant though, particularly in score, cinematography and atmosphere. So many images are now iconic: the kaleidoscope carpet design, the room full of blood, those two creepy girls, that axe busting through the door, and they are all beyond fantastic, but some of my favourite frames are the ones less celebrated, like the stark moonlight through foggy snowdrifts outside, the sentinel hedge maze on the grounds, the opening vista shots of wilderness that suggest the horror comes from some vaguely elemental place. The score is a broad, varied soundboard of threatening death notes, ambient passages and startling cues. This is every bit the beloved horror piece I’ve always heard about, I’m glad I finally saw it, I enjoyed the hell out of it and I can’t wait to revisit.

-Nate Hill

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B Movie Glory: The 4th Floor

The 4th Floor is an odd little horror vehicle starring Juliette Lewis and William Hurt, two big names who you wouldn’t usually find in low budget, bizarre stuff like this. Lewis plays a young woman who moves into an ancient New York apartment building only to find that something malevolent is going on inside. Hurt is her big-shot TV weatherman boyfriend who is resentful about it as he’d hoped she would make the step and move in with him. Anywho, the building is home to a host of creepy types including an awkward caretaker (Austin Pendleton), a woman for some reason named Martha Stewart (Shelley Duvall), a weirdo lock smith (Tobin ‘Jigsaw’ Bell) who doubles as an artist and others. They’re all kind of set up like dominoes and you’re supposed to choose which one is behind the evil what-have-you, but it isn’t all that scary or enthralling. Still, it’s atmospheric enough, has a great cast who do pretty well, and anything with Lewis in the lead role is already sold for me. The film’s strongest point is the twist ending, but it’s such a fleetingly subtle revelation that many probably missed, a last minute thing you’ll either see or you won’t, but changes the dynamic of the entire film jarringly and ends on a nice, tense cliffhanger. Passable stuff.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Russell Mulcahy’s Tale Of The Mummy

Russell Mulcahy’s Talos: Tale Of The Mummy is a fascinating failure of huge proportions, a well casted, unbelievable muck-up that has to be seen to be believed. When your low rent Mummy flick comes out at pretty much the same time as Stephen Sommer’s classic The Mummy, you know you have no shot at getting it out there past a few cable runs, especially when the film has been plagued by one nightmare of an editing fiasco from day one, not to mention low budget and more pacing issues than spastics in a sack race. There’s two apparent versions of it, a 115 minute international cut that was edited down to 88 minutes because of some humour that was in bad taste and aforementioned pacing problems. I saw the shorter version, and I can’t imagine the flow of the film being any worse than what I bore witness too, so maybe they should have just gone with the original cut, but who can really say. The film is essentially just two very cluttered, chaotic prologues jam packed with cameos and creaky special effects, and then one long boring extended horror sequence set in London, so you never get the feeling that they knew what they were doing before the editing process even commenced.

The opening sees archeologist Christopher Lee unearthing some ancient tomb in Egypt with his assistant (Jon Polito), both getting very quickly dispatched by some evil via a flurry of visual effects that are either really cool or really bad, jury is still out on that one for me, they’re just weird more than anything. Skip ahead some years and yet another team falls victim to this Talos Mummy thing, led by Louise Lombard, Brit tough guy Sean Pertwee and Gerard Butler of all people, in what is probably his first movie gig ever. Flash forward to London some months later, we see the Mummy thing roaming around killing people at will, and also seemingly at random. Two detectives played by Jason Scott Lee (looking very out of place in England) and Jack ‘Commodore Norrington’ Davenport investigate and the story just loses itself to nonsensical doldrums and lame ‘scares’ for the rest of the duration. Shelley Duvall bizarrely shows up as a journalist, as well as Honor Blackman and the Sean Pertwee character, now a raving madman who no one will believe when he says the Mummy is out to get them. I’m still aghast at the sheer number and variety of notable actors Mulcahy got to appear in this thing, most of them fleeting or short lived but still making hilarious impressions in a story they had to know was just plain silly. There’s a few things that work; the FX in the Christopher Lee sequence are a neat, schlocky blend of CGI and practical and work on their own scrappy terms. There’s a very brief flashback sequence to Ancient Egypt that shows how Talos became an evil creature that’s visceral and well designed, but doesn’t last long enough to boost the overall quality. Everything in London with the two cops is just laaammee though, and drags it all down the sewer. Talos there resembles a filthy shower curtain that went through a paper shredder and subsequently got carried away by a strong gust of wind, neither remotely scary nor stylish, just your average half assed B flick monster. Worth a watch simply for the odd spectacle of it all, and for research purposes.

-Nate Hill

Robert Altman’s Nashville


You wouldn’t think that a disorganized little ensemble piece revolving around a country music festival could go on to become a silver star classic in cinema, but this is Robert Altman’s Nashville we’re talking about, and it’s a stroke of sheer brilliance. Structured with the same haphazard screenplay blueprint (or lack thereof) of Richard Linklater’s Dazed & Confused (which I’m almost positive was hugely influenced by this), it’s a raucous little celebration of music and mayhem without a single lead character or central storyline. Every person is important to the kaleidoscope of a story, from Ronee Blakely’s troubled angel starlet to Jeff Goldblum’s early zany career tricycle riding cameo. It’s less of a narrative with forward surging momentum than it is a big old sequinned wheel of fortune you spent n at your leisure, each stop containing some story or vignette revolving around country music, be it sad, joyous, ironic or just plain peculiar. Henry Gibson, that oddball, plays an Emcee of sorts, Scott Glenn is the mysterious military private, the late Robert Doqui coaches a hapless wanna be songstress (Barbara Harris), Keith Carradine charms all the ladies as a suave guitar playing crooner stud, and the impossibly eclectic cast includes brilliant work from Lily Tomlin, Ned Beatty, Michael Murphy, Elliott Gould, Julie Christie, Keenan Wynn, Allen Garfield, Geraldine Chaplin, Karen Black and an adorable Shelley Duvall. There’s something thoroughly lifelike about a sprawling story like this, as were treated to moments, episodes and unplanned exchanges between people as opposed to a contained, streamlined narrative. Things happen, and before we’ve had a chance to process it, were whisked away to the next page of the book like roulette, and every story in the film is a gem, not too mention the music and sly political facets too. A classic, get the criterion release if you can.  

-Nate Hill