Tag Archives: The Shining

The Auteur Series: Stanley Kubrick Volume II with Special Guest Raymond Benson

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Benson

Tim and Frank are back with author and film historian Raymond Benson for their second part of their Stanley Kubrick chat. They start with returning to 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY to talk about the music that Kubrick used, and continue through Kubrick’s filmography to EYES WIDE SHUT and AI. The three of them will be returning soon to discuss the filmography of David Lynch.  To learn more about Raymond, please visit his website here.

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MILE HIGH HORROR FILM FESTIVAL DOUBLE FEATURE: THE DESCENT WITH DIRECTOR NEIL MARSHALL/THE SHINING WITH JOE TURKEL AND LISA & LOUISE BURNS

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The schedule for the 2015 Mile High Horror Film Festival is bursting with quality programming all day and deep into the night, but a double feature on Friday afternoon/evening was my primary target as soon as I viewed the calendar:  The Descent with director Neil Marshall in attendance, and The Shining with Joe Turkel (Lloyd The Bartender) and Lisa and Louise Burns (The Grady Daughters) conducting a Q&A session prior to the show.  Arguably the best horror film of the 2000s followed by arguably the greatest horror film of all time, with these creative forces behind them in the house?  No question I’d be at both, and each was fantastic.  The Descent and The Shining have important similarities, such as masterful senses of tension and locations that are crucial to the proceedings, but couldn’t be more different otherwise—a monster movie enclosed in darkness, gore and stone versus a brightly lit ghost story floating through spacious, impeccable halls.   A naturalistic, tough and large female ensemble; a stylized nightmare with few (living) souls inhabiting it.  Still, the two stand on equal footing because the purity of vision in each is unquestionable, and not a moment is wasted in taking the viewer on their respective dark journeys.

Neil Marshall’s The Descent is celebrating its 10 year anniversary, and one could see the pride and enthusiasm the filmmaker still has for discussing this gem by his effusive Q&A immediately following a fully attended afternoon screening.  He started by addressing the “alternative ending” controversy, stating that the UK received the real finale so he wasn’t as worried about its reception overseas, and the test screenings indicated US general audiences preferred something more upbeat, so he allowed Lionsgate to show the truncated cut here with the condition that they gave it the widest release possible, ultimately on over 2,000 screens.  He also pointed out that his original vision is the happy one; Sarah’s ending up with her daughter (played by Marshall’s niece) was the only version of peace she would ever find.

Neil Marshall

The director continued by discussing the origins of the story and its early reception.  He originally wanted to expand an earlier student film revolving around space zombies called Brain Death into a feature, but was told it would be too expensive at a meeting to pitch producers and was asked to come up with something else.  Remembering a challenge he’d heard in the press about his debut, Dog Soldiers, not being scary enough, he determined to make the scariest film he could imagine, got on a train immediately after said meeting and let his mind wander.  By the time he’d returned home several hours later, he’d figured out a little-used location in horror to exploit with a cast almost completely devoid of testosterone.  The script felt more like a novel as he quickly entered extended sequences of little to no dialogue, and the stark descriptions within scared everyone who read it.  One of his producers labeled it “too relentless!” and asked him to let them out of the cave; Marshall’s response?  “They didn’t get to leave the boat in Jaws!  They didn’t get to walk away from The Nostromo in Alien!”  He knew keeping the heroes trapped was key.

A brief discussion of the technical details revealed a fun anecdote or two, including the time one of the “crawlers,” as he referred to them, sprained his ankle on set and was taken to the emergency room—in full costume.  Marshall continues to be proud that barely any CGI was used, not to mention the fact that they’d built sets so effective the viewer couldn’t tell the entire film was shot on sound stages at Pinewood Studios with a few exteriors shot in Scotland (apparently real caves fill with fog fast when humans are around and the slippery surfaces ensure repeated, dangerous falls).  He even pointed out a variety of obscure references to be found in the film, some as subtle as a shot of a sleeping Beth with her arm over her head nodding to Deliverance.  When asked if Alfred Hitchcock’s influential hand could be felt anywhere on The Descent,  Marshall balked at the notion yet then teased the audience that the next film he’s working on is his “Hitchcock Homage,” but spilled no further beans.  For broad influences he called John Carpenter the biggest and mentioned The Thing, Alien, Deliverance and The Shining as specific touchstones.

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Turning to that particular Kubrick masterpiece, the MHHFF and Alamo Drafthouse Littleton pulled out all the stops to celebrate the picture and set the mood for a 35mm projection with several cast members in attendance to discuss the famous filmmaker and their memories of the production.  Initial events, including several twin-themed dance partners interspersed throughout the crowd and a Redrum cake that doesn’t belong on any child’s birthday table, gave way to the honored guests of the evening.  Joe Turkel, spry and clearly excited for his chance to discuss fellow Brooklyn kid and longtime friend Stanley, was joined by Lisa and Louise Burns, the British twins who interestingly played sisters of different ages in their indelible, iconic scenes as the Grady girls.  Joe was quick to point out that he’s the rare actor who appeared in three Kubrick productions (the others being The Killing and Paths of Glory), and often mentioned how he and the director bonded over their love of the Yankees and Joe DiMaggio, the latter having passed away a day after Kubrick himself did.  Turkel also pointed out the ‘director’s bible’ that Stanley had with him on all three sets where they worked together, in increasingly dog-eared, underlined and battered form, a text by the great Russian filmmaker Vsevolod Pudovkin called Pudovkin on Film. He went on to describe the director’s demeanor as always quiet and respectful, but yes, famously thorough and prone to many takes.  He claimed the shot of Jack Nicholson walking past strewn-about balloons and entering The Gold Room with a ghostly party in full swing was done no less than 180 times.  As Kubrick asked for each new take, the camera angle or lens or lighting would always be slightly altered.  Turkel once asked him, “Are you ever satisfied with just one take?”  Kubrick smirked and responded “Oh yes!  Many times!”

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The soft-spoken Burns sisters didn’t have the same relationship with Kubrick but, like Turkel, had many memories of the director being warm, friendly and accommodating, even during the lengthy portions of their work.  They didn’t have a specific take count on any of their scenes, but recalled that his getting the single shot he ended up using of their bloody bodies in the hallway took three full days, during which they were awfully cold.  Kubrick personally went and retrieved a space heater for them when they complained, and when their birthday arrived he halted the shoot for several hours in order to throw them a proper party, wherein he presented them with an autograph book filled in by cast and crew.  Speaking further about the director’s personality and demeanor, Turkel insisted he was a plain-spoken kid from Brooklyn (he preferred everyone call him Stanley, not Mr. Kubrick, not Stan) who wasn’t a hermit but understood his celebrity would require him to be increasingly beholden to anyone he met, so he chose to limit how many new people he brought into his life.  Discussing the film itself, Lisa and Louise didn’t actually see it until they were in their 20s, and due to UK censorship the version they saw was a full half hour shorter than what audiences in other countries enjoyed.  Turkel pointed out how strange this was considering The Shining is far from a violent picture; outside of Nicholson’s brutal ax murder of Scatman Crothers’ Dick Halloran, there is almost no physical conflict portrayed.  As a result, the Burns sisters didn’t realize what a horrifying picture it was until much later.  Joe Turkel claimed to have only seen it 5 or 6 times, but said his enjoyment deepens with each viewing.  He took a quick shot at the original author’s negative take on the film and the resulting 1990s television miniseries version, which in his words “bombed” by not focusing on the psychological horror that Kubrick presented in masterful form.  The actor then shared two quick stories, one about how he and a friend ran into a struggling Nicholson at the horse races in 1961, when that performer was considering leaving Los Angeles and returning to New York City but stayed after Turkel’s friend repaid Nicholson some money he owed him with their gambling winnings (“I saved his career!”), and another about his last day on set.  Insisting Stanley was a warm man but not prone to physical contact, he walked up to Turkel, put his hand on the actor’s shoulder and said “you know, so far you’re the best thing in this movie.”  Joe Turkel responded by saying “Thanks Stanley—so don’t wait another 40 fucking years to cast me again!”  Kubrick smiled, walked away, and that was the last time the two spoke.

Finally, the 35mm print rolled for the audience, and as with most great films it felt like a first viewing all over again to share the experience with an anonymous audience in the dark.  On a quick personal note, I must recommend that if any organization such as the Mile High Horror Film Festival or the Alamo Drafthouse gives you the opportunity to enjoy either of these films in a theater, take advantage of it.  The Descent’s darkness flows off the screen and effectively envelops you, and The Shining’s still-stunning sound design, visuals and atmosphere trap you, the viewer, in the Overlook Hotel just as it did Danny and his family all those years ago.  Seeing the two films this past Friday with these talented artists present to tell their stories made for a unique, revelatory and unforgettable day for the horror fans in attendance.

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A CONVERSATION WITH MILE HIGH HORROR FILM FESTIVAL FOUNDER TIMOTHY SCHULZ

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The Mile High Horror Film Festival in Littleton, CO is just over a week away, and I’ll be covering several of the biggest screenings over the course of that weekend for Podcasting Them Softly.  Starting as a small offshoot of the Denver Film Society in 2010, it has rapidly turned into a world class destination for horror fans and filmmakers and is gearing up for its biggest year yet.  I was fortunate to speak with MHHFF founder Tim Schulz, himself a successful filmmaker (“Chasing The Shadows,” a feature length documentary on the paranormal, as well as several celebrated shorts), about this year’s events:

I’m ashamed to admit this is my first Mile High Horror Film Festival, can you tell me a few basics such as how it started, how long you’ve been involved and how it’s grown?

I am a founding member.  We started in 2010, when there was nothing like this in Colorado.  I’d been to many other film festivals such as SxSW and Sundance and wanted to see something genre-focused like that happening here in Denver.  The size of the program and attendance has just snowballed every year since then.

You just announced Jack Black and Co. will be here to premiere Goosebumps next week, it’s one of the biggest studio horror releases of the fall.  How does this fit in with the rest of the more adult-oriented programming?

We really try to do diverse programming throughout the festival, hopefully we’re offering genre films for everyone.  We’re very excited to host the Colorado premiere with the cast in attendance, it is nice to have something screening that you can take the whole family to.

MHHFF started working with the Denver Film Society but now the festival is put on in partnership with Alamo Drafthouse, how is that relationship working out?

It’s worked out very well, we’ve been working with Alamo for the last two years now.  We had some great screenings at DFS venues for the first three years, but Alamo offers the food and drink experience during the film that’s special, and they also make a wonderful fit because they cater to film festivals and special events that are unique and creative, they always think outside the box to create something tailored to the film buff.  Take the special menus:  For the upcoming screening of The Shining, they’ve created a Red Rum cocktail.  In years past they’ve done amazing pre-show menus and events, such as having Doug Bradley (Pinhead from Hellraiser) tear a roasted pig hanging from a meat hook apart to make sandwiches for fans.  The following year, Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) did the same with his chainsaw!

Is it difficult to bring this level of talent and notoriety in the horror genre to Littleton?

Like I said, it’s snowballed every year and gains more respect and credibility around the world with each successive festival.  We are extremely grateful for this.

Tim Schulz

I see you have an LGBT panel for this year’s festival, who’s involved and what can we expect?

We are glad to have writer Jeffrey Riddick, one of the creators of Final Destination and a longtime supporter of the Festival, he’s been a judge for many of the years we’ve been in business and he’ll be on the panel with plenty to say.  Bailey Jay is a transgender model and podcaster for Fangoria, she will be involved via Skype.  The panel will be moderated by Keith Garcia, a well-known fixture in the Denver film community who is currently working on a documentary called “The Heels Have Eyes.”  Discussion will be wide ranging based on some direction from Keith and audience questions, and should involve current trends in the industry, working in the genre, and plenty more.

Is the live music programming something new?

We’ve done music in the past but this is the first time we’ll have it running simultaneously with the film festival screenings.  We’ll have music running from the early screenings through to 2 a.m.  Ari Lehman (Jason Voorhees) will be there with his band First Jason, and there will be plenty of local metal bands in attendance too, like Arise in Chaos and Eye of Minerva.  We have Denvers’ Chimney Choir, more of a folk act, and Viretta, an indie rock band.  We’ll have hip hop represented with Wheelchair Sports Camp.  The Festival is really trying to provide a lot of variety for fans, and an experience that extends outside of the theaters.  We’ll have music, tarot card readings, autograph sessions, artists and other surprises.

Not to play favorites, but what are some of the events you’re most looking forward to?

I’m a huge fan of The Shining, and I’m really excited about our screening with Joseph Turkel (Lloyd the bartender) and Lisa and Louise Burns (The Grady Twins).  I believe this is the first time the three of them have been together since the original shoot, and Lisa and Louise rarely make it over from the U.K. so it will be a special night.

Even Lambs Have Teeth has its world premiere at the Festival on Thursday, have you seen it?

I have seen it, and really enjoyed it.  Excellent production values and some over the top gore…I don’t want to give any spoilers but it’s got some great twists and turns.  We’re very excited to have the lead performers, Tiera Skovbye and Kirsten Prout, as well as the filmmakers in attendance.

Finally—Freddie or Jason?

I have to go with Jason since we have two in attendance!

The Mile High Horror Film Festival runs from October 1-4 at the Alamo Drafthouse in Littleton.  For ticketing information please visit http://milehighhorrorfestival.com/ or http://drafthouse.com/calendar/denver