Cinefantastique wishes all its readers a Happy New Year! May 2015 be filled with a Sense of Wonder!
If you are a fan of classic horror films and you are lucky enough to live in the Los Angeles area, then you have ample opportunity to sample your favorite titles on the big screen, surrounded by an appreciative audience. Sure, you probably own most of the films on Blu-ray disc, but there’s nothing like seeing a movie in a theatre – especially a scary movie.
Listed below are most of the major horror film festivals taking place in and around Los Angeles this October. For more screenings, check out the film listings at our sister site, Hollywood Gothique.
American Cinematheque’s Dusk-to-Dawn Horrorthon
Location: The Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90403
Date: October 25, starting at 7:30pm
More Info: Click here
Description: The American Cinematheque celebrates Halloween 2014 with its 9th annual Dust-To-Dawn Horrorthon, featuring seven films running one after the other: CREEPSHOW, GARGOYLES, THE THING (1982), THE NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS, THE DEADLY SPAWN, BASKET CASE, and ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (a.k.a. DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D.) Guests will spend the entire evening and much of the next morning within the Aero Theatre. There will be trailers, short subjects, free food, prizes and give-aways, plus coffee (courtesy of Pete’s Coffee) to help keep your eyelids open.
Horrorthon ticket prices (includes all-night snacks and coffee):
- General $20
- Student/Senior $18
- Members $15.
- No vouchers
Arclight Beach Cities Halloween Horror Screenings
Location: The Arclight Beach Cities, 831 S. Nash Street, El Segundo, CA 90245
Arclight Presents Calendar: Click here
Description: Starting on October 5, the Arclight Beach Cities offers a month of horror films for Halloween 2014, including Psycho, Edward Scissorhands, and The Bride of Frankenstein.
The full schedule is below:
- Gremlins on October 12 at 7:30pm
- The Silence of the Lambs on October 13 at 7:30pm
- An American Werewolf in London on October 14 at 7:30pm
- Little Shop of Horrors on October 19 at 7:30pm
- John Carpenter’s The Thing on October 21 at 7:30pm
- Beetlejuice on October 26 at 7:30pm
- Psycho on October 27 at 7:30pm
- Edward Scissorhands on October 28 at 7:30pm
Arclight Hollywood Halloween Horror Screenings
Location: The Arclight Hollywood, 6360 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood CA
Arclight Presents Calendar: Click here
Description: Starting on Wednesday, October 1, Arclight Cinemas celebrates Halloween in Los Angeles with a month-long series of horror movies at their Hollywood location, including such classic and cult titles as The Exorcist, The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Gremlins, Beetlejuice, Shaun of the Dead, Let the Right One In, and An American Werewolf in London.
Arclight Cinemas’s other locations will offer a different selection of horror titles for Halloween 2014.
Complete schedule for Arclight Hollywood is:
- Beetlejuice on October 12 at 3:30pm
- Shaun of the Dead on October 10 at midnight
- Videodrome on October 13 at 8pm
- Poltergeist on October 17 at midnight
- From Dusk Till Dawn on October 18 at midnight
- Gremlins on October 19 at 3:30pm
- Let The Right One In on October 20 at 8pm
- John Carpenter’s The Thing on October 24 at midnight
- An American Werewolf In London on October 25 at midnight
- The Shining on October 26 at 3pm
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on October 29 at 8pm
- The Evil Dead on October 31 at 11:30pm
Arclight Pasadena Halloween Horror Screenings
Location: The Arclight Pasadena, 336 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, CA 91101
Link out: Click here
Description: The Arclight Pasadena presents a month-long series of horror films for Halloween 2014, including Ju-On: The Grudge, Dracula, Night of the Creeps, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Fright Night.
The complete schedule is below:
- Fright Night (1985) on October 9 at 7:45pm
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer on October 12 at 7:30pm
- Alien (the director’s cut) on October 13 at 8pm
- The Shining on October 14 at 7:30pm
- Psycho on October 19 at 8pm
- Edward Scissorhands on October 20 at 7:30pm
- Ju-0n: The Grudge on October 21 at 7:45pm
- The Exorcist on October 26 at 8pm
- The Silence of the Lambs on October 27 at 7:45pm
- Night of the Creeps on October 28 at 7:30pm
- Videodrome on October 30 at 8pm
Arclight Sherman Oaks Halloween Horror Screenings
Location: The Arclight Sherman Oaks, 15301 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
Arclight Presents Calendar: Click here
Description: Starting on October 5, the Arclight Sherman Oaks offers a month-long series of horror films for Halloween 2014, including Carrie, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Monster Squad.
- A Nightmare on Elm Street on October 12 at 7:45pm
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on October 13 at 7:45pm
- The Creature from the Black Lagoon on October 14 at 7:45pm
- Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride on October 19 at 7:45pm
- The Fearless Vampire Killers on October 20 at 7:45pm
- The Shining on October 21 at 7:45pm
- American Psycho on October 22 at 7:45pm
- The Bride of Frankenstein on October 26 at 7:45pm
- Rosemary’s Baby on October 27 at 7:45pm
- The Monster Squad on October 28 at 7:45pm
Cinefamily’s Heavy Midnights: The Witching Hour
Location: The Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Link out: Click here
Description: Saturdays in October, the Cinefamily’s weekly Heavy Midnights series is transformed into The Witching Hour, offering a trio of wicked midnight screenings: The Witches, Troll, and Teen Witch.
The latter two are minor cult items at best, but The Witches is a brilliant piece of cinema. Taking a break from his usual art house work, director Nicolas Roeg brought Roald Dahl’s wickedly amusing children’s story to the screen with the help of some great makeup and effects by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Anjelica Huston stars as the Grand High Witch, who has hatched a plot to dispose of all the children in England by turning them into mice. She opposed by a young orphan and his sweet (but knowledgeable) grandmother. Though nominally a “kids” film, The Witches is amusing and scary, though not too disturbing for young viewers. Recommended.
The schedule is:
- The Witches on October 11
- Troll on October 18
- Teen Witch on October 25
Haunted Screenings at LACMA
Location: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Link out: Click here
Description: As part of Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in conjunction with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, presents a series of Halloween horror movie screenings during the month of October, including Nosferatu, Faust, and Edward Scissorhands.
In a neat big of programming, several evenings will feature double bills or original films and their remakes, illustrating the continuing influence of German Expressionist Cinema from the 1920s, the style of which is still apparent in such later work as Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.
Screenings take place at LACMA’s Bing Theatre. Tickets are $3 for LACMA members, $5 for general public.
The complete schedule of horror-related screenings is below:
- October 10, 2014 | 7:30pm
- Nosferatu the Vampyre
- October 10, 2014 | 9:00pm
- An American Werewolf in London
- October 11, 2014 | 7:30pm
- Faust (1926)
- October 17, 2014 | 7:30pm
- Faust (1994)
- October 17, 2014 | 9:30pm
- October 24, 2014 | 7:30pm
- Sleepy Hollow
- October 25, 2014 | 5:00pm
- Edward Scissorhands
- October 25, 2014 | 7:30pm
Old Town Music Hall Halloween Horror Screenings
Location: Old Town Music Hall, Richmond Street, El Segundo, CA 90245
Link out: Click here
Description: The Old Town Music Hall launches its month-long Old Town Music Haunt with THE INVISIBLE MAN, the 1932 black-and-white classic and based on the H.G. Wells novel, and starring Claude Rains. The special effects still hold up today, and director James Whale’s sly sense of humor keeps the film from feeling dates. Co-starring Gloria Stuart (Titanic).
In celebration of the Halloween season, Old Town Music Hall will be screening horror classics every weekend in October, all of them from Universal Studios, the company that specialized in old-school Gothic chillers in the 1930 and 1940s. The theater will be all decked out with spooky decor, so have fun!
The complete schedule includes:
- Frankenstein (1931) on October 10, 11 & 12
- The Mummy (1932) on October 17, 18 & 19
- The Phantom of the Opera (1925) on October 24, 25 & 26 (with live musical accompaniment on the Old Town Music Hall’s Mighty Wurlitzer organ)
- Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) on October 31, November 1 & 2
Screenings are on Friday at 8:15pm; Saturday at 2:30pm and 8:15pm; and Sunday 2:30pm. Every show begins with music played on the pipe organ, an audience sing along, and a comedy short. There is a 15-minute intermission, followed by the feature film.
Tickets are $10.00 ($8.00 for seniors 62+) Tickets go on sale at the door thirty minutes before show time. No advance sales.
Location: The Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036
More info: Click here
Description: The Cinefamily and SpectraVision presents a two-month festival of horror, science fiction, and cult films, including several west coast premieres and some in-person guests. Titles include Kevin Smith’s TUSK; DEAD SNOW 2; THE GOLEM; METROPOLIS; and GREMLINS.
SpectreFest promises “a hand-picked look at the latest and greatest in progressive genre films and forward-thinking music from around the world.” According to the official website, the festival is “a collaboration between Cinefamily and SpectreVision (the new production company founded/partnered by Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller).”
The complete schedule is below:
- Thurs, 10/9, 7:30pm: Dead Snow & Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead (L.A. premiere, cast members in person!)
- Fri, 10/10, 7:30pm: The Creeping Garden (L.A. premiere!)
- Thurs, 10/16, 7:30pm ($18/$10 for members): Show & Tell w/ Clive Barker & Nightbreed: Director’s Cut
- Thurs, 10/23, 7:30pm: Metropolis (w/ live score by Chrome Canyon!)
- Sat 10/25, 5:00pm: Jerry Beck’s Cartoon Spooktacular!
- Wed, 10/29, 7:30pm ($15/free for members): Tales From Beyond The Pale: LIVE!
- Thurs, 10/30, 7:30pm: Gremlins (30th Anniversary screening!) & “The History of PG-13″ Panel
- Fri, 10/31: special Halloween night event
Street Food Cinema Screenings
Link out: Click here
Description: Street Food Cinema, which screens movies in outdoor venues around Los Angeles, offers a series of classic horror films for Halloween 2014, featuring live music, food, and special guests. Titles include Gremlins, The Exoricst, and The Shining. Guests include Zach Galligan and Linda Blair.
The schedule of screenings is:
- October 11: Gremlins with Zach Galligan at Victory Park, Pasadena
- October 18: The Conjuring at Syd Kronenthal Park, Culver City
- October 18: The Exorcist at Eagle Rock Recreation Center, Los Angeles (benfiting Linda Blair’s World Heart Foundation)
- October 25: The Shining at Exposition Park, Los Angeles
General Admission prices are $6 for children and $12 for adults. Reserved seating is $11 for children and $17 for adults. Children under 5 are free. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door; entrance priority is given to advance ticket holders.
Doors open at 5:30pm. Live music begins at 6:30pm. Movie screens at approximately 8pm.
Street Food Cinema is Fido Friendly. Bring a blanket, snuggle up, and get scared!
I come from a generation of fantastic film fans who wanted a greater depth of knowledge about the films we loved. This moved beyond knowing who the actors and even the directors were. We knew about the special effects technicians, the make up artists, the matte painters, the model makers, stop-motion animators, and even who composed the scores. Some of my favorites included Bernard Herrmann, James Bernard, Jerry Goldsmith, and of course John Williams.
A few moments reflection on the movie going experience, especially in regards to the horror genre, reveals how important music is. Some of the more noteworthy examples are the shower scene in PSYCHO, the main theme for JAWS, and the memorable music for John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. Unfortunately, while the images of horror have been the focus of much critical and academic discussion, little attention has been paid to the music. Addressing this deficit, Neil Lerner has edited the book Music in the Horror Film: Listening to Fear (Routledge, 2010). Lerner is Professor of Music at Davidson College, where he teaches courses in music as well as film and media studies. His work on film music has been published in numerous journals, essay collections, and encyclopedias. Lerner discusses horror film music in this special interview for Cinefantastique Online.
John Morehead: Neil, thank you for being willing to discuss your book here. Can you begin by sharing a little of your background in music, and why, on a personal level, you chose horror as the genre of film for analysis in terms of music’s significance and impact?
Neil Lerner: First of all, I want to you thank you and Cinefantastique for your interest in this work. As a longtime fan of Cinefantastique, it’s a great honor to get to discuss these things with you.
My professional background is as a musicologist, and my dissertation studied music in some U.S. government documentary films. At the time I started working on my dissertation, there were only a handful of music scholars who were taking film music seriously. So that’s partly why I went with these documentary film scores, by established concert hall composers like Virgil Thomson and Aaron Copland: because they were in many ways safer to the academy. It was also a case where I was confident I could get to the relevant archival material, like score manuscripts and production papers, something that’s still not easy to do with Hollywood scores.
One question that I found myself drawn to throughout that research on documentary scores was whether or not a composer could do more experimental things in a score for a documentary than in a Hollywood fictional narrative. I actually found several instances where composers could push the compositional envelope in a documentary film score—like using extended dissonances, or writing fugues, things that didn’t happen too much in Hollywood’s mainstream scores—and that question of where and how modernist strategies enter into film music continues to interest me.
Finally, I’ve always been a fan of horror films, but I started studying film more seriously in college, which, believe it or not, was at Transylvania University. I had one particularly brilliant professor there who took great pleasure in talking about vampire films in his film courses, and his intellectual curiosity was contagious. In many ways, then, I’ve been on a crash course with this topic.
John Morehead: Can you sketch how music developed in terms of its inclusion in the horror film? Viewers take its presence for granted in contemporary cinema, but may forget that there was a process of development as it was included in film, and in horror as well, beyond the jump from silent films to sound.
Neil Lerner: I think studying music in horror films brings with it the same challenges as in other genres in that transitional period between “silent” and sound film: composers had multiple strategies for dealing with different kinds of dramatic situations; it’s often difficult or impossible to reconstruct with certainty what early musicians did (in cases of live accompaniment); and it’s too easy to over-generalize based on just a few examples. There’s still a good deal of basic research to be done in trying to map out just what was done in horror films in the 1920s, but we have some important clues in a book like Ernö Rapée’s Encyclopedia of Music for Pictures (1925), which lists all kinds of categories and topics that musicians accompanying film could have used. That book doesn’t have notated music, but rather it has lists of possible pieces that would fit each topic, giving us now an idea of what music was considered appropriate (at least according to Rapée) for different genres. If you look up “horror” in the Rapée, it directs you to the topics of “gruesome” and “outcry,” which themselves then direct out to other categories like “dwarfs, ghosts, spooks, and mysteriosos” (for “gruesome”) or to “dramatic” in the case of “outcry.” It ends up suggesting quite a wide spectrum of music that was available to someone accompanying a scary scene, but certain basic ideas tend to surface over and over again in these pieces, and these are things that aren’t unique to music for horror film, but rather things that fall in a much longer tradition of ways that composers could create a sense of fear or dread: extended unresolved dissonances, surprising bursts of sound, unfamiliar timbres, etc.
I do think Robert Spadoni’s recent book on horror film and the transition into the sound era makes a strong case for the significance of the sound track and how it could make films more horrific. The success of horror films coming out of Hollywood (starting in 1931) really does overlap in interesting ways with the coming of synchronized, recorded sound to the cinematic experience.
John Morehead: Your book begins appropriately with a consideration of the organ in CARNIVAL OF SOULS in a chapter by Julie Brown, with a comparison of the same instrument in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. Was this the first major instrument to be used in horror films, and how significant is it in associations with the genre today?
Neil Lerner: I don’t know if we can say that it was the first major instrument of horror films, just because I’m not certain we know enough yet about music in horror film in the 1920s, but Julie Brown’s work makes a compelling case for why the organ would recur so much in horror films. Namely, the instrument’s connections with certain kinds of religious spaces as well as its associations with funerals are all rich things to explore in a genre (horror) that probes at our sublimated anxieties. The tradition of the baroque organ is one where its huge sound was supposed to overpower its listener through sheer volume and acoustic weight, in ways that Robert Walser has compared with heavy metal music (and how heavy metal music works in horror films, when it starts to appear, etc., is another topic that needs work).
The film that I researched for the book, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931), makes the organ a central icon connected with Henry Jekyll, adding a musical dimension that doesn’t occur in Stevenson’s novella. I believe it’s there to provide a quick and efficient clue to Jekyll’s character: he has a certain level of wealth and high culture sophistication in that he plays Bach organ works for pleasure at his home, and it also suggests something of Jekyll’s piety and goodness (towards the end of the film he cries out to God).
Yet there’s another component to Jekyll’s organ playing that I explore in my essay, and that’s the possibility that Rouben Mamoulian’s conception of Jekyll & Hyde might set the entire narrative up as a dream occurring in the midst of Jekyll’s organ playing. The film opens with Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, a piece that recurs in the middle of the film—with some of the middle of the organ piece—and then the film closes with the final measures of the organ work. I know it’s a fairly radical way to read the film, but I found some other clues in the literary references that I believe at least complicate some of our assumptions about that film and how it works.
John Morehead: Of course, PSYCHO is perhaps the horror film most associated with striking music, as in the infamous shower scene. In the interesting chapter on this film, Ross Fenimore connects the film’s “aural fragments” of imagined and real voices with the musical “screams” of Marion’s (Janet Leigh) death as she is stabbed in the shower. Most viewers are familiar with the significance of Bernard Herrmann’s score to the film, but may not have connected this as part of a bigger aural whole that paints a picture of terror. How do these elements come together under the direction of Hitchcock?
Neil Lerner: I agree with you that the shower scene music from PSYCHO has become an iconic example of horror music, but I’d extend it even further, to say that it’s become one of the most iconic examples of all film music. Ross Fenimore’s essay raises some important questions about the music and to whom it might be connected (to Marion? to Norman? to Mother? to someone else?), which becomes really interesting when you start to factor in the film’s trickery in regards to connecting voices to characters.
I don’t know, however, how much credit should go to Hitchcock’s direction. I mean no disrespect to Hitchcock here, but I think it’s important to remember that Hitchcock originally wanted that shower scene to have only natural sound effects (like shower and knife sounds) without music. Herrmann lobbied to put music into it, and Hitchcock acquiesced, but Herrmann probably paid a heavy price later with Hitchcock for upstaging his director with a better idea. Herrmann’s score here is just brilliant; he was a composer at the peak of his powers, creating music that continues to yield new readings and interpretations. It’s just so marvelously simple and effective in its blend of extended, unresolved dissonances (major sevenths and minor seconds), descending registral gestures (moving from high to low), and repetition. Plus there’s the effect of having the string instruments play the quick portamento, the sliding up on the string, which creates a terrible ripping or tearing effect; it fills in the blanks of what’s happening because visually, we never actually see the knife ripping through flesh, but aurally, we get a clear idea of what’s happening.
John Morehead: As a long-time horror fan I should have been aware of this, but it was not until I read Music in the Horror Film, and Claire Sisco King’s chapter on music in THE EXORCIST, that I realized that the film includes an unconventional approach to musical scoring at the insistence of director William Friedkin. Why did he approach music in the film in this way, and how is this reflective of cultural anxieties of the time as well as the film’s narrative?
Neil Lerner: It’s hard to try and get inside a director’s head, but Claire Sisco King does a fabulous job of collecting all sorts of evidence from the production of the film, thereby giving us clues to what might have been motivating him. I was struck at Friedkin’s resistance to thinking of THE EXORCIST as a horror film, because it reminded me of Rouben Mamoulian’s similar remarks about DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. I have a hunch both of these directors might have felt that horror as a genre was perhaps too undignified for the kinds of larger ideas they were addressing, and appropriately enough, both of them ended up transforming and complicating the genre in pretty important ways. Friedkin was motivated by a kind of documentary impulse in THE EXORCIST, and Claire Sisco King argues how this probably led to the unconventional musical choices he made. She then goes on to read the music in relation to the larger cultural anxiety of a widely perceived crisis of masculinity. I think her essay can help viewers to see THE EXORCIST in a new and different way—note the visual metaphors here, it’s just tough to escape them—but the underlying goal behind all of the essays in the book is the idea that by paying closer attention to the music, the ear can lead us to see these films in new ways.
John Morehead: I was raised on the fantastic scores of folks like Bernard Hermann, James Horner, and a little later John Williams. But one of the others I enjoyed was director John Carpenter with his synthesizer music. Your book includes a chapter discussing Carpenter’s music in THE FOG, and I wonder how original and significant you see his electronic scoring in this and other films like HALLOWEEN and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK?
Neil Lerner: I think there’s still a good deal of basic work that needs to be done on this question, but K. J. Donnelly’s essay makes a strong case for the potential returns in giving close attention to film scores that might be thought of as too simple or basic. A good deal of scholarship on film music has tended to focus on fully notated orchestral film scores, but of course there’s a much wider spectrum of musical strategies out there, like rock or jazz, and Donnelly has been an important scholarly pioneer in this regard.
The synthesizer timbres weren’t original to John Carpenter—several of the important Vietnam-era horror films, like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, or LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, have some prominent use of electronic instruments—but Carpenter does seem to have done something that worked well and proved influential with the synthesizer scoring in HALLOWEEN (1978). Plus I just think those early modular synths were incredibly cool, so I’m happy we got a picture of a Moog in the book.
John Morehead: It is understandable that, since film is a visual medium, the image has been the primary focus of film analysis, but given the significance of sound and music to film, particularly to horror (not to mention science fiction and fantasy), why has musical analysis been largely ignored? And is this situation starting to change?
Neil Lerner: My college film courses emphasized that film is a visual medium, and of course much of the writing about film does that also, but maybe because I was studying music while taking film classes I was more attenuated to what was happening in the soundtrack. I’ve always found it interesting that so much of the attention in film goes to the visual elements, but the experience of film (and now television and video games) is almost always tied together with a soundtrack. One might speculate that there’s a larger cultural bias against the acoustic, that there’s a hegemony of the visual; what we consider basic educational skills dwell largely if not exclusively on things that are visual, like reading, but where in our culture do we teach about the sonic and the musical? I believe most of us are self taught in regards to knowing how to interpret the music we encounter with a film or video game—if we’re raised watching these things, we figure it out from the context—and most people can interpret these musical codes with a great deal of nuance, even if they aren’t trained in music and have no idea how the music is doing what it does. It’s useful, therefore, to have music scholars devoted to studying music in screen media as a way of providing students and devotees with another tool in their own lifelong encounters with these things.
As a music historian, I’ve long heard the truism that concert hall music in the twentieth century, particularly the experimental, avant-garde styles, hit a kind of impasse where audiences became disinterested in it and where many of these musical languages then found their way into film genres like fantasy and horror. One of my goals with the book was to help to provide some examples of that, whether it be through the radical sound collage that Mamoulian created for the first transformation scene in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE or the later appropriations of Penderecki in THE EXORCIST or THE SHINING. There’s still a great deal of work to be done in tracking all of these musical languages, and that’s exciting for musicologists, film scholars, and folks who love movies.
(Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor, performed by Frederich Magle, courtesy of Magle International Music Forums)
Yes, the housing bubble has burst; home sales are down. The news sounds bad, but there is a silver lining: namely, it’s a buyer’s market! With the world’s latest haunted house movie, THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT, opening today, what better time for interested shoppers to investigate the possibility of purchasing their very own haunted house? With that in mind, Cinefantastique Online offers this catalogue of the finest spooky manses, decaying domiciles, awful apartments, murderous mansions, and cob-webbed castles ever imagined by demented writers and constructed by the Hollywood art department for your haunting pleasure. You want the Top Ten Haunted Houses? We have more than twice that many listings. These properties may not have always appeared in the best movies, but each has its own particular selling points.
A word of explanation: Ghosts and haunted houses are considered to be synonymous, and they do often go hand in hand; however, there is a distinction to be made. Most viewers understand that RING, although a ghost story, is about a cursed videotape, not a haunted house; however, a number of reference sources list THE SIXTH SENSE among haunted house movies – even though the ghosts are not limited to a particular location. All of the houses in our listings feature localized phenomena; the ghosts, ghoulies, and long-leggedly beasties that go bump in the night may make an occasional excursion to the outside world, but they are permanent residents whose ethereal existence seems somehow tied to their haunted homesteads.
Looking for something suitably grand and top-of-the-line? Castles tend to be more the province of vampires and/or evil aristocracy in the Gothic tradition, but there are a few that feature genuine ghosts.
Blackwood Castle in DANSE MACABRE (a.k.a. CASTLE OF BLOOD, 1964).
Lord Blackwood has listed his English family estate with us (a fine old Gothic ruin that perfectly embodies the archetype of a haunted house); however, it is not for sale or even, precisely speaking, for rent. Interested parties, however, are invited to spend the night, alone, free of charge – free, that is, except for a wager that you will not live to see the sunrise. Unlike the Allardyce House and the Belasco House (see below), Blackwood Castleis not haunted because of anything intrinsic to its nature; rather, it is merely been the scene of much murder and mayhem that results in the death of the body but not of the spirit, resulting in an impressive haunting. The castle features numerous amenities and selling points:
- Crypt (conveniently located in the cellar)
- Hypnotic painting (subject appears to be alive, eventually manifests in person)
- At least seven ghosts (as of last count). These are vampiric in nature, requiring the blood of the living in order to sustain themselves. They vary in appearance from perfectly normal to hideously corpse-like; in some cases, they are so beautiful and alluring that you might not mind never leaving.
- Pets: at least one black cat on premises
- Selling points: Visited (or at least glimpsed) by Edgar Allan Poe
- Known fatalities: 8
Buyer beware: Survival rate of previous guests who have accepted Lord Blackwood’s wager is zero.
Asking price: not for sale. Market value difficult to determine due to Lord Blackwood understandable reluctance to have the property appraised (the last attempt ended in disaster). Since the value derives from the ghosts, who could easily be dispatched bywithholding the annual victim, we would estimate its value to haunt-seekers at $4-million.
* * *
Castillo Maldito in THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940).
This crumbling Cuban Castle, located on a small island off the coast, is reportedly haunted by several phantoms – and a zombie! Some of these selling points may be a bit exaggerated; we have not been able to authenticate all phenomena as genuine, but then, that was typical of the many spooky mansions constructed during this era. Seen in films like THE BAT WHISPERS (1930), THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932), and THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1939, these dilapidated dwellings feature creaking floor boards, whistling winds, secret panels, and hidden chambers – not to mention oddball residents as scary as any ghost. We avoid listing these properties in our catalogue, because most of them turn out not to be haunted. Yet Castle Maldito is an exception.
Amenities & Selling Points:
- Hidden treasure
- One authenticated (or at least not debunked) ghost. Although superficially similar to the decaying family mansion in CAT AND THE CANARY (which also starred Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard), Castle Maldito leaves at least one ghost unexplained at the end. This gives the castle claim to being Hollywood’s first truly haunted house. This historical importance does not come cheap.
Asking price: $1.5-million.
COUNTRY HOMES AND MANSIONS
Perhaps the most likely place to find a ghost is an an old mansion or country house. Haunting is especially prevalant in England, where the houses are older and have had more opportunity to aquire ghosts, but there are a few good ones in America, too.
The Allardyce House in BURNT OFFERINGS (1976).
This large Victorian mansion in the California countryside looks like a bit of a dump at first – run down, with paint chipped and boards peeling – but if you give it a chance, it’s a real fixer-upper that requires amazingly little effort on the part of its (human) renters. This is one of those rare haunted houses that seems to be malevolent in its own right: there are no signs of surviving personalities; the house itself is the haunt.
Amenities & Selling Points:
- The house comes equipped with a pool, but swimmers are advised to beware of unexpected waves.
- Self-reparing home. Just move in, and in no time at all the house will almost literally grow on you, shedding its old shingles like a snake shedding its skin, to reveal the glossy appearance hiding beneath the old facade.
- Known fatalies: 3
- The upper chimney may not be stable, so keep your eyes open for falling bricks.
- The upper window (to Mrs. Allardyces’ room) probably needs to be replaced.
- The rent is reasonable, but there are strings attached, such as having to leave food outside an upper room for old Mrs. Allardyce, an apparent (and unseen) agoraphobic who insists on remaining at home, even when strangers have rented the place.
Asking price: not for sale. Market value varies, most recently appraised at $750,000.
* * *
The Belasco House in THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1974).
This is one of the premiere properties in our catalogue, the so called “Mount Everest of Haunted Houses.” Lovingly designed by original owner Emeric Belasco in 1919, this extensive mansion features ornate quarters, spacious living areas, and its own chapel.
Amenities and Selling Points:
- Unlike most of the houses in our catalogue, this English mansion was deliberately constructed to be a “haunted house”: it features an innner sanctum sheathed in lead to create a sort of battery containing psychic energy.
- This power source fuels a wide range of psychic phenomena, both mental and physical: ectoplasm, shaking tables, self-igniting fireplaces.
- Guests may also enjoy the amorous attention of an unseen visitor at no extra cost.
- Number of ghosts: one (but appears to be more)
- Confirmed fatalies: 40
- Pets: There is a sort of house mascot in the form of a black cat, who gives new meaning to the phrase “bad kitty!”
- Those with repressed sexual desires and/or a naive faith in their own ability to exorcise the house are advised to say away.
- Watch out for spinal and/or leg injuries.
Asking price: $9-million
* * *
Bly House in THE INNOCENTS (1960).
This excellent English country mansion is one of the jewels in our crown, a beautiful property with high turrets, large rooms, a lake, and expansive grounds (although the surrounding terrain is a bit treacherous, especially if you have tipped one too many at the local pub). As with Blackwood Castle, there is nothing inherent in the structure of Bly that makes it haunted; it simply happens to be inhabited by ghosts.
Amenities and Selling Points:
- Number of ghosts: 2, Quint and Miss Jessel. These are a rather quiet, incommunicative, and diffident pair, given to appearing at unexpected moments, more for the sake of causing mental unease than for actually doing anything overtly malevolent. However, presence can be quite disconcerting when they make the effort, with shadows and voices combining for a nightmarish effect in the wee hours of the morning.
- Several residents have claimed not to see any ghosts at all in Bly.
- Please be advised that we do not recommend this property for families with children, who seem to be peculiarly susceptible to the influence of Quint and Jessel.
- If you require servants, try to hire a governess who is (1) can swim and (2) is not a neurotic spinster given to doing more harm than good while trying to defend her charges against a supernatural conspiracy.
Asking price: $3-million
* * *
The Dutch Colonial House in THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979 & 2005).
This lovely home on Ocean Avenue on the South Shore of Long Beach, New York is one of the most famous properties in our catalogue, but it no longer attracts the attention of most serious shoppers. It was quite popular back in 1979, but since then the value has dropped precipitously, thanks to scurilous rumors that it may not actually be haunted; in fact, there are some who say that the whole thing was made up. Nevertheless, the property’s lovely facade, with upper front windows that suggest menacing eyes, is quite an attractive selling point for buyers who require only that their house look haunted.
Asking price: $500,000.
* * *
Fort Marmorus in THE BLACK CAT(1934).
Or more precisely, the house built by Satanic architect Hjalmar Poelzig upon the remains of the fort. Unlike most of the houses listed in our catalogue, this one has a distinctly modern look – bright, with clean lines and wide open spaces; fortunately, there are some dark corridors, for tradition’s sake. Whether or not the house is, strictly speaking, haunted, is another matter. Rather like our other Poe-inspired property, the House of Usher (see below), Poelzig’s manor seems embued with psychic influences, in this case the result of the many hundreds of souls who perished on the battlefield during the first world war; the skeptical may consider this to be “supernatural baloney,” but some visitors have succumbed to the uneasy atmosphere, turning temporarily “mediumistic” under its palpable influence.
Amenities & Selling Points:
- Located conveniently close to a cemetery (see picture)
- Numerous glass cases displaying the preserved bodies of former wives.
- Dynamite in basement for easy self-destruct
- Confirmed fatalies: 100s – or even thousands – if one counts those who died on the surrounding battliefields.
- Even the phone is dead.
- While this house may not be for everyone, it is an unusual find for just the right purchaser, one who doesn’t require howling banshees and clanking chains, but prefers a more subtle shade of psychic influence.
Asking price: $1-million.
* * *
Gull Cottage in THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947).
Other realtors may hesitate to show this house, for fear of its haunted reputation, but we are more than eager to go the extra mile on your behalf, assuming that you will not be intimidate by the ghost of a brusque British sea captain. The cottage is a quaint, comfy abode witha nautical theme to its decor, and the view of the ocean is beautiful. Quiet, serene, and beautiful, it is a perfect seaside home for a widow raising a child. If not for an unfortunate accident with a gas lamp, it would not be haunted at all; fortunately, Captain Gregg is one of the most interesting and accommodating of ghosts – if you can get on his good side. If you are concerned about the propriety of living under the same room with a man to whom you are not married, just remember: he’s a ghost, so he doesn’t have a body.
- Number of ghosts: 1 (or 2)
- Captain Gregg is very effective at removing unwanted guests
Asking price: $1-million
* * *
The Haunted Mansion in THE HAUNTED MANSION (2003).
This is another property we are eager to unload. The house itself looks great, and its name is certainly promising, but the ghosts inside just don’t cut it. They try their best, but they’ve got no real spirit. They’re less like phantoms from the beyond than like…recycled gags from a theme park attraction.
Asking price: $300,000
* * *
Hill House in THE HAUNTING (1963). Built by Hugh Crain for his young wife (who died on the way to seeing it) this certainly the jewel in our crown, our most prized and coveted listing. Why? Because of all the haunted houss in this catalogue, this is the one that appears to be self-haunting. Many have died there, and indeed some may have remained in spirit form, but Hill House appears to have been born bad – a malign place before the first resident ever set foot in it – and those who perished within are more victim than ghosts. In short, there is little chance that whatever walks there will be exorcised as long as the house itself remains standing, which it has done for 80 years and might do for 80 more. It is an expert if eccentric piece of architecture, with no right angles; although the tiny variations are individually imperceptible to the eye, they add up to a virtual maze, wherein one can never be sure what lurks beyond each new door. The construction is superb: walls are upright; bricks meet neatly; floors are firm. Current owner has considered reconverting the building into a nightclub, but no plans are in the works.
Amenities & Selling Points:
- The avid psychic investigator will be pleased to find that the house offers a distinctive “cold spot” (the heart of the haunting).
- Musical instruments do not quite play themselves but they do resonate with ambient tones.
- Doors close by themselves when not watched; when they are watched, these closed doors bend inward as if pressed by some sinister unseen force from outside.
- Loud pouding noises at night
- Confirmed fatalities: 5
- Number of ghosts: the haunt does not manifest surviving, invididual personalities
- Staircase in need of repair.
- Treacherous driveway
- Look out for the writing on the walls
- If you feel a hand holding yours in the night, for god’s sake, turn on a light to confirm whether it is indeed your fellow investigator, frightened into silence, or…something else.
Asking price: $10-million
* * *
The House of Usher in THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960).
This ancient family mansion might not appeal to the average avid haunt fan, but it would be the perfect purchase for a buyer with the proper aesthetic appreciation. The problem is that it is not, technically, a haunted house; rather, it seems to be imbued witha miasma of intangible atmosphere. Even Hill House, by the end, appears to contain at least one genuine ghost, but the House of Usher really is its own monster – a vessel for the accumulated decadence of the family that has inhabited it for so long. This manifests in the occasional balustrade giving way (was the wood rotted, or was the housetrying to dispose of an unwanted guest?) and in the general decline of the two surviving family members, one of whom suffers from catalepsy.
Amenities & Selling Points:
- Family crypt conveniently located in basement
- Confirmed fatalies: the entire Usher family
- Number of ghosts: none (unless you count their appearance in a dream)
- The house is the monster
- The house is in need of some repair; in particular, that big crack running through the outside wall needs to be fixed before the entire structure splits in two and sinks into the tarn.
- If you bury someone in the crypt, make sure the door is locked – so they can’t get out!
Asking price: $1-million.
* * *
The Old Country House in THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970).
We have just about given up on this one. The previous retailer assured us that this house was some kind of karmic balance adjuster, dishing out just deserts to its inhabitants according to what they deserved. But on further investigation, we discovered that the house – despite its notorious name – had little or no blood on its…er, hand? (No – well how about no blood on its window panes?) The victims either died in other locations (like a wax museum), were felled by problems that pre-dated their residency, or brought into the house outside objects that were the real culprit (like a mysterious vampire’s cloak). It’s not a bad piece of property, but haunted?
Confirmed fatalities: 5 (not counting those who died outside the house)
Asking price: We’d like to unload it for $250,000.
* * *
The Remote Country House in THE OTHERS (2001).
This graceful estate on the isle of Jersey is somewhat in the style of Bly House. In the manner of haunted houses, it is big and dark and beautiful. It features the traditional fog-bound atmosphere, but with an interesting distinction: the fog seems to be literally impenetrable, as if the house were shrouded from the outside world, cut off in some kind of limbo land all its own.
Amenities & Selling Points:
- A piano plays itself in an empty room.
- A figure that initially presents as an innocent child turns out to be a hideous hag
- Confirmed fatalities: 3 (not counting a husband who died overseas in the war)
- Number of ghosts: 3, 6, or 7 (depending on the occasion)
Buyer Beware: Residents may expect to experience different phenomena, depending on their point of view.
Asking price: $1.5-million.
* * *
The Winward House in THE UNINVITED (1944). Like Gull Cottage, this is a lovely seaside residence located conveniently close to the ocean. It does not provide the outward appearance of being haunted; consequently, it has no trouble aquiring residents unprepared for the phenomena within. Up until 1944, most old dark houses turned out not to be haunted after all; following the comedic THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940), this is probably the first Hollywood movie to present a genuine haunted house seriously. This lends the property, with its muted thrills and subtle suggestions of horror, an almost inestimable historical value.
Amenities & Selling Points:
- Cold spots
- Flowers that wilt in the blink of an eye
- The melancholy sobbing of an unseen woman
- Confirmed fatalities: 3
- Number of ghosts: 2
Buyer Beware: that seaside cliff is treacherous!
Asking price: $5-million.
Perhaps you are not looking for a permanent residence but only a place for a pleasantly haunted stay? Or maybe you are looking to get into the haunt business yourself – purchase a property and rent it out to others? Here are some prime properties that should interest you.
The Overlook Hotel in THE SHINING (1980).
This is another one of the great haunted properties, one that dwarfs most of the competition. Built on the remains of an old Indian burial ground, the Overlook features high ceilings and brighlty lit rooms that are virtually the opposite of traditional haunted house decor, and yet the atmosphere is all the more effective because of it. The isolated location adds to the allure, and residents may rest assured that it is inhabited by enough ghosts to fill a dozen other haunted houses. Of particular note are the mysterious woman in Room 237 and the mysterious set of playful twins in the corridor. There is also a lovely band playing old-fashioned dance music, a helpful butler, and – best of all – a bartender named Lloyd who likes to offer drinks on the house. It is hard to say whether the Overlook was born bad or became bad as the result of the people who died there; it’s a sort of chicken-or-the-egg question. However, it got that way, it is safe to say that this Hotel is one of the most haunted places on the planet.
Amenities & Selling Points:
- A hedge maze. If you have some time on your hands, you might try your skills and finding your way in and out, but try to pick a day without snow.
- A convenient elevator service for those not frightened by the sight of enough blood to fill a dozen Dario Argento movies
- Long corridors great for riding your big wheel
- Confirmed fatalies: 6 (but obviously many more, judging from the number of ghosts)
- Number of ghosts: too numerous to count
- Your money’s no good here – which means more than enough free phantom booze to intoxicate a recovering alcoholic
Buyer Beware: The location is extremely isolated in the snowy winter season, so take care that nothing happens to the battery in the snow mobile.
Asking price: $8-million.
* * *
Seven Doors Hotel in THE BEYOND (1981).
Outwardly, this Louisiana hotel is no match for the Overlook, but it does have one unbeatable thing going for it: it’s built on one of the Seven Gateways to Hell! This puts the hotel in that special category of properties that will always be haunted, regardless of who died there. Yes, the ghosts of the dead are restless within its walls, but that gateway is responsible for a far more apocalyptic form of supernatural mayhem.
Amenities & Selling Points:
- Confirmed fatalities: 3(not counting those who died elsewhere)
- Number of ghosts: Only a few are identifiable, but there appear to be many more – perhaps infinite
- The gateway to hell not only revives dead souls and reanimates bodies into zombies; it also bends the very fabric of reality, teleporting unsuspecting victims literally to Hell and Gone – also known as the Sea of Eternal Darkness. You don’t get amenities like that in the Overlook!
Asking price: $5-million.
SUBURBS AND APARTMENT LIVING
City ghosts were once an anomaly; spirits used to keep to isolated locations: mansions and castles or at least houses set well apart from the neighbors. In the modern era, however (perhaps due to the population explosion), phantoms have been forced to seek residence in more highly populated areas. This is a great advantage to haunt enthusiasts who would like to purchase a ghost-invested property without givng up the benefits of city life.
The Freeling House in POLTERGEIST (1982).
This is definitely one for bargain hunters – we are slashing prices way, way, way down! It turns out that it wasn’t really the house that was haunted; it was the damn television that acted as a portal to the afterlife, allowing all manner of spirits to enter the land of the living. Now the TV’s gone, and so are the ghost.
Asking price: $250,000
* * *
The House in HOUSE (1986).
This is a model that was quite popular in its day, but the market value has fallen more than average for this kind of property. Buyers want something new, or they want the classics. These mid-level haunted houses are all right for brief visits, but no one much wants to live there, especially when the haunting seemed so specific to the previous owner, rather than a part of the house’s nature.
Asking price: $250,000
* * *
The Rundown Apartment House in DARK WATER (2001 & 2005).
One of the small, dingy rooms in this building would be a terrible place for a divorced mother to raise her child – even if the place were not haunted. Unfortunately, a little girl died there a while back, and though not outright malevolent, she is downright scary in her supernatural quest to secure a surrogate mommy.
Amenities & Selling Points:
- Confirmed fatalities: 2
- Number of ghosts: 2
- Watch out for leaky faucets, bathtubs, etc.
- Don’t let your kids play on the roof, and especially don’t let them climb up on the water tank!
Asking price: not for sale, but rent is cheap – even if not haunted, this place should be condemned.
* * *
The Saeki Residence in THE GRUDGE (2004).
Externally inauspicious, this is in fact one of the most intensely haunted properties in our catalogue, thanks to three malevolent yūrei residing there: Kayako, Takeo, and Toshio. The death of the three familiy members (a murder-suicide perpetrated by father Takeo) left a curse on the property, resulting in an extremely high fatalities among subseqeunt residents, besting many of the more elaborate models; just about everyone who passes into its portal succumbs. Despite its conventional appearance, this haunted house engenders intense feelings of dread and apprehension at the mere thought of crossing its thresshold. The house has been seen in four Japanse JU-ON movies and two American GRUDGE films. Of these, THE GRUDGE implicity suggests that the curse falls only on people who have entered the Saeki House, raising the property’s importance to the haunting – and thus its value – over the Japanese predecessors.
Amenities & Selling Points:
- A lovely staircase, perfect for making a memorable entrance (especially if you like crawling on your hands and knees)
- Pets: one black ghost cat
- Confirmed fatlities: 8 (not counting those who died elsewhere)
- Number of ghosts: 3
- Like the Seven Doors Hotel, the Saeki House can bend reality – in this case time, creating weird anomalies in which characters from the present can view the past and perhaps be viewed (or at least sensed) in return
Asking Price: $7-million
* * *
The Victorian Mansion in THE CHANGELING (1981).
This lovely old structure perfectly conforms to everyone’s idea of what a haunted house should be: it’s big, imposing, old, and spooky, with more than enough room for plenty of ghosts. In point of fact it is not a particularly evil place, and the haunting is limited to the ghost of a single murdered child – a troubled but not particularly malevolent spirit of the type that cannot rest peacefully until justice has been rendered. Whatever the ghost’s intentions, the effect is suitably unnerving, creating an effective haunting that should please those who enjoy their ghosts that raise the hair on the back of their necks rather than jumping out and screeching “Boo!”
Asking price: $2-million.
Widely reviled by Stephen King fans for abandoning much of the book (King himself said his feelings balanced out to zero), Stanley Kubrick’s film version of THE SHINING reveals, upon re-examination, that he took the same course he had used in the past when adapting novels to the screen (such as Vladimir Navokov`s Lolita): he stripped away the back story and exposition, distilling the results down to the basic narrative line, with the characters thus rendered in a more archetypal form. The result may not quite match Kubrick’s greatest films, but it is enthralling and hypnotic — a brilliant, ambitious attempt to shoot a horror film without the Gothic trappings of shadows and cobwebs so often associated with the genre.
Stephen King’s third novel (after Carrie and Salem’s Lot) tells the tale of the Torrance family (Jack, Wendy, and Danny), who spend a winter as caretakers in an old, isolated hotel that closes down in the off-season. Jack is a former school teacher and an aspiring playwright, whose drinking has harmed his career and his family life (he was fired from his teaching position before he could get tenure, and he broke his son Danny’s arm in a drunken rage). Since then, he has sobered up, and plans to use the quiet winter months to complete a play. Unfortunately, the Overlook Hotel has a bit of a bad reputation for working ill will on troubled minds: during a previous winter, a caretaker went mad with “cabin fever” and slaughtered his family and himself. Hallorann, the hotel’s cook, explains to young Danny Torrance that the Overlook is haunted, but it seems to be a peculiar kind of haunting: it takes someone with a “shining” (i.e., psychic abilities) to see and/or activate the ghosts. Both Hallorann and Danny have this ability. Once the hotel is closed and everyone else has left the Torrance family alone, Jack begins a slow descent into madness, seeing visions of ghosts that urge him to slaughter his family — in particular Danny, because the hotel covets his precious psychic gift. He discards the battery of a snowmobile that could take them to safety and destroys the radio they might use to call for help. In the latter chapters, he becomes complete possessed by the hotel, but Danny’s psychic abilities summon help in the form of Hallorann, who braves the snows to rescue the mother and son from their homicidal father. Jack knocks Hallorann senseless and obliterates his own face with a heavy mallet, leaving nothing of the real Jack — only a walking puppet controlled by the hotel — but Danny saves the day when he remembers “that which was forgotten”: that the pressure on the hotel’s boiler has not been checked. Alarmed, what’s left of Jack races to the cellar while Wendy, Jack, and Hallorann escape — just before the hotel explodes.
The Shining shows the strengths that have made Stephen King a best-selling author of horror fiction: he knows how to create situations that are genuinely frightening, and he knows how to milk them for maximum impact; but more than that, he has a gift for characterization that is rare in the genre. He creates very detailed, nuanced personalities that are not the simple heroes and villains of traditional Gothic horror (e.g., Bram Stoker’s Dracula), and he actually makes the book almost a character study as we follow the gradual transformation of Jack Torrance, whose inner demons make him an easy target for the malign influence of the Overlook.
Unfortunately, the book also displays the considerable weaknesses and excesses that marked King’s early writing. Weaned on horror movies, King uses words to mimic the crude shock effects of films: instead of zoom lenses, we get a deluge of exclamation points and parenthetical marks, and words (even whole sentences) in italics and/or ALL IN CAPS!!! As if emulating the shock-cut technique of cinema, King sometimes launches his chapters with an abrupt stream of profanity, in order to capture our interest. (The very first sentence is: “Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.” A later chapter begins with this subtle dialogue: “Oh you goddam fucking son of a bitch!”) And of course he doses his pages with enough dollops of gore to satisfy any slasher movie fan.
These stylistics excesses aside, King also overdoes his central conceit — which is trying to maintain some sympathy for Jack as a human being even while we see him inevitably succumbing to the Overlook. King attempts to achieve this through long inner monologues in which Jack rationalizes his behavior; it’s a long, gradual, and far-too-slow road to damnation that runs out of interest before it reaches its conclusion, because we can see where it’s going. To cite just one example, it takes Jack two pages to think through his decision to throw away the battery to the snowmobile, but the reader knows the outcome from the beginning — because King obviously has to disable this means of escape if he’s going to maintain the suspense. Worse, King does not play this dramatic decision as the clear turning point it is (at this point, Jack must be planning to kill his family); instead, it is just one more tiny step on the way to the finale, and we’re expected to continue sympathizing with Jack as those nasty ghosts continue to make him do these terrible things that he really doesn’t want to do.
As a result, The Shining is an extremely uneven book. It is filled with great ideas and nightmarish horror, woven together with a strong story and an admirable attempt at convincing characterization. But it is also long-winded, over-written, melodramatic, and even bathetic in its attempt to wring tearjerker moments amidst the free flow of bloodshed.
In effect, the novel seemed like the perfect source material for a movie that could retain the core concepts, trim away the excess, and replace the overdone writing with a sophisticated cinematic style (much in the way that the Brian DePalma-directed Carrie had translated King’s debut novel to the screen).
When THE SHINING reached theatre screens, much more had been deleted besides the stylistic excess of the novel: not only was the bloody violence toned down; much of the action had been removed as well — a fact for which King fans have never forgiven the film. Nevertheless, it is clear that Kubrick’s screenplay (written in collaboration with novelist Diane Johnson) made several changes that improved the film: there were no longer hedge animals that came to life; Jack Torrance no longer beat himself and Hallorann bloody with a mallet; and the hotel did not blow up in a pat, satisfying finale. In effect, the book read more like a horror movie than the actual movie, which exchanged King’s hot-blooded approach to horror with Kubrick’s cold, calculating detachment, filmed almost with God-like indifference to the fates of mere mortals.
A perfect example of this is the missing hedge animals. In the book, the evoke fear early on, when they only seem to be moving when glimpsed out of the corner of the eye as Jack (doing his duties as caretaker) is trimming them. Later, when they start running around like real animals, they are barely one-step away from being a bad joke: “attack of the killer shrubbery” (one imagines Monty Python could have some good, silly fun with this concept).
In place of the hedge animals, Kubrick substitutes a hedge maze, which becomes a metaphor for the predicament in which the characters find themselves trapped. In fact, the hedge emphasizes that the entire Overlook Hotel is really a maze, with endless corridors and right angles, around which unknown horrors may be lurking.
This fits in perfectly with the traditional Kubrickian worldview, in which the apparent free will of the characters is almost always exposed as an illusion, not necessarily through the story but through the visuals. In previous films, Kubrick favored lengthy tracking shots that followed characters as they navigated paths through trenches (in PATHS OF GLORY) and spaceships (in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY). In THE SHINING, this translates into numerous wonderful Steadicam shots as, variously, Jack or Wendy or Danny wind through the corridors of the Overlook and the pathways of the hedge maze. In all cases, the moving camera (which traditionally appears to convey a sense of freedom to the characters) instead holds them in place: they seem to be choosing their path, but in truth the path has already been laid out for them by the architecture, which forces them to take particular twists and turns, around which may lurk unknown horrors (the most effective of which are the twin ghost girls, who invite Danny to play with them…forever). Layered upon top of this technique, in the Kubrick worldview, is the circular sense of endlessly repeated action, as if what we are seeing does not really come to an end but instead goes on into infinity. The difference is that, in a realistic film like PATHS OF GLORY (or the later FULL METAL JACKET), the concept of “infinity” is metaphoric at most; in THE SHINING (and 2001), it may be quite literal.
With the ghostly manifestations toned down from the book, the film relies more on a sense of claustrophobia and growing paranoia to generate a sense of unease the gradually evolves into all-out horror. Gone are most of the Overlook’s permanent guests; instead we get a few skeletal glimpses, plus the wonderful “Elevator of Blood” (used to great effect in the film’s teaser trailer. The story is also more streamlined, with less time wasted on detailing each and every increment of Jack’s descent. (The disabling of the snowmobile and the destruction of the radio take place off-screen, for example.) Because of this, some critics and King fans faulted the characterizations and performances, but again, a reasonable examination of the film shows that Kubrick made the right choices. Jack Nicholson gives a career redefining performance, beginning with the Everyman persona established in films like FIVE EASY PIECES and mutating into an over-the-top psychotic lunatic (“Heeerrre’s Johnny!”). Shelley Duvall is a big improvement over the book’s Wendy: we actually believe she still might be married to Jack, and it truly is a surprise when she manages to outmaneuver him and survive. Young Danny Lloyd is the perfect embodiment of Danny Torrance, the young boy cursed with the “Shining.” Scatman Crothers perfectly embodies the hotel’s cook, Hallorann. And Joe Turkel deserves special mention for his brief but memorable role as Lloyd, the Overlook Hotel’s ghostly bartender, which sort of sums up the approach of the whole film: he never does much of anything, but his mere presence creeps you out beyond explanation.
In spite of the perfection of the casting, the film came in for criticism, particularly from fans of the book who thought that Duvall was too weak and pathetic as Wendy, who was a much stronger character on the page. The problem that these fans seem loath to consider is that the book’s character was totally unconvincing for one simple reason: she was clearly stronger than Jack; therefore, it was impossible to believe that she would still be with him after he broke their son’s arm. King spends pages and pages of text trying to explain away this anomaly, but all his best efforts never truly convince us that this is anything but an arbitrary set-up: he needs Wendy to be a strong character so that she can believably survive her ordeal.
Kubrick, on the other hand, presents us with an apparently helpless woman, who acts rather like a battered wife, except that the violence she rationalizes away was perpetrated on her son rather than on herself. There is no attempt to turn Wendy into an idealized role model of what a strong female character should be; instead, she is a believably ordinary person caught in extraordinary circumstances. Through a combination of luck and perseverance (and perhaps a dispensation from Kubrick, in honor of Mother Love), she manages to escape the Overlook with her son.
King himself has reportedly said he wanted an actor like Michael Moriarty to play Jack Torrance, working on the theory that this would make the character’s transformation to insanity more startling. This theory overlooks the fact Jack Nicholson’s only previous brush with on-screen madness was in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, wherein he played a convict who pretended to be insane because he thought he would have an easier time in the loony bin. As a matter of fact, most of Nicholson’s persona up to this time had been molded in films that presented him as an ordinary guy struggling with ordinary problems. THE SHINING really represents not only Jack Torrance’s transformation but also Jack Nicholson’s: it is the beginning of his wild-eyed, over-the-top period that would lead to such scenery chewing extravagance as the Joker in Tim Burton’s BATMAN (1989).
There have also been criticisms leveled that Nicholson’s antics undermine the horror of King’s story by inserting misplaced humor. However, the use of humor did not begin with Kubrick; King’s novel actually uses similar devices. At one point, Jack pretends to attack a miniature model of the Overlook, imagining himself as a giant ogre and musing, “Kiss your four-star rating goodbye!” Later, when Wendy is trapped in the bathroom with her husband trying to break in, she looks around for a weapon, and King writes, “There was a bar of soap, but even wrapped in a towel she didn’t think it would be lethal enough.”
This kind of joke truly does undermine the horror — it’s as if the author were winking at his reader in between the lines. In the film, on the other hand, the humor is part of Jack’s madness, creating an excellent sense of black comic creepiness as he merrily goes about his homicidal work, loudly announcing, “Wendy — I’m home!” as he attacks a door with an ax, or later chortling lines from the fairy tale “The Three Little Pigs” (“Little pigs, little pigs, let me in… Not by the hair of your chinny-chin-chin!”) In Kubrick’s version, Jack never obliterates his face with a mallet, signifying the destruction of his human personality as the hotel takes complete control of his body; in effect, Jack remains Jack until the end — a demented, homicidal version of himself. This keeps the horror on a human level, instead of diverging into melodramatic genre territory. It also plays into Kubrick’s theme of eternal repetition, because Jack, at least in a spiritual sense, seems to survive, providing a vague but optimistic hint of immortality after his body freezes to death in the hedge maze.
By deleting King’s explosive finale, Kubrick robs the film version of a spectacularly exciting conclusion, but the gambit pays off. In the few interviews he gave about the film, Kubrick said that he thought horror films were intrinsically optimistic because the supernatural trappings implied that our souls survived death. This idea emerges in the film’s final shot, as the camera slowly dollies in on a frame photograph of the Overlook’s ballroom, taken decades ago, and we see Jack among the partygoers. The image is ambiguous. We cannot say for sure whether it means Jack visited the hotel in a past life (in his dialogue he mentions a sense of deja vu) or whether, by dying on the premises, he has been subsumed into the hotel’s past, becoming one of its permanent guests — becoming, in effect, a part of eternity. This reading seems to be supported by a scene in a restroom where Jack confronts the ghost of Grady, who is now dressed as a butler. When Jack recognizes him as the previous caretaker, who killed himself and his family, Grady insists: “I’m sorry to differ with you, sir…but you are the caretaker. You’ve always been the caretaker. I should know, sir — I’ve always been here.”
This effective scene exemplifies Kubrick’s approach to the horror, which is to present it in a low-key, matter-of-fact way, emphasizing the “banality of evil.” With the red-and-white background decor shot from rigid right angles, Jack and Grady discuss violence past and violence yet to come with a complete moral indifference that evokes shudders — as when Grady recalls, with seeming moral indignation, that he “corrected” his wife and daughters when they tried to burn down the hotel. The disconnect between his word choice and his actions is so great that it feels like an electric shock going down the spine.
The scene also shows off one of the film’s subtle conceits: Jack sees ghosts only in rooms with mirrors (the ballroom, the bar, the bathroom). It is as if Kubrick were reminding us that they are merely reflections of Jack’s own disintegrating personality. The only time Jack interacts with a ghost when he is in a room without mirrors is after Wendy has locked him in the storage room — and in that case, he only hears Grady’s voice through the door, almost as if it were only an imagined voice in his head.
In this context, one other scene deserves mentioning: the famous room 237. In the book, Danny sees a vision of the decomposed body of a woman who committed suicide in a bathtub years ago, and winds up in a catatonic state with bruises on his neck; when his father goes to check, Jack gets a glimpse of something behind the shower curtain, then denies see it. The function of these chapters in the novel was to show that Danny’s visions were not just intangible memories that his “shining” allowed him to see; they could take physical form and do actual harm. In the movie, the two scenes are overlapped through intercutting, with Danny flashing back to his encounter while Jack his experiencing his in real time. The difference is that, in the film, Jack clearly sees not a shadow behind a shower curtain a beguiling woman, completely nude, who steps out of the tub and lures him into an embrace. The erotically charged interlude is interrupted by Jack’s glance into a mirror — which reveals that the beautiful body in his arms is actually the bloated corpse of a hideous hag. The implication is that the hotel is presenting a seductive facade to Jack, but the ugly truth resides in the mirror. The mirror, of course, provides a reflection, again implying that the source of the horror lies as much within Jack’s mind as in shuttered rooms of the hotel. The metaphor is not all that different from DRACULA, where (as Leonard Wolf has noted, in THE ESSENTIAL DRACULA) fail to see the vampire’s reflection because they refuse to acknowledge he is a reflection of themselves.
As a film, Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING belongs in a category that includes Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO and Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY. All three are horror films, based on novels, that emerge less as traditional genre adaptations than as auteur pieces that reflect the styles, themes, and concerns of their respective filmmakers. With an emphasis on craftsmanship and conviction, these are all films that, at least to some extent, “mainstream” the horror genre — not necessarily by toning it down, but rather by presenting their stories with a level of performance and style that makes them seem believable to the audience. In a sense, all of them transcend the genre by not slavishly hewing to genre conventions. There is never a point in any of them where credibility is tossed aside in order to achieve a cheap shock effect. As a result, they may disappoint hardcore horror fans, who enjoy being jolted at regular intervals, but they work on an altogether finer, more sophisticated level.
Stanley Kubrick considered changing the ending, so that when Hallorann arrived to save Wendy and Danny, he would become possessed by the hotel and finish Jack’s intended purpose, murdering the family and himself. The film would have ended with an “upbeat” epilogue, in which, as the Overlook reopens next season, the Torrance family is re-united in the afterlife as ghosts haunting the hotel lobby.
Kubrick and his screenplay collaborator discussed the possibility that audiences might be distracted because the first name of the film’s star (Jack Nicholson) was the same as that of the character he was playing (Jack Torrance). Ironically, Kubrick then ended up casting young Danny Lloyd as Jack’s son, Danny Torrance.
When the film was originally released, a longer print was available for the first few days of screenings. After the shot of Jack Torrance frozen to death in the hedge maze, the film included an epilogue, wherein Wendy and Danny are seen safely back in the hospital, having surviving their ordeal at the Overlook. While dialogue delivered by the hotel’s director Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson) implied that the horror was over, Kubrick’s tracking shots down the hospital corridors echoed the feel of the Overlook, suggesting that the same eternal maze of repeated actions was very much still in force. The film then cut to the final shot of the camera dollying in to a close-up of the framed photograph on a wall, implying that Jack Torrance has become a part of the Overlook’s timeless eternity. The cutting of this sequence was not a response to audience reaction to the movie; it was widely reported before the film’s release that Kubrick was planning to make a last-minute cut of some kind, but uncut prints had to be shipped to meet the pre-set release date. The footage has never been seen again, not even as a supplement on the DVD.
Like most films of its era, THE SHINING was shot in a standard 1:1.33 format and projected in a 1:1.85 format. This means that the image on the negative was 1.3 times wider than the height, but when the film was projected in theatres, a matte was used in the projector to crop off the top and bottom of the frame; consequently, when the film was magnified and projected on screen, it would have a “widescreen” look that was 1.85 times wider than the height (in other words, if the screen was ten feet tall, it would be eighteen-and-a-half feet wide). However, when shown on television, the image is presented unmatted, because the aspect ratio of the television screen is very close to the 1:1.33 aspect ratio of the negative. This means that you can see more of the image on television than you could in theatres, which can produce unfortunate results. In the case of THE SHINING, during the famous opening credits helicopter shots of the car driving through snowy mountain ranges on the way to the Overlook hotel, in one shot, you can briefly see the shadow of the helicopter near the bottom of the frame; in another shot, you can see the blur of the helicopter blades near the top of the frame.
Although Stephen King admired the film’s technical virtues, he was dissatisfied with changes made to the story; he said his feelings “balanced out to zero.” In the 1990s, he got a chance to film THE SHINING his way, as a two-part made-for-television movie, directed by Mick Garris.
The DVD presentation of THE SHINING, available as part of the Stanley Kubrick collection from Warner Home Video, presents the film in the unmatted 1:1.33 aspect ratio, with a Dolby monaural soundtrack (Kubrick wanted to preserve the sound mix from the theatrical version, not created a new one for home video). The print is mostly in good shape, but there is some visible speckling over the opening shots, and of course the infamous helicopter shadow and blades are visible thanks to the top and bottom of the image not being matted off as they were in theatres.
The disc contains the famous trailer that features the eerie “Elevator of Blood,” which slowly opens, releasing a deluge of red liquid into the halls of the Overlook Hotel. There is also a half-hour documentary on “The Making of THE SHINING,” that was filmed on-set by Kubrick’s daughter, Vivian. The film is instructive for a number of reasons, mostly because it belies the image of Kubrick as the chess mastermind who plotted every move beforehand in the planning stage and then executed his plan with iron rigidity — and no creative inspiration — during the actual production. As this documentary makes clear, script revisions were going on constantly throughout production, and Kubrick is seen typing up new pages that incorporate new ideas and suggestions from Jack Nicholson. At one point, Nicholson explains the multi-colored script to Kubrick’s mother: the pages of each new revision are a new color, making them easy to identify, and says he gave up trying to keep up with them once the script ran out of colors and started re-using them.
The documentary features interviews with the actors but not with Kubrick himself, whose only words to the camera are to tell his daughter to get out of the way or stop filming. Despite Kubrick’s reluctance to reveal his working methods, the documentary does provide an interesting look behind-the-scenes, including some conflict between the director and his lead actress (who admits resenting that she did not receive as much attention as Nicholson). We see Kubrick arguing with Duvall over dialogue changes she proposes on set, and at one point he berates her because she responds too late when he called “Action” during an elaborate Steadicam shot involving physical effects for wind and snow. At a half-hour in length, “The Making of THE SHINING” is far from an in-depth work, but it is about the best behind-the-scenes glimpse we are ever likely to see of the notoriously reclusive Kubrick. This in itself makes the DVD worth owning.
A subsequent “Two-Disc Special Edition” DVD offers a new transfer with a different aspect that crops off the top and bottom of the frame, plus optional audio commentary by Steadicam operator Garret Brown and film journalist John Baxter. The second disc includes a handful new bonus feature: besides the old making-of documentary and the trailer from the earlier DVD, there are three new behind-the-scenes featurettes (apparently leftover bits from Jan Harlan’s documentary STANLEY KUBRICK: A LIFE IN PICTURES). Total running time of the new material is less than an hour.
THE SHINING (1980). Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay by Kubrick and Diane Johnson, based on the novel by Stephen King. Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone, Joe Turkel.