The Shining v The Thing
They both hate snow. They both hate shaving. They both hate the fact that their respective film titles are not very frightening. They both hate each other – and they’re about to go head to head. Read the arguments and decide which one is scarier. Heeere’s… JOHNNY!! And Ross McG. Oh, and Ross McD as well.
Ross McG: The Shining
I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just going to bash your brains in
Every second of The Shining is terrifying. And not in that lame ‘someone’s gonna jump out at you’ way, either. Every moment drips with tension and teems with suspense. Breathing normally through this film is not an option. It takes you back to when you were a child watching in fear for the first time. The Thing is a solid genre flick, but The Shining is a masterpiece from a masterful director.
The enduring shot from The Thing is of Kurt Russell staring into an ice box as if he’s torn between a Cornetto and a Tangle Twister. The Shining, on the other hand, has enough iconic imagery to fill 17 movies. After the beautifully scary opening, we get the blood pouring from the elevators, the child careering through the corridors on his tricycle, the ridiculously brilliant maze perspective shot and, of course, Jack Nicholson with an axe to grind.
The Thing has a neat premise (the killer could be anyone) and a super soundtrack but it never rises above B-Movie fare. The Shining is so sure of itself it only needs one on-screen killing. It is a psychological nerve-shredder that reaches into your brain and stays there. It’s a film you think of hours, months and years after you see it. When you inevitably pay a return visit to the Overlook Hotel, the film is still fresh – there’s always something new in it. And that is the genius of Stanley Kubrick: the devil is in the details. Nicholson’s ‘Heeere’s… JOHNNY!!’ outburst is The Shining’s most famous line, yet his simple sentence when he is shown his son Danny’s room (‘Perfect for a child.’) at the beginning of the movie is just as creepy. After my next viewing it might be the noise of Jack Torrance’s typewriter that stays with me as I try in vain to drift off to sleep.
The Shining is a perfect combination of great direction, terrific acting, shuddering music and astonishing set design. All of the hotel’s interiors were built at Elstree Studios and they are amazing – from the brown and orange carpet to the blood red bathrooms. The sets undoubtedly helped the actors get into gear, and the leading three give the performances they will be remembered for. Danny Lloyd comes up with perhaps the finest piece of child acting ever – watching him talking to his thumb will have you sucking yours in fright. Shelley Duvall is perfectly cast as Wendy ‘Hi Hon’ Torrance, whose cheery demeanour helps push her husband over the edge. Kubrick picked her as he wanted the audience to be complicit in Jack’s spiral into oblivion – at times we understand why he is so testy with her, making for a better drama.
And then there is Nicholson. Forget the Oscars he won for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Terms Of Endearment and As Good As It Gets, Jack Torrance is his signature role. We are with him every step of the way through his journey from uptight writer to full-blown axe-wielding nursery ryhme-spouting homicidal maniac. It’s a performance pitched just the right side of ridiculous.
The Shining stands the test of time. It is frightening on every occasion that you are brave enough to watch it. It is unlike any film I have ever seen and retains its power to terrify me in every viewing. The Thing relies on jumpy moments, and while that does not make it a bad movie, it prevents it from entering The Shining’s class.
Ross McD: The Thing
Yeah, **** you too!
Seriously, where would you rather stay? The picturesque Overlook Hotel, or a God-forsaken research base somewhere in the middle of Antarctica? So the Overlook gets a little snow. Antarctica is made of snow! So there’s a few freaky kids wandering around. Did they bite anyone’s arms off? No. So there’s an alcoholic who’s moany over his writer’s block. Is he a rampaging flesh-eating doppelganger alien? No.
Jack Torrance can be dealt with using a baseball bat and/or some slightly chilly weather. If you step up against John Carpenter’s beast, you’d better have a flamethrower, a sh*tload of dynamite and a chainmail beard.
The Shining is scary in parts, just like all those documentaries about sh*tty hotels. Oh, they didn’t change the bedclothes. The maids steal your money. The winter caretaker is a little deranged. It’s a consumer advice programme – don’t stay here: two stars out of five, max.
The Shining is predictable. There’s more or less just three characters in it, and we always know which one of them is going to end up the bad guy. Jack Nicholson does what Jack Nicholson does best, and that’s play Jack Nicholson. While fun to watch, you get the feeling that he’s not even trying any more, he’s just doing his crazy bit, as if his mom makes him do it at every party they go to. Hell, we’d just seen Crazy Jack in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and this film could pretty much be a sequel. Not that anyone can blame him for going mad this time round, what with being married to head-melter Shelley Duvall.
This is where The Thing takes The Shining to school. Possessing the ability to don the appearance of its victims, we never know who the baddy is. The audience is kept in the dark along with the characters, and the tension is palpable. Even when the creature reveals itself, the nature of the beast means we are left guessing after every attack. As the film progresses, we see the main enemy shift from being the alien to each man’s paranoia, and the audience is just as distrusting as each of the dwindling survivors. As they begin to turn on each other, the cabin fever becomes scarier than Rob Bottin’s revolting creature. Nowhere is it more evident than the superb blood test scene (the test so effective, it has become the standard in sourcing infections).
It’s not long before the audience joins the protagonists in their increasingly hysteric thoughts. At one stage one of the characters determines the danger the alien poses to humanity should it escape, and destroys transport and communication equipment. We hate him for it, yet his course of action was completely logical.
And what a creature it is. It is easily one of cinema’s most horrific creations, and gives rise to some truly terrifying jump moments interspersed throughout the continuous tension. The resuscitation scene anyone? Je. Sus. Christ. I, like the medic, did not see that coming. As for the head making a run for it, that’s just gross. But the sickest thing the monster does is tricking the crew into adopting it by taking on the form of a cute dog – that is preying on humanity at its weakest.
PS. Best. Ending. Ever.