Guillermo del Toro's CRIMSON PEAK will be haunting theatre screens this weekend, making this the perfect time to take a look back at a couple of the movies that inspired the fan favorite filmmaker's foray into the haunted house sub-genre. Del Toro has referenced several films as influences on CRIMSON PEAK, but the two that stood out to me as prime Face-Off material were Robert Wise's 1963 film THE HAUNTING and Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING from 1980.
Both films are widely regarded as horror classics, so let's see who comes out on top in this clash of the titans.
Based on Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House, THE HAUNTING tells of the horror and tragedy that occurs when an anthropologist and three research assistants venture into a legendarily haunted mansion. As the group experiences what appear to be paranormal events, one of them begins to suffer a mental breakdown.
Based on Stephen King's 1977 novel of the same name, THE SHINING finds a family of three moving into a remote hotel with a dark history to take care of the place during the five month off-season. As time goes on, the spirits that inhabit the hotel make their presence known and the father begins to suffer a mental breakdown.
The research group in this film are an engaging bunch. Anthropologist Dr. Markway is a jovial fellow with a great interest in the supernatural. Luke Sanderson is just along for the ride on this ghost hunt, he stands to inherit Hill House someday and is looking forward to making money off of it. Chosen because she has ESP, research assistant Theodora is a strong, often antagonistic presence. Her fellow assistant Nell, chosen because she has poltergeist experience, is her perfect opposite, sheltered and timid. A few more characters show up along the way, most notably housekeeper Mrs. Dudley, who is humorously preoccupied with her schedule.
Jack Nicholson delivers one of the greatest performances of his career in the role of Jack Torrance, a man with weaknesses that the evil forces in the hotel target and exploit. Jack's wife Wendy can be maddeningly meek, but steps up when required to. Their young son Danny adds an intriguing element to the film with his special brand of ESP, "the shining", part of which is his imaginary pal Tony, who talks through his finger and lives in his mouth, according to Danny. Cook Dick Hallorann shines as well, and becomes a mentor of sorts to Danny during their brief time together. Dick is also one of the unluckiest characters in horror history.
The site of 90 years of scandal, murder, insanity, and suicide, Hill House is described as a place that was "born bad". A sprawling mansion originally owned by an eccentric man who had it built in the most remote part of New England he could find, everything about the house is a little off, from the angles to the way the doors were hung. The exterior of the place is equally stunning and unsettling, while the massive interiors look incredible.
Being trapped in the Overlook Hotel during the winter is about as trapped as a person can get. The hotel was built in the most secluded location that could be found, and it didn't matter that the chosen spot was already the site of an Indian burial ground. The nearest town is 25 miles away, and when there's so much snow that the drifts against the building are several floors high, it really feels like this is a hopeless situation for Danny and Wendy. There seems to be no escape.
This film takes a subtle, low-key approach for the most part. Nell scares herself with her nervous thoughts. There are whispers, laughs, writing on the wall, a feeling of cold, indoor breezes. The ghosts occasionally up their game, pounding on the door to a room characters are cowering inside of, or pressing on the other sides of doors, causing them to bend inward in a way that shouldn't be possible.
This one has longer stretches that are absent of outright scares, but a feeling of dread permeates throughout the entire running time. When there are scares, it shows the viewer things that will stick with them forever. The ghosts of the twin girls who were murdered at the Overlook a decade before. The woman in room 237. Most of all Jack, broken down into an axe-wielding madman, relentlessly pursuing his wife and child.
Wise brought Jackson's story to the screen with style to spare, choosing to shoot the film in gorgeous, shadowy black and white. The direction is often lively and impressive, but in the moments of greatest suspense Wise and his crew really let loose - quick cuts, lots of camera movement, off-kilter angles. It's clear that THE HAUNTING was a huge influence on the way Sam Raimi shot the EVIL DEAD films, although he amped it up to 11.
King may not be happy with how his story was translated to the screen, but Kubrick realized his take on the material with a cold, perfectionist elegance. He masterfully builds up the tension and horror until things end in a crescendo of terror and violence. Each bit of horror achieves maximum effectiveness through the way it's shot and cut together, and the film features some fantastic use of the steadicam, at that time a relatively new invention.
While rewatching THE HAUNTING and THE SHINING for this Face-Off, it was clear to me that both are very deserving of their classic status. As great as they both are as a whole, when elements are pitted directly against each other I found that THE SHINING works better for me in most areas.
THE SHINING wins this Face-Off, but if CRIMSON PEAK is even half as good as either of these films, genre fans are in for a treat this weekend.
What do you think of the results? Do you think THE SHINING deserved the victory, or do you prefer THE HAUNTING? Leave a comment below to let us know, and if you have suggestions for future Face-Offs you can send them to me at CodyHamman@joblo.com