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New Escapist Column! “The Shining” and the Perfect Haunted House…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last Friday. Because it was Halloween and because of the release of Doctor Sleep, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a look about at The Shining.

The Shining is my favourite horror movie ever. It is one of my favourite films ever. It is the rare piece of work that offers something new every single time I sit down to watch it. As I’ve thought more and more about it over the years, I’ve been drawn to the way in which the power of the Overlook is one of scale. It is big enough that it can serve as a fun house mirror to the anxieties of America itself, but also intimate enough that the familial anxieties of the Torrance family can play out within it. It is both large enough and small enough to work as the perfect haunted house.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Amazing.

Non-Review Review: Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep finds itself caught between a rock and a hard place, between Stephen King and The Shining.

Of course, Stephen King wrote The Shining. The book belongs to King. It is a profoundly personal work, dealing with his own feelings of inadequacy as a young writer and father, and documenting his own struggles with addiction. Indeed, a large part of the tension between Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick over the cinematic adaptation of The Shining was the way in which it largely eschewed any interiority in its handling of Jack Torrance. In some ways, King has been awkwardly trying to reassert his authorship of The Shining for decades, through works like the television miniseries and the sequel Doctor Sleep.

It’s a hungry world…

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Doctor Sleep is that it has found a director half way between the sensibilities of King and Kubrick. Flanagan is a very precise visual director, with an eye for compositions and an understanding of slow methodical build which makes him a good choice as a director to follow Kubrick’s work on The Shining. However, Flanagan is also a writer who is much more interested in the literary themes of King’s novel than Kubrick was, with Flanagan’s filmography dedicated to exploring the themes of trauma and addiction that wed King’s work on The Shining and Doctor Sleep.

The resulting film still occasionally feels caught between two masters, struggling to satisfy both King and Kubrick’s version of The Shining. It’s to Flanagan’s credit that the film strikes as effective a balance as it does, resulting in a film that manages to work both as a reasonably satisfying sequel to one of the best horror films ever made and as an engaging movie it its own right. Doctor Sleep has some minor problems, but succeeds make an impossible mandate look like child’s play.

Corridors of power…

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Escapist Column! “It” as a Coming of Age Film…

Hey there.

Another sample from my In the Frame column over at Escapist Magazine. This one taking a look at the success of It as a Stephen King adaptation. In particular, the fact that it works in large part because it draws more overtly from Stand by Me than from The Shining, understanding that the source novel’s horrors are the horrors that face every child growing up.

You can read the column here, or click the picture below.

New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #25!

It’s time for the Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Graham Day and Jay Coyle to discuss what we watched, the week in film news, the top ten and the new releases. Graham has rewatched The Shining. Jay has watched Cléo from 5 to 7: Remembrances and Anecdotes, Cabaret and Victor/Victoria. I have watched What We Left Behind. There is also a lively discussion of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

In terms of film news, the Galway Film Fleadh has announced its full line-up. The makers of the documentary Gaza have donated their prize money to the Gaza Red Carpet Festival Appeal. The Gaze LGBT film festival also unveiled its line-up. The SXSW hit Extra Ordinary was purchased by Cranked Up Films. Donal Foreman’s The Image You Missed is now available on Vimeo on Demand. Also, Hollywood is having (another) existential crisis this summer.

The top ten:

  1. Godzilla: King of the Monsters
  2. Child’s Play
  3. Diego Maradona
  4. X-Men: Dark Phoenix
  5. Brightburn
  6. Rocketman
  7. The Secret Lives of Pets II
  8. Men in Black International
  9. Aladdin
  10. Toy Story 4

New releases:

  • Yesterday
  • Drive
  • Support the Girls
  • Apollo 11
  • Metal Heart

You can listen to the podcast directly here.

Non-Review Review: Pet Sematary

The horror in Pet Sematary is primal and ancient, both literally and figuratively.

The tropes that power Pet Sematary were already familiar and old-fashioned by the time that Stephen King published the book more than a quarter of a century ago. Indeed, there are extended stretches of the novel when Pet Sematary feels like a game of Stephen-King-related mad-libs: a dash of paternal anxiety here, a sense of existential dread about the American wilderness there, a familiar older character to provide exposition thrown in, and a climax where everything gets very brutal very quickly.

“You just take a left at the Pet Seminary.”

Even beyond the sense of Pet Sematary as a collection of familiar Stephen King elements blended together, the novel riffed on familiar genre elements. There was more than a faint whiff of The Monkey’s Paw to the basic plot, the story of a seemingly wondrous device that could resurrect the dead only for the person responsible to realise that their beloved had come back “wrong” – or, as Jud helpfully summarises, that “sometimes dead is better.” (The novel alluded to this more directly with the story of Timmy Baterman, which is consigned to a newspaper clipping in this adaptation.)

Writer Jeff Buhler, along with directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, clearly understand that appeal. The script for Pet Sematary makes a number of major alterations to the book’s plot, but most are logical and organic, rooted in the realities and necessities of cinematic storytelling more than the desire to change things for the sake of changing them. For the most part, Pet Sematary revels in the old-fashioned blend of Americana and horror that defines so much of King’s work, the mounting sense of dread and the decidedly pulpy sensibility.

The purr-fect villain.

Pet Sematary only really runs into trouble in its third act, and this is arguably a problem that is carried over from the source material despite the major branching choices that the script makes leading up to that point. The issues with the third act are not those of character or plot, but instead of tempo and genre. In a weird way, these third act issues make Pet Sematary feel like a spiritually faithful adaptation, carrying over something of the essence of the book, for better and for worse.

Pet Sematary is at is strongest when building mood and mounting dread, when offering its own shading on the familiar iconography of a haunted and untamed wilderness. Pet Sematary is at its weakest when it is forced to shape that dread into a more conventional horror movie climax.

Shades of grey.

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Star Trek: Voyager – One (Review)

One is a solid episode.

Indeed, One is so solid that it is the rare episode of Star Trek: Voyager to be repurposed for Star Trek: Enterprise. The prequel series tended to borrow stock Star Trek plots, but it tended to borrow most heavily from Star Trek: The Next Generation and even Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; Oasis was Shadowplay, Vanishing Point was Realm of Fear, Dawn was Darmok. However, One would be reworked as Doctor’s Orders, another pseudo-horror bottle episode in which a member of the cast finds themselves driven insane by isolation.

Everything’s gone askew…

However, One has an in-built advantage over Doctor’s Orders, in that it is centred on a character who practically begs for this sort of treatment. Seven of Nine is effectively a reformed Borg drone. While Jean-Luc Picard was assimilated in The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and recovered in The Best of Both Worlds, Part II, and while Chakotay brushed up against a pseudo-collective in Unity, Seven of Nine is the first franchise regular to have spent the bulk of her life inside the Borg Collective. The nature of the Borg means that Seven is perfectly suited to a story about isolation.

One is a messy and clumsy episode in a number of ways, particularly in its drive for big action set pieces and tangible threats. In particular, the penultimate act of One feels awkward, as if the production team do not trust the audience to engage with a purer breed of psychological thriller. However, One leans very heavily on the character of Seven of Nine and on the performance of Jeri Ryan. Luckily, both character and actor are up to the task.

Voices in her head.

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What Will Be This Decade’s Underappreciated Masterpiece?

It seems to happen at least once a decade: the critic consensus emerging immediately after the release of a film turns out to be wrong, swayed by the tides of retrospect and history. Initial reviews of The Shining criticised it for being slow – today we regard its pace as being one of its many virtues. It wasn’t greeted with triumphant applause, but a resounding ‘meh’. Blade Runner was dismissed as a wannabe sci-fi epic, now we consider it to be one of the high watermarks of the genre – a masterpiece. The Wizard of Oz equally divided critics between those who considered the movie to be a game changer, and those who thought it was just light and fluffy entertainment. You could make the case that Fight Club debuted to a hugely divided critical opinion, but that belies that fact that the acknowledgement of the movie as a modern classic is grudging at best. So is there a film from the last ten years that is likely to feature a similar historical revision, considered a retrospective masterpiece?

Harrison Ford knew how to "persuade" critics...

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