The other day I revisited my oid friends the Torrances at the Overlook Hotel. I lament the length of time that has passed since my last viewing of The Shining and my recent revisit instilled an even deeper love for Kubrick's horror classic. I was watching with my wife who had never seen the film and I believe somehow her lack of preconception permeated the room and affected my experience. As I sat and watched the Blu-ray, an immaculate transfer by the way, it was as if I were watching it with fresh eyes and an entirely unclaimed perspective. If someone had asked me prior to this viewing what makes The Shining so great, of the merits I could list ad nauseum, the score would be sadly absent.
But on this particular occasion, as let the opening credits wash over my eyeballs, my ears beheld the personally-neglected greatness that is the music of The Shining.
The opening scene of The Shining lends much to its auteur status as well as its stature as a horror classic. The tiny car--yellow, fragile, unassuming--treks carelessly through the labyrinth of wooded, winding mountain roads. The camera then executes a series of wild aerobatics to encompass the full scope of the wilderness into which this happy wanderer is foolishly venturing. The images are not inherently frightening and, given any number of differing music cues, there would be no reason to adopt an air of foreboding. In fact, John Alcott's gorgeous cinematography paints the same living, awe-inspiring portrait of the Colorado Mountains that John Ford's films paint of the old west. That being the case, there would be no reason to assume horror as the film's genre.
That is, there is no reason to make that assumption until the music drops. A single horn, seemingly emanating from the living rock of the mountains, surrounds us with ominous notes played in bleak succession. Suddenly those trees and shimmering lakes over which we are hovering take on new menace and appear to be harboring dark secrets. It's a strange, but wholly effective juxtaposition of unsettling chords and serene images. You can almost hear the music chasing Jack over the roads or echoing in the tunnels through which he drives.
The proverbial icing on the cake regarding this score is the cacophony of disembodied voices sporadically making mournful cries in the background. It sounds as if ghosts are crawling out of the trees and flittering into your ear canals as a dark portent of the fate that awaits our unfortunate family. It creates a nightmarish atmosphere reminiscent of a Fulci or Coscarelli film that adds another sinister layer to what would otherwise be a peaceful moment of natural wonder.
The effectiveness of this score was apparent in my novice wife's reaction to the opening. As we sat down to watch, we turned down the lights to drown ourselves in darkness and grant full effect to this masterpiece. About half way through the opening, the room suddenly became awash in fluorescent light as she thought better of sharing the darkened living room with the now impressively established horror of the Overlook Hotel.
Note: Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind are credited with creating the original music for The Shining while an uncredited orchestrator is also listed for the film (Jorge Calandrelli). I'm not sure who exactly is responsible for the opening music so I will recognize all of them.