I’m not a huge horror movie fan or expert on the genre by any means, but I will confess that one of my favorite movies is Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining, based on the novel by Stephen King. I remember reading the book when I lived in the clotted realm of Los Angeles way back. The book freaked me out so much that for a while I had to leave a light on when I went to sleep. True story.
I’m not sure how many times I’ve watched the film, but it’s been a lot. Sometimes I just get a craving for something classic and freakish and weird and with downright good cinematography. From the eerie music that descends upon viewers during the opening credits to the finale where poor Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) succumbs to extremely severe frostbite in the maze, the film is a visual and auditory treat. For me, at least.
I watched it again a few days ago and there was a scene that struck me as odd and that I hadn’t particularly paid much attention to in the past. It’s the part in the film where Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) is in the big creepy kitchen and she’s preparing a meal for her family while sucking on a cigarette and watching the news on a portable television. In this scene, she’s using a countertop crank opener on a huge can of fruit cocktail. I mean huge. It takes her two hands to cradle the thing, like a ten-pound baby, and once she has it open, she proceeds to pour the contents into a large serving bowl.
This is the part that got me scratching my head. I suddenly thought to myself: “How the hell are three people going to eat that much fruit cocktail?” (That being Jack, Wendy, and their little boy, Danny). I know there are a lot more menacing things going on at the Overlook Hotel at this point, but I was just kind of obsessed about all that fruit cocktail.
Then I started to wonder if Wendy was subconsciously considering the other occupants of the hotel that may or may not really be there. I mean, surely the creepy twin girls probably like fruit cocktail. Then there’s the girls’ father, the previous caretaker known as Delbert Grady. He surely seems like the fruit cocktail type. Then there’s also Lloyd the bartender. I bet he could put back some fruit cocktail while pouring a few drinks. And what about the decaying, cackling woman in room 237, Delbert Grady’s wife. By the looks of her as she came up out of that bathtub, she could probably use some fruit cocktail purely for the nutrients.
Interesting side note on the actor who plays Delbert Grady, Philip Stone. He played the part of Alex DeLarge’s father in another one of my favorite Stanley Kubrick films, A Clockwork Orange from 1971.
I told my wife about these concerns of mine and she just kind of looked at me and explained it all away by reminding me they were in a big hotel that was accustomed to feeding large amounts of people — so of course they are going to have mass quantities of things like fruit cocktail. Duh. She’s always right.
But in a film like The Shining, or in any Kubrick film for that matter, I am always looking for and trying to decipher the subtle details. Things like that intrigue me and keep my attention. I like films that do that rather than trying to show and explain everything to me like I’m dumb. I need a film to challenge my brain at the same time I want it to entertain and engage me, to keep the world at bay for a couple of hours.
I think if I was directing a remake of the film, which I guess has been done (with one of the guys from the old TV show Wings playing Jack Torrance. Really?) I think I watched it but it left no measurable or lasting impression on me, even though it was supposedly truer to the book. I’ll tell you what, though. I’d like to see a remake with Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role. Hell, yeah. Oh well.
Like I was saying, if I was directing the remake, I’d throw in a scene where young Danny comes to the table, sees the fruit cocktail, and then raises his one finger and in that creepy Tony voice says: “Danny doesn’t like fruit cocktail, Mrs. Torrance.”
Then maybe Wendy looks down at him and says in her meek, soothing, motherly voice, “Well, you’re going to have to learn to like it Doc, because this hotel sure does have a whole lot of cans of fruit cocktail. I’ve never seen so much fruit cocktail in my whole life.”
And then maybe Jack comes grumbling in, knocking metal things off counters and they scatter and make a whole lot of annoying racket. Then he sits down, wipes his crazy hair back and smiles really sinister like as he looks at the monstrous bowl. “Fruit cocktail again, Wendy!?”
“I thought you liked fruit cocktail, honey?” she whimpers.
He grits his teeth and shakes his head at her. “When have I ever liked fruit cocktail, Wendy!?”
“I, I, I just thought you did.”
He mocks her with a whiny voice, “I just thought you did… Well, I don’t and if you ever serve me fruit cocktail again, there’s going to be hell to pay!”
I kind of like that idea.