Archive for October, 2019

October 1, 2019

#154) Heeeeere’s Robin: The scariest movie that never was

09ac848b123c077ab6370a5eb7fa93aeIt’s officially horror movie season, so in this post we are going to celebrate a very scary film. However, it cannot be streamed on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or Youtube. You also won’t find it on BluRay, DVD, Laserdisc or even VHS. That’s because this film doesn’t exist. It is a hypothetical movie: Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “The Shining” – starring one Robin McLaurin Williams.

Yes, it’s true: Kubrick originally considered Mork from Ork to play Jack Torrance, the writer gone mad who terrorizes his wife and son in the cavernous Overlook Hotel. However, Kubrick–the same director who had Malcolm McDowell sing “Singin’ in the Rain” during the most infamous scene in “A Clockwork Orange”, had Marines marching through a burning battlefield singing “M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E” in “Full Metal Jacket” and who choreographed nuclear bombs exploding to “We’ll Meet Again” in “Dr. Strangelove”–ultimately shied away from Williams, thinking he was too crazy for the part.

“The Shining” is one of the most heavily debated horror films. Did its many changes from the book make it better or worse? Is Shelley Duvall convincing as the terrified wife or is she just annoying? And just what exactly is the deal with that bear costume? Given how many horror geeks have weighed in on the film, it’s surprising that there isn’t more discussion about what the Williams version might have been like.

My opinion: much scarier.

In fact, just the idea that “The Shining” could have been made with Williams is scarier to me than the actual movie was. That’s not to take anything away from the existing film – while not perfect, it’s still scary, eschewing the then-new slasher formula for genuine suspense – but it is scary in spite of, not because of, Jack Nicholson.

Just as people are funniest when they don’t realize they are being funny, villains are scariest when they don’t realize they are being scary. Nicholson knows that he is playing a villain. “Heeeere’s Johnny” is good marketing, but it’s not scary. (Maybe first-time audiences soiled themselves, but if you are under 50, that moment has always been a movie poster, in the same way that Vader has always been Luke’s father).

Would Williams have played Torrance as a sneering villain – or, as he did in “One Hour Photo”, a lonely man who truly believes he is doing the right thing as his desperation drives him to evil? The combination of Kubrick’s slow, brooding pacing, the endless halls of the Overlook, the ominous score of music by Wendy Carlos and other modernist composers and what Williams would have brought to the role is as creepy to imagine as it is tantalizing.

Of course, it could have bombed. In his late 20s, Williams might not yet have developed the acting chops necessary for the demanding role. He also might have cracked (and not in a good way) under Kubrick’s notorious pressure. For forty years, it’s been Jack Nicholson who sulks over his typewriter, approaches the woman in Room 237’s shower and smiles from the center of the old photograph in the film’s final scene. Many fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ultimately, imagining how Williams’ Jack Torrance would have turned out is a question of nature vs. nurture. We now know a lot about Williams that we didn’t know forty years ago, from his ability to seamlessly incorporate his manic comedy into a leading role (“Good Morning Vietnam”, “Mrs. Doubtfire”) to his convincing portrayal of villains (“Insomnia”, “One Hour Photo”) to the personal pain that he felt unable to escape. Was the darkness of Williams’ later years the result of burnout from excess or was it there all along? Kubrick seemed to think it was always there; it says something about him that he saw Williams as a possible villain long before most of the world did. It also says something about Williams that Kubrick was unable to pull the trigger. Perhaps Kubrick thought that Nicholson, as a seasoned actor, would be easier to work with. Maybe he believed that Nicholson, who is 14 years older than Williams, would have been more convincing as the grizzled, alcoholic writer. But there just might have been something about the young Robin Williams that took even the intimidating auteur aback.

The deaths of both Williams and Kubrick left their fans wondering what might have been (would “Eyes Wide Shut” have been watchable had Kubrick lived to see it to the end?) However, sometimes what might have been is better left to the imagination.