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Poor Unfortunate Soul: Dick Halloran in The Shining (1980)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 3, 2008

Tea & sympathy with IITS

Maybe it was just that Scatman Crothers’ presence was too anomolous in this movie to begin with for him to stick around too long. After all, I can’t remember a single black person in any of Stanley Kubrick’s movies up until that point (well, with the exception of James Earl Jones’s nothing role in Dr. Strangelove). And this vivacious, wisecracking, cackling individual certainly had no place in a movie as emotionally muted as The Shining, where the only other expressions of feelings are those of fear, hatred, and psychotic murderousness. Nonetheless, despite this incongruous presence, The Shining‘s treatment of Dick Halloran still seems like a little much. In fact, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that Dick gets the rawest deal of any character in movie history, including any of those victimized by the most villainous characters in movie history.

So when we first meet poor unforunate Dick, he’s showing the Torrances around the Overlook, when he contacts little Danny telepathically. He tells him all about the shining, and says that while he knows that the Overlook has some sketchy history, he should be OK anyway. But if the hotel should possess his father and send him on a murderous rampage, Dick tells the kid that he can shine on him and he’ll come out and save the day (or maybe he just implies it in the movie, I can’t really remember). Now it’s true that Dick was perhaps a little less than forthcoming of details and was probably a little remiss to not warn Wendy about the hotel’s possible dangers, so at least she wouldn’t have gotten so flustered when hubby started trying to kill her. Still, he’s clearly worked at the hotel a long time without being murdered, and he probably wouldn’t keep his job too long if he scared away every prospective caretaker with tales of ghosts and pigman blowjobs, so we’ll let him go on that one.

In any event, Jack goes nuts, and the gorgeous naked chick in room 237 turns out to be the SCARIEST FUCKING SCENE IN MOVIE FUCKING HISTORY, so Danny goes a calling on Dick. The kindly old cook is busy chilling in his hotel room in florida, watched over by his naked portrait, ecstatic not to have a care in the world, when the petrified Danny shines him half to death (both the image of an entraced, shivering Danny sending the message and a quaking, reverse-O-faced Dick receiving it, incidentally, are among the creepeist sights in the movie). So Dick drops his glorious plans of spending the winter months in Florida masturbating and watching TV, flies back across the country, lies his way into renting a snow plow, and drives hours and hours in a hellish snow storm, just because he gets sent a nasty mental premonition from some kid he’s met once.

And what is his greeting, once he gets there after about two days straight of travel? Why, an axe to the chest of course! Dick doesn’t even get a chance to take off his coat before Jack, out of nowhere, gives him a good shot to the gut, without even bothering to explain the situation to Dick before doing so, causing him to scream and flail around for a few seconds before keeling over and dying. Not only is his death an undignified one, but he doesn’t even get a proper mourning scene–sure, Danny screams a little, and Wendy looks terrified when she sees his axed corpse (although no more terrified than she’s looked for the last two and a half hours), but Danny doesn’t sob over his dead body or anything, and once the two of them escape on the snowcat that Dick drove there, there’s no scene where mother and son take a moment for reflection on the death of the wonderful soul who helped save their lives. For all we know, they go to Chuck E. Cheese’s afterwards and forget all about him.

Pretty bad, huh? It’s even worse when you consider two additional factors. One is that Danny, despite seemingly having the credentials for the position, is one of the least cute precocious kids in horror history. There’s not a single point in the movie where this kid even seems particularly human–he never smiles, never shows affection, never seems to be enjoying himself (even when he’s triking around the hotel, it seems like it’s all business). He’s a creepy motherfucker, and worse, he’s a stone genius. His character’s only supposed to be five, right? Yet he outsmarts pop Jack time and time again, including in the big final chase scene, where he retraces his own footsteps in the snow to throw daddy off his scent. Huh? When you get down to it, he doesn’t even really need Dick’s help–all he needs is his snowcat, and I’m sure he could’ve figured out a way to fix the one in the hotel that Jack sabotaged if he’d thought to do so in time.

But you know what the real rub is, the thing that really makes you wanna say “aw, HELL naw!!“? In the Stephen King book–you know, the thing that this movie was supposedly based on–Dick lives. He gets a little banged up, sure, but he lives to escape with the family and move on up to Maine, where Danny and Wendy visit him at his new job as a resort chef. Imagine you’re Scatman Crothers, you’ve just got this big role in one of the year’s big movies, you read the book that the movie is based on, and you show up for script readthrough the first day thinking you get to be one of the movie’s big heroes–and it turns out you die like a sucker and are never mentioned again for the rest of the movie. Or maybe they just didn’t tell him, and he found out during the filming of the actual scene. “OK, Scatman (Scatty?), just walk slowly down the hallway calling out, and when you get to the end, Jack’s gonna come at you with the axe.” “Wait, what??

Interrupting your blissfully slovenly vacation in warm weather to travel two days in the snow to maybe save some unsettling prodigy of a kid that you don’t even know, only to get axed within seconds and then forgotten about–all when you should have gotten back to Maine and spent the rest of your luxurious life schmoozing with upper-class honkies. If there’s a rawer deal to be had in over a century’s worth of cinema, I’d like to see it.

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