Continuing with our music in horror film theme this week, I’d like to focus on Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film, The Shining. While a variety of composers are used in the compilation score for this film, today I would like to focus on the significant use of one particular work: Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (Movement III). If you listen carefully, this piece appears three times throughout the film, each time foreshadowing the impending doom to come.
The first occurrence of Bartók’s piece begins when Danny and Wendy first enter the maze to explore. They are still new to the hotel at this point. What they do not know but the music foreshadows for the viewer, is that Danny will be chased through the maze at the end of the film by his father who intends to kill. The music hints that something frightening will happen in connection with the maze later on in the movie.
The second occurrence of Strings, Percussion and Celesta appears when Danny rides his tricycle around the hotel. He stops to look at room 237, curious what would happen if he opens the door. At this point in the film, he rides on. The music, however, again foreshadows the doom to come when Danny is attacked upon entering the room later in the movie.
The final occurrence of Bartók’s music begins when Danny enters his parents’ room to talk with his father, Jack. Frightened, he asks Jack if he intends to hurt his family. At this point, despite the fact that Jack denies cruel intentions, you can see in his facial expressions and tone of voice that he intends murder. The music significantly insinuates his plot to harm the boy.
Though Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta was not originally written for this film, it accompanies it perfectly, adding to the fear Kubrick hopes to instill in his viewers in connection with the terrifying narrative.
Do you think the score to The Shining contributes to your fear when watching the film?