5 Ways to Prep: Doctor Sleep
By George Rose
November 8, 2019
October is over but Hollywood is still trying to keep horror cool despite the impending holiday seasons ahead. I’m not sure why Doctor Sleep chose a November release, what with IT: Chapter 2 coming out in early September and the closest thing to horror in October was the comedic Zombieland 2, but here we are. It might be a day late and a dollar short as a result, but Doctor Sleep is hoping to capitalize on a quiet box office (thanks to Terminator’s dismal debut) and a lack of recent horror to bring butts back to theater seats. Will it work? Do people still care so much about The Shining that a decades-too-late sequel is going to break the bank?
Terminator: Dark Fate brought back old talent to reboot the series as a true sequel to a film released decades ago and that didn’t work, even though it just worked for Halloween just one year ago. It didn’t take long but audiences are already over seeing old brands brought back with new stories. If anything, these new films just remind us to give those old classics a rewatch and then we skip the new feature anyway until it’s available for free-ish on a streaming service in a few short months. The Shining might just be too old to bring back, especially without the presence of the original stars. Heck, I barely remember The Shining and the 2.5 hour runtime doesn’t have me dying to revisit that creepy hotel and the looooooooong, drawn out tension-building scenes between the occasional scare. If a true horror fan like me is barely invested, what does that say for the general public?
The thing is, there are plenty of reasons to be excited for Doctor Sleep. The most obvious, again, is that nothing else will make much money this weekend since Terminator proved to be defective. There’s also a decent cast (Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Jacob Tremblay), a brilliant but fairly unknown director (Mike Flanagan), the recent resurgence of interest in Stephen King stories, and a very good mid-70’s review score (by horror standards). Being connected to the classic Shining movie has to be worth a few bucks, even if it is a few decades late. I’m not saying we have a blockbuster on our hands but we definitely have a movie worth talking about. So set your therapist to speed dial and get ready to do some shining because we’re about to go crazy finding 5 Ways to Prep for Doctor Sleep!
1) THE SHINING (1980)
At 2.5 hours this film is tough to rewatch, and those of you that are like me probably haven’t seen it in a while and need a quick recap. A family led by Jack Nicholson head to a remote hotel to watch over it during a slow winter so that he can write a book while he’s there. Despite stories that this hotel has seen a man previously fall into madness and kill his family, that many others have died there as well and that it sits atop an Indian burial ground, this new family decides to stay. Then Jack falls into madness and tries to kill his family. Shocking, right? Oh, and his son and some other guy have a gift called The Shining so they can see the past and the future, and everyone sees dead people and scary stuff and a bloody elevator and Stephen King is batshit crazy. It was a big hit in 1980 and brought in $44 million, which is $149 million in 2019 dollars. As we know, anything over $100 million for horror is a massive success.
Almost 40 years later and we get a sequel about Jack Nicholson’s grown up child that survived the original Shining. After a quick search online, I’ve come to learn the new story is about how this now-grown boy is being hunted by a cult that seeks to take this power from those that possess it and more scary stuff happens. I mean some classics shouldn’t be tampered with and I’d argue that The Shining is one of them, but at least Doctor Sleep is technically a sequel and not a remake or something more tragic like that. In its defense, it is actually also a book by Stephen King and not some fake sequel that Hollywood conjured up. Not in its defense is that The Shining film is said to be very different from its source material, so who knows what that means for Doctor Sleep. Is it like the book, which means it will be hard to connect back to the Shining movie? Or is it far from the book, which will upset newer fans of the writer? I guess we’ll know more in a week.
2) THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018)
Doctor Sleep’s cast is good enough and it’s connection to a horror classic make it appealing enough, but who really cares? Is it like the book sequel or another Hollywood interpretation like The Shining? Yeah, still, who cares? Is it a remake, reboot, spin-off or unnecessary update? Yup, still don’t care. Will it make more money than the unfortunate Terminator rebooted sequel reimagining thingamabob? Probably not but I still don’t care because, to be honest, the movie sounds like garbage. But it’s my job to help you prep for it so I decided to do some research to see if we could find a reason to get excited. Financial comps are what I like best but it’s hard to compare this situation to any other so I’m going old school and finding connections to the actors and director that might help revitalize interest.
At first glance, I had no idea who this director Mike Flanagan is. Great, a classic film turned into a franchise is being handed to some unknown hack and we have another box office dud on our hands. But hey, I don’t know everything about everyone so just not knowing his name wasn’t enough. I’m still going to look at the director's filmography to see if anything catches my eye. The first thing that popped up was his most recent gig and, as it turned out, it was taking the helm of 11 of the 12 episodes of Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House. Ummmm, that was my FAVORITE show of 2018 and I hate binge-watching shows and most things on streaming apps. And this was my favorite. I won’t get into plot details because it has nothing to do with Doctor Sleep aside from the haunted house concept, but I will say that the show did a brilliant job at character development and instilling genuine fear in the audience. I can’t wait for the second installment to that series and if Flanagan does even half as good a job with Doctor Sleep as he did with Hill House, then we may have a contender for best film of the year on our hands.
3) OCULUS (2013)
Usually if the article focuses less on box office earnings potential and more on the cast/crew, I will do just one recommended film per person. Well, The Haunting of Hill House was just the most recent job on Flanagan’s filmography and for some reason I didn’t stop there. I mean, that one entry is enough to skyrocket my interest in Doctor Sleep and I could have moved on from there, but I didn’t. I scrolled down just a little further and thank God I did because it turns out this man is no one-hit wonder. In all fairness, I needed more proof because doing well on a TV show doesn’t mean you can consolidate those talents into a much shorter film. Well, my friends, do I have a special treat for you because the man behind Doctor Sleep is also the man behind the camera of Oculus.
If you ask a casual fan of the movie, they might say it’s about a haunted mirror. Except, this mirror has the ability to possess people's minds, make them kill their family (such a common theme in horror, it seems), and drive them crazy until they eventually kill themselves or get incarcerated. None of these concepts are new but their execution in Oculus are truly terrifying. Rarely do we get to see madness from the point of view of the crazy person. More often than not we see the victims running from this insanity but Flanagan has carved out a nice place for himself inside the mind of the disturbed. It’s amazing to see that the insane don’t even know what’s real and getting to watch someone’s sanity unravel is as intriguing as it is uncomfortable.
Don’t believe me? Just wait until you see one character eat a lightbulb as if it were an apple. You will never eat an apple the same way again. And that character is played by Karen Gillan, who is was mostly unknown at the time and is now a superstar, so if you missed that movie then because her fame didn’t warrant the view at the time it certainly does now. If after watching Oculus and The Haunting of Hill House you still aren’t sold on Flanagan, well I don’t know what to tell you other than you probably were busy doing other things instead of giving these programs your undivided attention. As a fan of horror, those two lines on any directors resume should give them an unquestionable pass on their next feature. It blows my mind that Doctor Sleep’s marketing team wouldn’t have put greater emphasis on Flanagan’s resume because it’s all I needed to instantly put this new movie at the top of my “must see” list for November.
4) IT: CHAPTER 2 (2019)
Stephen King’s novels are very hit and miss when they come to film adaptations. More often than not I don’t enjoy seeing his books on the big screen, but occasionally they make for great blockbuster entertainment. IT’s remake in 2017 is a great example of how King can be done right, even if it wasn’t the first attempt at the material. It was originally done as a two-part TV series almost 30 years prior but it got the big budget upgrade and was met with monster returns on that investment. Chapter 2 was quickly put into production with that entry debuting just two months ago. Granted, The Shining wasn’t rebooted before getting a sequel so the comparison isn’t perfect but there aren’t a ton of Stephen King sequels to work with so this is what we got.
IT’s first chapter made $327 million while Chapter 2 made $211 million, still incredible by horror movie standards. That’s a decrease of 35%. If The Shining’s $44 million becomes $149 million in 2019 dollars, so if we knock that down 35% we could potentially see Doctor Sleep’s total land around $97 million. I’m still surprised it didn’t choose a more horror-friendly October release and we may find money left on the table as a result, but $100-ish million would still be a great title for a sequel nobody asked for. It’s certainly more than the $28 million Oculus earned and would justify the continued hiring of one of today’s greatest horror directors.
5) READY PLAYER ONE (2018)
While The Haunting of Hill House was my favorite show of 2018, Ready Player One was my favorite non-Avenger movie. It’s not horror, it’s not Mike Flanagan and it’s not a financial comp. It does, however, honor The Shining. The movie is about a world where everyone spends their free time in a virtual reality and the creator of that online space has recently died. He left his entire inheritance to whoever finds a hidden egg beyond three special challenges. The second of those missions is actually set inside the world of The Shining. It is in these few minutes that we get a Greatest Hits flashback of all of The Shining’s most notable scenes: the bloody elevator, the creepy twin girls, the sexy woman that decays into a corpse, axing down the bathroom door and the outdoor maze during a winter storm. All classic scenes and all utilized for the action of Ready Player One’s second challenge to great effect.
The real learning opportunity here is also the movie’s mention that The Shining is the result of “a creator that hates his own creation.” Stephen King apparently hated the film adaptation of The Shining, which just goes to show how unlike the novel it really must have been. If that’s the case, where does that leave Doctor Sleep? If it’s like the book, can it truly connect back to The Shining film? If it’s not like the book, will it suffer fan backlash? All of these unfortunate questions would have - and did - turn me off to seeing Doctor Sleep. Who cares about a sequel nobody asked for, based on a book from a writer that has a shaky track record of film adaptations at best, connected to a film that came out decades ago that’s too long a slow to really rewatch again? Not me. Nope, no interest. Who cares about the new film from the director of The Haunting of Hill House and Oculus? Me! ME ME ME ME ME!!!
Who knows if Doctor Sleep will hit that $100 million mark and who knows if a lack of horror in October will help it get there, or if it’s too late to even try now that it’s November and the holidays are quickly approaching. Who knows if the hole Terminator left in the box office will benefit Doctor Sleep or if moviegoers are just waiting for Frozen 2 before they leave the house again. And really, what are the chances that Mike Flanagan can pull off the hat trick with a third brilliant piece of horror entertainment. All I know is that if any man deserves a chance to scare the crap out of us it’s Flanagan.
Normally I’d say it isn’t right to tamper with classic films under the greedy Hollywood culture of reboots and sequels, but Stephen King actually wrote a sequel book so really Hollywood is just updated that next entry. There’s enough going for the feature to warrant a viewing and the reviews suggest the same. If there’s any reason excitement isn’t higher it’s because the marketing team dropped the ball on giving Flanagan a bigger shout out, but that’s what I’m here for. I did the leg work and I’m here to endorse this new movie because Flanagan deserves it and so do we. With nothing but family fare and holiday cheer ahead, one final scare before the year ends might be just what the doctor ordered.