The Shining, 1980.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers and Danny Lloyd.
Jack Torrance is a struggling writer who takes a job as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, located deep in the mountains and often snowed in during the winter months, bringing along his wife Wendy and their young son Danny for the duration of his stay. As the snow begins to pile up, Jack and his family are confronted with ghostly apparitions that suggest something sinister and supernatural is reigning supreme in the hotel’s corridors, and it soon threatens to cause them fatal harm.
The works of author Stephen King have been a plentiful well of material for filmmakers for decades. Some adaptations, such as Carrie (1976), Salem’s Lot (1979) or even non-horror works like The Shawshank Redemption (1994) are highly praised and in the latter’s case regarded among the finest films ever made. Other works, such as the embarrassingly long Children of the Corn film franchise (1984-2011) or the very silly Cujo (1983), are obviously less fondly remembered, often with good reason.
Then there is The Shining brought to us by Stanley Kubrick, arguably one of cinema’s finest filmmakers, who bring us a film that is not only as one of greatest horrors ever made but also as one of the greatest films ever made.
As with most Kubrick films, The Shining is visually stunning, with the camera often gliding around the large hotel set in an almost ghostly fashion as it follows our characters. Every shot is carefully chosen and choreographed, with an often careful use of colour and lighting in key scenes, like the stark reds walls of the ballroom bathroom, in which Jack is put under the spell of the previous caretaker, or the sickly greens of the bathroom in the ominous Room 237. The ghostly lighting of the snowed in hedge maze in which the film’s climax takes place, or the now iconic sight of the twin ghosts, appearing suddenly as young Danny turns a corner. The film has produced more than a few iconic images, to say the least, thanks to Kubrick’s often crazed attention to visual detail.
The acting from the film’s relatively small cast is terrific, especially from our principal leads. Jack Nicholson is at his best as Torrance, full of manic energy and quotable lines that make his performance both terrifying and incredibly funny to watch; essentially he’s being Jack Nicholson.
Shelley Duvall as Wendy is also excellent, her seemingly perpetual exhaustion and never ending tears being due to Kubrick’s repeated calls for re-takes, to deliberately exhaust her and make her performance appear more natural. While certainly cruel it seemed to work, with Duvall being utterly believable as a mother and wife pushed to the edge.
Now, while the film has largely been praised as one of the finest horror films ever made it is not without its critics. The most prominent of all critics being original author Stephen King, who has made no secret of his dislike for Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel. Both are very different depictions of the same story, some changes made for the film make sense from a filmmaking perspective, but I can understand some of King’s criticisms.
Jack Torrance in the book, for example, is a much more sympathetic character and we learn more of his back-story as an alcoholic former teacher forced to take the caretaker job in a desperate bid to save his marriage and provide for his family. Whereas in the film, he’s just Jack Nicholson, and from the opening scene we’re just counting the minutes until he loses his mind.
Wendy is much more fleshed out and is arguably a stronger character in the novel, as we learn about her troubled relationship with her mother and her constant fears for the future of her marriage, and her husband falling back into his old drinking habits. In the film, we have none of this backstory she really spends most of it screaming and crying, or in King’s words she is there to “stand there and be stupid”, which I find a tad harsh and slightly belittling with regards to Duvall’s otherwise fine performance.
Some changes from the book are improvements in my view; one change that I think works better is the way in which the haunting of the hotel is presented. In the book there is no question: the place is haunted by the ghosts of past residents, but in the film, we aren’t entirely sure it is genuine haunting or if the family are simply just losing their minds. I often find that more ambiguous a horror film is, the more frightening it becomes. It also helps that Kubrick ditched the sentient hedge animals that attack people – that’s just a stupid touch whichever way you look at it.
I could go on about how amazing and iconic The Shining is, but to do so would be a futile exercise, all I can say to you dear readers is to just go and get it watched, it truly is a masterpiece of horror film-making, and film-making in general.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★