Release Year: 1980
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Stanley Kubrick (screenplay), Diane Johnson (screenplay), Stephen King (novel “The Shining”)
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Joe Turkel, Philip Stone, Barry Dennen
Rating: Won 1 Saturn Award: Best Supporting Actor (Scatman Crothers), Nominated for 3 Saturn Awards: Best Horror Film, Best Director, Best Music.
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #95, week 14 2016
Jack (Jack Nicholson) is hired as the off-season caretaker of a mountain hotel in Colorado and goes to live there during the winter with his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and his son Danny (Danny Lloyd). But Danny, who has psychic abilities, fears the hotel and soon Jack finds himself under the influence of an evil presence there.
Stanley Kubrick (Spartacus, 1960) is known for tackling a wide range of different genres over the course of his career and those who adore Kubrick will claim he excelled in each one, but you would be hard-pressed to find a horror fan who will cite The Shining a one of the greatest horror films. The reason for this is not a reflection on Kubrick’s technical skill, which is just about the only thing the film really has going for it, rather it is to due with Kubrick’s seeming inability to comprehend the very essence of the genre. Horror is about the encroachment, or transgression, of evil on the ordinary, and the resulting destruction or disintegration of, for instance, a family or a person’s psyche. It is therefore ultimately and essentially sad. That is not really the case here; Jack Torrance is really a jerk from the very beginning and is either miscast (unlikely) or Nicholson (Chinatown, 1974) was misguided (more likely). It is very difficult to have any sympathy for Torrance (in fact, you cannot help but think that his family would be better off without him) and as a result there is nothing sad about his demise. It is a well known fact that author Stephen King has openly voiced his displeasure with Kubrick’s version of his best-selling 1977 novel, and King had even written a script, which Kubrick disregarded and subsequently wrote his own treatment with the help of Diane Johnson, which fundamentally altered several plot points and, worst of all, demonstrated that Kubrick had completely misunderstood what the story was about. The biggest obstacles for the audience (even without prior knowledge of the source material) is the characters; as already mentioned, the film version of Jack Torrance is vastly different from the one in the book, and to be frank, there is nothing scary about watching a jerk becoming an even bigger jerk. But his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), is here also given the short end of the stick. Kubrick notoriously mistreated Duvall (Annie Hall, 1977) on set, supposedly to goad a better performance out of her. Her Wendy is annoying and weak and the two of them practically sharing all the screen time (mostly together with a young Danny Lloyd who is good as their son, Danny) and the issue of characterisation is therefore a big drawback throughout. That being said, the film offers many iconic and memorable, mostly, visual moments. From the famous elevator scene (seen in the trailer below), over the “here’s Johnny” scene, to the many spectral beings who are downright scary, especially the spooky Grady twins. Kubrick plays around with shots and unorthodox cutting, mostly to great effect, and the hotel looks absolutely perfect for the part. Despite plot and character problems, The Shining offers enough memorable moments to deserve a place high on the list of influential horror films and the film does tend to stay with you for a good while after the end credits. Whether that is down to the quality of the source material or Kubrick, is hard to say, but is most likely a stirring, yet disappointing, combination of the two. Highly recommended to Kubrick fans and horror fans.
Both Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall resented the way the film was received, feeling that too much credit was given to Stanley Kubrick by critics and audiences without much praise for the work of the actors, the crew, or Stephen King’s underlying material. Both actors have said that their part were the hardest to do of their respective careers.
The famous “here’s Johnny” scene took three days to shoot and required 60 doors. At first the prop department built doors that would be easy to break Down, but Jack Nicholson had worked as a volunteer fire marshal and broke the doors down far too easily so that stronger doors had to be build instead.
The filming was originally planned to take 17 weeks but in the end took almost 51 weeks to film. As a result both Warren Beatty’s Reds (1981) and Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) were delayed as they were waiting to use Elstree Studios.
Picture Copyright: Warner Bros.