Film review: The Shining (1980), directed by Stanley Kubrick
The Overlook Hotel is a big and distinguished old establishment that closes for the winter. It simply costs too much to keep it open, because it’s in such a remote spot that keeping the roads clear of snow is futile. So the owners close it down every winter and has someone stay there and look after it, make sure to keep the pipes from freezing and so on.
This particular winter Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) take up residence. Jack is a former alcoholic trying to write a novel, so the peace and quiet of a winter at the Overlook is just what he’s looking for. He’s not even put off by hearing that one of his predecessors got cabin fever one winter and slaughtered his entire family.
While the Torrances are shown around, Danny gets talking with a nice old man called Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers). Or rather, Hallorann is the one doing most of the talking. It seems that the two have a thing in common, something Hallorann’s mother used to call “the Shining”, being able to talk telepathically to other humans, and also be extra sensitive to the energy of different places. The Overlook Hotel doesn’t exactly give off good vibrations.
As winter draws in, so do Danny’s frightening visions … and his father’s insanity.
Based on the book by Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining comes in at #48 on the IMDb Top 250 list. And I’m not entirely sure why.
I’ve not read a lot of Stephen King, I have to admit, because when I was in a phase of reading the horror section of my local library I opted for Dean R Koontz instead, because his books weren’t two-inch bricks in two parts. “I want to read It, because I’ve seen some of that on telly! *sees all 4 inches of book in shelf* …On second thought, never mind!” So no, I’ve not read this one. I have heard, however, that Stephen King didn’t like this adaptation, because it wasn’t true to the book. When I saw another adaptation, a 1990s miniseries which apparently is closer to the book, I enjoyed it very much. That was spooky. This … isn’t.
The problem I have with Stephen King adaptations (like I said, I can’t really say a lot about the books) is that they tend to be about blood gushing from places where blood doesn’t normally gush. Lifts (The Shining), sinks (It), falling buckets (Carrie), and so on. That’s not scary, that’s just … disturbing, possibly. Oh wow, lots of red liquid, I’m terrified, not. The twins Danny keeps seeing? That works better, but it’s still just a big house where Jack Torrance slowly goes out of his tiny mind and becomes a homicidal maniac. (Oops, does that give it away? Sorry.)
It doesn’t give me goosebumps or makes me realise I need to breathe. It’s a fascinating story about a man’s descent into madness, but that’s about it. The child cycles around on a tricycle and talks to his imaginary friend, and Hysterical Woman is hysterical. I understand that your husband turning into a homicidal, axe-wielding maniac is traumatic and frightens the life out of you, but for goodness sake, would you stop screaming for five seconds and do something before he chops the life out of you instead?! You have a child to protect!
Thank goodness for Hallorann, who is both sympathetic and wise. What a bloke. Good man. Definitely my favourite character.
Could the characters have been played by other actors? Sure. Not difficult to play a screaming victim. Jack Nicholson made a very good Jack Torrance, though. Probably the most memorable thing about the whole film, to be honest. Intense malice, thinly veiled insanity, anger management issues … Very well played. The setting is rather epic too, but the film as a whole feels like it takes too long to get anywhere, and for a film about a haunted house that haunts people, there’s not enough eerie build-up. It’s just resorting to cheap shock tactics and while it’s a pretty good film, there are so many things I really don’t like about it.
3.5 out of 5 hedge labyrinths.
(Update 2021: Kubrick tormented poor Shelley Duvall relentlessly off-camera in order to get her into the “right” mental state. That’s not okay.)