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The Shining

1980 horror film directed by Stanley Kubrick

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The Shining - 1980

  • Dec 30, 2008
Pros: Duvall

Cons: the talking finger & cast speech patterns

The Bottom Line:
"Come on you raver, you seer of visions,
come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!"
~Pink Floyd

Although The Shining is considered one of the classic horror movies and there is much to love about the film, there are also some glaring negatives as well.  That certainly doesn't mean I don't like it because I've seen it a bazillion times, even though I know how it ends and all the nastiness in between.

For the unaware, The Shining is a simple little story about madness.  It centers on the lives of a small family; Jack, Wendy & Danny Torrance, and their interlude as winter caretakers at a remote hotel in Colorado.   In fact, it is so remote that it becomes completely isolated during the brutal winters in the Rocky Mountains.  A shame, really, because it would make a perfect ski lodge.

The opening scene, with Jack driving the lonely road on his way to the Overlook Hotel, would be beautiful if it were not masked by the ominous score from Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz.  I thought the idea of using a VW Bug, so comparatively small in relation to the looming mountains, a brilliant move. 

Almost from the moment Jack enters the hotel for his interview, you can see a change in his demeanor.  It is like he has come home where he belongs.  On the reverse side, when we pan back to the squalid apartment in Sidewinder, with Wendy and Danny, you see practically forced optimism between the two as they await the news about whether or not Jack secured the position as winter caretaker.

The position won't be a demanding one, just general maintenance to keep the elements from overtaking the hotel during its downtime.  The demanding part would be the complete isolation from the outside world.  Under normal circumstances, with normal people, this may not be a problem, but this is far from a normal family.  Jack, a former schoolteacher, is now working on the great American novel.  Danny, his son, has an uncanny ability to ‘see' things, or as head cook Dick Hollorann calls it, he shines.  Wendy is simply neurotic. 

Once the job is secured, the family moves into the hotel.  Things immediately start to go bad, especially for Jack.  His madness escalates to incredible portions, practically feeding on itself.  At the same time, Danny sinks further and further into himself as his mind sees things others cannot.  Wendy remains neurotic.   Once the snow starts falling there is no chance for escape as insanity overtakes the inhabitants of Overlook Hotel.

The Shining was directed by Stanley Kubrick gaining 6 nominations and earning one win.  It general rating waffles around the NC-17 range.  I would assume this is for the terror factor only since there is actually only one murder shown in the movie.  Certainly there are gory flashbacks and some other erotic showings.

If anything, Shelley Duvall should have received something better than the Razzie nomination she got for this film.  Although many believe Jack Nicholson ruled the production, I think it was Duvall's completely dissolving persona that made it for me.  I don't know what they told her or if they just hyped her up on quasi gallons of espresso, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone react the way she did in this movie.  It was totally lifelike, not appearing as acting at all.  Hell, I know this is how I'd react in these situations.  Could she have been jitterier?  Maybe it was Kubrick's harsh demands that made her that way because it is said he had her do over 125 retakes of one scene in particular.

Jack Nicholson, on the other hand, could have gone the entire movie without saying a word and had the same impact.  Most of his really scary moments are delivered through expressions and looks, rather than spoken word.  Of course, his famous ‘Wendy, I'm home' and ‘Here's Johnny', were added bonuses.  He actually adlibbed the Here's Johnny segment and Kubrick, living in England, had no idea what the reference was.

Scatman Crothers played the part of fellow shiner, Dick Hallorann, giving a remarkable performance for his 70 years of age. 

Thanks to the IMDB I have finally had the one question answered that always perplexed me; changing the room number of the haunted room from room 21,7 in the book, to room 237, in the movie.  The exterior of the hotel was filmed at the Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood, Oregon, and they requested the number change fearing future guests would refuse to stay in the doomed room.  Silly people, don't they know it would have probably been one of the most requested rooms in the hotel?  We people are like that, you know.

I also found that Kubrick did not, at first, want to consider Nicholson for the role, preferring either DeNiro or Robin Williams.  However, after watching some of their work he deemed DeNiro wasn't psychotic enough while Williams was too psychotic.  Does that make Nicholson like the baby bear who was so psychotic that he was ‘just right'?  Along the same lines, Stephen King didn't want Nicholson because, I would assume, he already felt he was crazy enough.  He thought the likes of Michael Moriarty or Jon Voigt would be more believable in a role that showed the degeneration of the mind.  Seriously, has he ever watched a Jon Voigt film?  Well, maybe back then Voigt wasn't so freaky.

The things I didn't like in the film are glaring.  Danny's talking finger just wore on my nerves.  They didn't bother to use weird tactics when the focused on Hallorann and his shine, relying on eerie sounds and far off stares.  They could have even just let the ‘Tony' voice stand on its' own since we already were aware of Danny's special power.  Even that, as annoying as it was, wasn't the thing that irked me the most.

What really made me feel like fingernails on a chalkboard was the actual delivery of the lines by all the actors except Wendy's character.  She was the only one that spoke in a normal cadence, if you can call her normal.  The others all had such an extended period of time in their speech patterns.  Almost like they were reading off of cue cards and they were waiting for the words to actually be printed so they could read them.  Speech just didn't flow normally in the entire film.  I was always like ‘Come on, say it dang it'.

Other than those two little episodic developments, the balance of the movie was rather entertaining in a morose kind of way.  The solitude was made even more poignant with the size of the hotel and the emptiness.  The absence of sound really became another character in the film, especially when Danny was riding his big wheel around the halls.  All you can hear are those wheels on the tiles and hardwood floors, and then they are suddenly muffled by a section of carpeting.

As far as scare factor, it wasn't your typical horror or scary movie.  There are a few instances, mainly introduced by Nicholson, and then mostly through his facial expressions or attitude.  One particularly chilling scene was when he was locked in the food storage area and the shot is from the floor up to his face.  All you can see is his smirking mouth and those incredible eyebrows of his, along with his fingers skittering across the door surface.  

Well, one could dissect this movie until it stops snowing in the Rockies and still not cover all the bases.  It didn't quite live up to the novel, but in some cases it surpasses it because it fleshes out scenes that may have been confusing in print.  It is easy to think that the Kubrick/Nicholson version of The Shining will become a classic.  It is only King's ego that prompted him to bring it back out at a later date with different stars, so he would have tighter control on the script.  Much like the remake of Psycho, you can only hook us one time.


Related review: The Shining, the book release


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A horror film directed by Stanley Kubrick based upon the bestselling novel by Stephen King.

Opening with spectacular aerial shots of a beautiful, mountainous landscape, Stanley Kubrick's horror classic THE SHINING sucks the viewer into his frightening tale with quiet, relaxing visuals--but the ominous soundtrack warns that all is not right at the gorgeous Overlook Hotel. Based on Stephen King's best-selling novel, the film stars Jack Nicholson at his eyebrow-raising best in his portrayal of Jack Torrance, a Vermont schoolteacher working at the Overlook as a winter caretaker. The glorious early-20th century resort only operates in warm weather because the snowy roads deny access in the colder months, so Jack brings his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), with him, as well as his young son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), who possesses some unique psychic powers. As the Torrances settle in for the long, lonely months ahead, strange, unexplainable things start occurring in the hotel--and in every scene Jack seems to be growing a little more evil and dangerous.... <br> <br> Cinematographer John Alcott (who also wo...
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