The Shining * * * * *

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Director: Stanley Kubrick.
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson.
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Joe Turkel, Anne Jackson.

Despite being one of horror’s most prolific and impressive writers, Stephen King’s novel don’t always transfer well to the screen. Reportedly, he can’t stand this adaptation of his work as director Stanley Kubrick changed a lot from the original source material. If that’s the case and this is the end result, then maybe more director’s should add their own spin on King’s work as this is one of the genre’s finest horror movies.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a novelist who agrees to become the caretaker of the secluded ‘Overlook Hotel’ during the winter to work on his new book. To keep him company, Jack takes his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) along with him. However, the hotel has a history of gruesome murders taking place at the hands of the previous caretaker. Not before long, evil and spiritual presences influence the behaviour of an increasingly unstable Jack, while Danny begins to experience prophetic visions.

What can really be said about the The Shining that hasn’t been said already? Quite simply, it’s a classic. I could just leave it at that and move along to something else but I’ll shed a little light on why it can be – and predominantly is – regarded as such. First off, for any horror to achieve it’s full potential, it’s essential that it gets the mood right and this can certainly claim to have that. There is a sense of foreboding and feeling of dread that permeates almost every scene. Kubrick’s approach is to linger long on shots and seemingly empty spaces. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a horror where looking at static furniture in a hallway – waiting for something to happen – has ever been more creepy. That something rarely ever does happen but it’s Kubrick’s use of lavish sets, designed in the most meticulous detail, that’s visual arresting. He uses vast, well lit, rooms and corridors yet creates a smothering feeling of darkness and claustrophobia. The power of the setting itself can often be overlooked as to how horrifying it really is, as most of the horror comes in the form of a maniacal Jack Nicholson; his decent into murderous madness is one of his finest and most iconic performances. There’s not many actors that can channel a character so demented and unbalanced yet remain, very much, a pleasure to watch – even root for. My biggest issue with the film would be Shelley Duvall; I’ve never really been a fan of hers and despite putting in a good show here, she’s too irritating and hysterical – leaving you with the feeling that maybe Jack should just ‘bash her brains in’. That being said, the relationship between the two add a curious nature to the story. On the surface it would seem that’s it’s a decent into madness from Torrance but there’s ambiguity involved. Could it possibly be the vulnerability of Wendy and her unresolved past issues with her husband’s physical abuse of their child, manifesting in her own decent? Does she even exist, or is she a figment of Torrance’s imagination? Or is it vice-verse? It’s this very ambiguity that raises the film above a conventional horror story and Kubrick only teases the audience with the details, never fully revealing them and leaving it open to argument. It’s also benefits from a deliberate pace and some sublime camerawork by John Alcott, not to mention a dynamic, sledgehammer of a score that leaves you shaken and overwhelmed.

This is how unrelenting terror should be delivered; slowly assuredly and with consummate skill in maintaing it’s eerie atmosphere. Kubrick delivers one of his finest pieces of work here and Nicholson follows suit. Let this be a lesson to all.

Mark Walker

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66 Responses to “The Shining * * * * *”

  1. Great post, the twin girls used to always creep me out.

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  2. Great, great review! I really like the shining, but I don’t love it. Nicholson is fantastic, hands down. I guess my biggest complaint is a common one. I think the movie tips it’s hand way too early. From the very beginning we know how things are going to turn out with Jack. And I think Kubrick downplays the supernatural a tad too much. I don’t mean to just copy Stephen King’s critique, but I would like to see more of the supernatural’s influence than just a man’s fall into madness.

    Those things keep it from being a true classic for me personally, but I certainly don’t let them diminish how good the film really yes. I do truly like the shining and I just revisited it a few days ago. It definitely is effective.

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    • Thanks Keith. Do you know? A few years ago I would have agreed with you. I’ve always liked it but never loved it, as you say. That was until I seen it again last night.

      My problem in the past was that his madness descended too quick but you highlight a good point that eases the quickness. It was a film that you knew what was going to happen from the beginning, so why waste time. Let Nicholson do his thing I say, which allows Kubrick to linger and take his time on the atmosphere and protracted long shots. Duvall is a let down for me which I feel a bit unfair saying so. She was good but highly irritating.

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      • That’s a great point. In retrospect, I’m not sure Kubrick is trying to hide anything. Torrence’s descent is fairly evident in their drive to the Overlook Hotel. So perhaps my gripe is an unfair one.

        I do agree about Duvall. It’s one of those performances that’s tolerable in small doses. But as she gets more and more screen time she does become a little annoying.

        On an interesting note, the film earned worst actress and worst director nominations from the Razzies. It was the first year of those “awards “. Perception of the film has certainly changed, hasn’t it? 🙂

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      • Razzies? Really? I wasn’t aware of that. That’s most unfair, especially for Kubrick. I think this is some of his best work. Duvall, maybe I can see that on account of the irritation but to be fair she was quite decent.

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      • Yes, it is unfair. I think time has shown this to be a much better movie than people initially thought. Oh by the way, it’s funny you review this today. It fits perfectly with my Wednesday Throwdown!

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      • I swung by on your throwdown earlier and said the exact same thing. LOL Nice tie-in 🙂

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  3. Great review, especially for Halloween, Mark. Y’know, I have to admit at one time I did hate this adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’ novel (like a number of SK fans). Eventually, I did separate them and could appreciate each for what they offered. Well done, my friend.

    p.s., few days ago Trailers From Hell spotlighted this film, too:

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    • Thanks Michael. It wasn’t an intentional post today but the film came on tv last night so decided to revisit it. I’m glad I did and threw out a review this morning.

      Thanks for the link, I’ll swing by on that later.

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  4. Have you seen Vivian Kubrick’s Making Of The Shining film? It’s instructive – Kubrick loved Nicholson and the two guys got on famously, but he treats Duvall like a dog. It was he who deliberately stoked her up into that pitch of hysteria, so evidently it was the performance he wanted from her.

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    • Thanks for stopping by Anne. Yeah, I seen the making of it years ago but I don’t remember a lot of it. I do remember Kubrick’s treatment of Duvall though. It’s a little harsh on the poor woman if you ask me.

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  5. WONDERFUL!!! GREAT WORK!! You know I have issues with this movie in my head – but – I don’t recall if it was you or not – I have queued this up in netflix and intend to face my fears and give it another look.

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  6. I was sitting at the movie theater lounge in between films at TCFF and this movie was playing. I actually never saw the thing in its entirety, but a magazine article actually posted a spoiler photo of it so I don’t feel like watching it now, ahah. Great review Mark!

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    • Thanks Ruth. That’s a real bummer about the spoiler as this is one of the true horror classics. Nicholson is astounding in it and Kubrick delivers some of his best work as well. Poor Shelley Duvall though, she was totally traumatised during the making of it. Kubrick was a bit of a shit to her.

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  7. I’ve done so much reading into this film it’s ridiculous. However, that’s only cemented it as one of my favourite films. Kubrick’s direction is genius, Nicholson is amazing and I think King should be glad that his book is so much more widely known as a result of this film. I totally agree about Duvall though, it all gets a little tiresome after a while, although I’d go a little mental too if someone asked me to reshoot a scene 127 times!

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    • Yeah, Duvall is the only weak link here but I agree man, it must have been very difficult for her. I love that it’s one of those movies that when certain scenes play out, you know you’re watching iconic cinema that will forever be spoken about. Thanks Chris.

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  8. This was going to be my Halloween write up, but I decided to go down the SAW route instead.

    Great write up Mark, one of my all time favourite films, just a masterpiece.

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    • Thanks bro! My Halloween post was going to be Angel Heart but I never got around to seeing it beforehand. (In fact, I think it’s on film 4 tonight). I ended up watching the Shining on tv last night and couldn’t resist posting something today.

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  9. ray brayne Says:

    The ending was changed on this after it opened. The ending we know shows Jacks’ frozen body(and face) looking up in the snow covered maze. The original ending had Wendy at the hospital being told by the rescuers that they can’t find Jack’s body anywhere. Then focus on a photo of a 1921 hotel party with Jack in the midst of the revelers. Did Jack transcend somehow? Did he exist at all? Maybe he was a hotel ghost all along. That ending would work for me. Either way, great film!

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    • I’m aware of that alternate ending but I’ve never seen it. I got the frozen bit and then the 1921 photo which I think still adds ambiguity to the whole thing. The film could be seen from the angle of either Wendy or Jack going insane, with either of them not physically existing at the time. They could be figments of each others horror. I love that it can be taken from either of those opinions.

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  10. The Shining was brilliant and is one of my favorite horror movies. King tried to remake The Shining as a miniseries for TV with Steven Weber (TV’s Wings) in the lead role. First off he puts it on network TV? Buzzz. Wrong. Then he has Weber going against Nicholson. Buzzz. Wrong. King’s version never had a chance.

    As annebillson said above Kubrick really did put Shelly Duvall through the wringer. He really could be a L’enfant terrible. Believe me when I tell you he got the performance out of Duvall he wanted so love it or hate it her performance is pretty much on Stanley.

    Mark have you seen the doc, Room 237, about the different conspiracy theories that abound on this movie? Probably a load of rubbish but the fake Apollo moon landing is kind of interesting to watch. Oddly compelling. Highly recommended for Kubrick fans.

    http://news.discovery.com/space/faked-moon-landings-and-kubricks-the-shining.html

    Also for your enjoyment this was one of the better recut trailers floating around about 5 years ago:

    This was my favorite though:

    You could spend all day watching these on You Tube.

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    • Yeah, I don’t care what King says or wants to with his version of The Shining but it’s never going to compete with Kubrick’s. I can understand his frustration at his work being changed but surely he should be man enough to admit when it works? I haven’t seen Room 237 man but it’s on my radar. Can wait to get around to that.

      I’ll swing by on some if those links when I get chance. 🙂

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  11. Did your DVD or Blu-Ray also have the documentary about the making-of? If so, did you get a chance to watch it.

    A friend of mine worked for Shelly Duval’s production company in the late 70s-early 80s. She says Duval considers “The Shinning” her personal Vietnam.

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    • I seen the making of years ago Victor. I don’t remember much but I remember liking it and I can completely understand this being Duvall’s Vietnam. Personally, I wasn’t overly keen on her here but it was a shame she had to be put through this.

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  12. Phenomenal movie. An all time classic. You’re right about Stephen King. Sorry you’re so upset Steve, but the rest of the movies based on your books kind of suck, and this one rules, so… LOL

    Classic classic flick. Undeniably one of the greatest horror movies ever made. I championed this for Movie of the Month and got it on the Lambcast, etc, good times, good times.

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    • Agreed Fogs. King should just admit that this worked an absolute treat and be thankful that someone has finally done a great adaptation of his horror material. I’d be proud of it, if I were him.

      I’m not really that sure how you tout for a movie of the month on the Lamb but I must look into that. Glad you did though, it thoroughly deserves it.

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      • You need to pay attention to the MOTM on the Lamb site… I believe Dylan gives a week from when the previous winner is announced for the next candidates to put their names in? You just have to pick a movie, tell Dylan, and then try to get votes. Winner gets on the Lambcast as Champion of that flick… They dedicate an ep to it.

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      • I must look a bit more into that Fogs. I don’t do podcasts or anything though. I’d probably come across as a bumbling fool. I don’t know how you guys manage it. Still, I should have a listen to a few of them on the Lamb. I’ve heard a few of your ones and it’s good stuff. Cheers Fogs.

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  13. Excellent review and analysis! This is my favorite horror movie of all time. And I agree with everything you said. Just a shot of the lobby or hallway, in this film, manages to be so chilling.

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  14. Great review my man. It’s a perfect scary movie because it just builds and builds on it’s terror, rather than showing us everything right away and splattering us with blood and gore. A near-perfect flick for me and just exactly why Kubrick was always a force to be reckoned with.

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  15. Great review. Watched this one many years ago and although I wasn’t really scared, I really liked it.

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  16. Too much to say about this one. I will say this though. The first time I saw this, I had no idea whether to be freaked the fuck out by Jack Nicholson or laugh my ass off. Or both. The line between comedy and horror is often pretty thin, but in this case I thought it worked brilliantly. Equal turns horrifying and hilarious. Even on subsequent viewings, I don’t know whether to laugh or not. Great film. Great acting.

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    • That’s a great point you make Bruce. I was the same. Nicholson was so animated, he had me laughing one minute and creeping me out the next and it does still work on subsequent viewing. It’s just a fabulous film. Thanks for stopping by.

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  17. Brilliant write up Mark. I love this film and I also love KING novels. You are right though, not many do well as films. This and MISERY (and maybe IT) do it well.

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    • Hi Scott. Nice to hear a new voice. Yeah, I loved IT and Misery too and The Mist was good as well. Apart from The Shining, they three are probably the only satisfying horrors of his that worked for me. I wasn’t even all that keen on Carrie.

      I do love Stand By Me, The Shawshank and The Green Mile but of course, they’re not horrors.

      Thanks for stopping by Scott.

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  18. Great review, man. You’ve made me want to revisit this classic. There’s a new doc about The Shining and all of its crazy theories that I really want to check out. I believe it’s called Room 237. Will have to keep an eye out for a DVD/VOD release.

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  19. My schedule has been off and I haven’t gotten around to watching this one yet. Great review of an amazing film, Mark!

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  20. Victor De Leon Says:

    “maybe more director’s should add their own spin on King’s work as this is one of the genre’s finest horror movies” – Brilliant point! I’ve avoided reviewing The Shining because I hold it in such high regard and I’m so biased. It would sound like a pure lovefest. Great write up. Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to review it. 😀

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    • Thanks Vic. This wasn’t a film I intended to write about but it came on tv one night and I fell into it by accident. Glad I did though, it was a real treat. Brilliantly done.

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  21. Loved the movie and the book. I can see why King wasn’t a fan (and apparently Kubrick did some things to get his goat so to speak) but this film is so brilliant.

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    • I’ve never read the book so I can’t compare Misty but normally I don’t think King’s horror stories transfer well to the screen. This happens to be a massive exception to that though. I just love it.

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      • They normally don’t (The Stand was…okay. Carrie I thought was excellent too) but other than those I don’t think any of the others, Shining excepted, translated very well at all. I didn’t even attempt watching Desperation since it’s one of my favorite of his books and I didn’t want it ruined, lol.

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      • Yeah, it seems to be more of his non-horror stuff that translates well to the screen: The Shawshank and Stand By Me to name a couple. Although, I did also like Misery and The Mist.

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      • I totally forgot all about those – I liked The Mist okay but I liked the book better.

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      • I stopped reading King’s books a while ago as I got more into Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman but I always really liked Needful Things. Sadly, it was another book that made a shit film.

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      • I stopped reading him for quite awhile because he just went downhill, I though but I liked Full Dark, No Stars and I really loved The Dome. Read a few of Barker’s way back in the day and never got into him much – Neil Gaiman though, man, he just blows my mind sometimes.

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      • Full Dark and The Dome and two I’m not familiar with. I might give them a go. Barker’s Weaveworld really grabbed me, as well as, The Damnation Game bit like you say Gaiman is top notch. American Gods really cut it for me. Loved that book.!

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      • That’s one I haven’t read. Sandman though was phenomenal.

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      • I’m a big fan of Sandman. I think we spoke of this a while back?? If you haven’t read American Gods, you should check it out. Great stuff!

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      • We probably did. 🙂 And it’s definitely on my list!

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  22. It’s a pity that Hollywood wants a prequel to this classic. I know SK is writing a sequel but this filmed prequel will want to make me “bash my brains in.”

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    • I haven’t actually heard much about this proposed prequel but I’m with on it. It doesn’t sound like a good idea at all. Much like the Raging Bull sequel that they were trying to tout.

      Thanks for dropping, man. 🙂

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