The Shining (1980) — Hated by King, loved by everyone else

“Here’s Johnny!”

Justin’s rating: Slap my knee and call me Huck Finn!

Justin’s review: I get a bit of flak for my well-known dislike of several of Stanley Kubrick’s films. I don’t personally hate him in the sense of wanting to revive his corpse to slap him around some, but just that taken individually, most of his movies come off as stylized pretentiousness and — what’s that phrase? — boring as dirt.

Let me set the record straight, however, that this is not universally applied to his movies; The Shining is a classic haunted house story that continues to creep me out even today.

Perhaps the creepiness starts with the casting. You have Shelly Duvall as the meek housewife, who for all intents and purposes looks like a fugitive elf on the run. Those big eyes, flappy ears and pinched nose gives off such a seventies vibe that’s eerie. At any moment, I expected her to start summoning the spirits of the trees and sing in her high-pitched trills about the love of Mother Nature, except that Mother Nature is throwing about an ice storm.

Then you have Jack Nicholson, looking dark and crazy from the get-go, leaping into a psychotic role that isn’t much of a stretch. One of the complaints I’ve heard about this film (particularly from the standpoint of the book fans) is that the role Jack has was meant for a normal guy to go slowly psychotic over the course of the story; Jack, however, never seems like he has far to go. He’s just not a sympathetic character.

Finally, there’s some standard Stephen King “specially gifted child who’s target Number One for all the evil forces in the state.” Apparently, the forces of evil are just constantly peeved that a seven-year-old with a bedwetting problem has the potential to crush the evil with a pinky.

In The Shining, struggling writer Jack and his family become winter caretakers of a seasonally abandoned hotel in Colorado. The Overlook Hotel has many great features, including an honest-to-God Indian burial ground, past history of madness and murder, ghosts, and tacky decor. There’s no way this couldn’t be wacky fun! Gradually over the winter season, the Hotel starts to infect Jack’s mind and he kind of goes mental. You know, where you start communing with etheral bartenders.

At the same time, his son Danny finds that his psychic abilities end up making him prey for the sinister building. Now, the kid channels his supernatural powers through a finger that he twitches and calls “Tony” (he’s grrrrrrreat!). While memorable, this is possibly one of the tackiest ways to channel a supernatural force known to mankind. It’s supposed to be eerie and spine-chilling, but when the kid starts wagging around his index finger and croaking, the mental image of a bad finger puppet show comes to mind.

As the spooky haunted house, the Overlook Hotel does not elect to go the Halloween route. No plastic skeletons, or fake cobwebs, or quirky tombstones, or even one of those scary moaning soundtracks that you can buy for $3.99. How cheap is this place? It looks more sterile than an operating room, with just the occasional elevator full of blood to keep things macabre. My feeling is, this film could’ve become the greatest of all time if there was just a subplot about a mummy in the basement who was trying to find the family to kill them, but just kept getting lost along the way. The Little Mummy Who Could.

So how come The Shining works for me? I think it’s because some of Kubrick’s trademarks — long meandering shots, highly contrasting imagery, overblown electronic score — work well to heighten the feeling that something is terribly, awfully off in this place. It’s very cool that the haunted hotel does most of its trade in horror with those small touches (such as a tennis ball rolling down the hallway to the kid when there’s no one around) instead over going overboard as so many other like films do.

The isolating nature of the situation combined with a deteriorating family and evil leaking out of the walls puts Danny and his mother in a very tight spot. They’re almost too late on figuring out the actual threat — and that the threat is all around them — and every time I rewatch this movie I still think that this time they might just lose.

Stephen King may have famously disliked this movie, but I’ve always felt it’s one of the most scary of all of his novel adaptations.

Didja Notice?

  • Don’t make out with bathtub ghosts
  • When you have a scary dream involving your murdering your family, might as well tell your wife about it. Sure won’t upset her or nothing.
  • According to the film, The Overlook Hotel was actually built on an ancient Indian burial ground… yes! Here’s a question: how come places that are built on other types of burial grounds – like Presbyterians, for instance – don’t get haunted as easily?
  • The breathtaking opening shots from the perspective of a helicopter swooping through Colorado’s mountains to the Overlook Hotel.
  • The pig mask still freaks me out
  • Every time Jack talks to a “ghost,” there’s a mirror in the scene (except in the food locker scene).
  • In the interview with Jack Torrance at beginning of the film, the Overlook Hotel Manager talks about a former caretaker, “Charles” Grady. Later in the film, Jack meets the former caretaker, “Delbert” Grady.
  • During Jack’s interview, he is told the Overlook Hotel closes in winter because the roads cannot be maintained and there are no ski sites. In the initial shot of the hotel as Jack arrives for the interview, ski lift towers are clearly visible very near the lodge.
  • The party music plays over the closing credits. After it ends, we hear the Overlook ghosts applaud. They then talk amongst themselves until their voices fade away.

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