TITLE: The Shining
YEAR RELEASED: 1980
DIRECTOR: Stanley Kubrick
CAST: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers
Based on a Stephen King novel, directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Jack Nicholson, The Shining has all the hallmarks of a first rate psychological horror. Indeed Martini Scorsese rates it as one of his all-time favourite horror films and it regularly features in the top horror movie lists around the world.
The film was built up from day one of release and quickly became a mainstream classic, which is why having waited some 30 years to see it, I watched The Shining with knots in my stomach and not because I scare easily.
Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, a writer and somewhat abusive alcoholic. He lives with his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Danny is a troubled boy who has visions both past and future and has an imaginary friend called Tony.
Jack is afforded the opportunity to write in solitude by taking on the role of off-season caretaker at the Overlook Hotel which gets snowed in every winter.
Before Jack accepts the job, the manager, Stuart Ullman warns him that the previous caretaker developed cabin fever and slaughtered his family before taking his own life. Undeterred, Torrance takes the position and the family head off to the picturesque yet foreboding hotel.
On arrival they meet the chef, Dick Halloran who is played by Scatman Crothers. Danny is fascinated to discover Dick also has ‘The Shining’, the name Dick uses to describe their physic abilities. Before the chef leaves he warns Danny to stay away from room 237.
With just themselves for company, the Torrance family are engulfed by the vast and empty hotel, isolated from the outside world and finally each other. As Jack struggles with writer’s block and Wendy tries her best to make a home and routine, Danny spends more time alone exploring the eerily silent corridors, finally giving into temptation and entering room 237.
There are so many iconic images and lines from this film that I found myself just waiting for them to happen and as such I was quite distracted from the flow of the movie and the more subtle references to madness and horror – such is the downside of being a huge pop culture reference.
It is without doubt a quintessential Kubrick film, the kind that leaves you needing only one guess as to the identity of the director of this tenacious piece of cinema. The intricate weaving of the haunted mind of Jack Torrance with the spirit infested hotel leaves you not knowing where one ends and the other begins. Are the spectres manifestations of madness or do the ghouls grab on to the disturbed minds of Jack and Danny, pushing them over the edge?
The acting was high calibre, the cinematography inspired and the storyline had great potential, so here’s the rub – I didn’t like it. I found the psychological element of the film quite brilliant, however, the horror aspect was far from it.
The shock value of some of the apparitions seemed cheap and detracted from the overall feel of the film and perhaps that was Kubrick’s angle, to leave me feeling uncomfortable and underwhelmed. Was this so that I would concentrate on the increasingly unstable, yet slightly comedic Jack and be focused, as his mind spiralled out of control and into the darkest places imaginable?
It is no secret that Stephen King was unhappy to say the least regarding the portrayal of his novel and as such maybe my mind was too cluttered with preconception and pop culture imagery to appreciate the overall complexity of what is considered a masterpiece.
So yes I was disappointed to say the least, despite Nicholson’s and Kubrick’s best efforts. The lesson for me I suppose is not to wait 30 years before watching a potentially classic horror and thus avoiding hype and overkill. The question is of course, had I seen it sooner, would I have felt the same way?