The Shining is possibly the worst Stephen King adaptation, according to the master himself, anyway. It’s on record that he disapproved of Stanley Kubrick‘s vision. And in King’s defense, there are quite a lot of differences between the book and the movie. Even today, many King aficionados think it’s less than the best of King’s movie adaptations. But if you can watch it, as I did, without having read the book first, it is a great horror movie.
A decent into madness. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) are taken on as caretakers of a huge resort hotel in the mountains of Colorado while it is closed for the winter. The reason the hotel closes, despite the fact that the tourist skiing season would be in full bloom, is given that the winters are so harsh in the area that access to the hotel becomes entirely unprofitable. So Jack is essentially there to keep the building from falling into disrepair over the winter.
This movie benefits immensely from the music, more than any movie I’ve ever seen. From the beginning, Wendy Carlos‘ haunting thump as Jack drives to his interview at the Overlook takes over your feelings. Even if you didn’t know you were about to watch a horror movie, the opening sequences can instill a sense of foreboding and dread.
Jack’s son, Danny, is an enigma. He is a loner as a child, and apparently does not make friends easily. I can see Danny as a recluse, as an adult, living alone, unmarried, and avoiding any extracurricular activities besides his job. King wrote a sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, which takes on Danny as an adult. Since I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, this postulation on Danny’s future is purely from my mind, only.
Danny has a talent, a mental precognition, an ability to see things that aren’t there yet. He also has an “imaginary” friend, Tony, whom he claims lives in his, Danny’s, mouth. Tony is the source of Danny’s precognitive abilities, and warns Danny that danger lies ahead in the Overlook. Both Jack and Wendy treat Danny like a precocious child, but don’t take his “imaginary” friend seriously. At the last day of the Overlook’s operation, Danny meets Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers), who recognizes Danny’s ability, as he, too, has such a talent, although he recognizes Danny’s as being much more powerful.
As time progresses over the winter at the Overlook, things gradually become more isolated. This is intensified by the fact that the Overlook is haunted. Jack, a recovering alcoholic, begins to see them, especially the bartender, Lloyd (Joe Turkel), and Delbert Grady (Phillip Stone), a former caretaker who, a few years previously, went crazy and killed his daughters, wife, and then himself.
Danny also sees ghosts, that of the two daughters, twins (Lisa and Louise Burns), who try to get him to play with them. Enhanced by the music of Carlos, I’m sure, the appearance of the girls is one of the scariest scenes in the movie. No, not the bloody corpses that appear, just the presence of the two girls alive, who look pretty creepy anyway.
Jack, as time progresses, becomes more abusive towards Wendy, telling her to leave him alone when he his writing. Did I mention he was an aspiring writer? I think, at times, although not always, that Jack is a substitute for King himself, who quit drinking and drugs about the time of writing the novel. The isolation is increased by the winter storm, which takes out the phones, and makes the roads virtually impassable. At least for a time, the Torrances still have the shortwave radio, but as Jack descends into his madness he manages to disable that piece of equipment.
The final scenes, with Jack having gone fully mad and chasing Wendy and Danny with an axe are part of the legendary memorable scenes of the movie. Most people have probably seen at least a still frame, if not a clip, of Jack sticking his face through an opening in a door he has just chopped through and maniacally saying “Here’s Johnny!”
Kubrick’s goal, according to him, was to create the absolute paragon of scary horror movies. It is up to you to decide if he succeeded. Personally, I don’t think so (The Exorcist scares me more). But it is still a great movie and of my favorites in the horror genre.
Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.