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filmfilm moviemovie reviewreview jack nicholsonjack nicholson horrorhorror stanley kubrickstanley kubrick shelley duvallshelley duvall stephen kingstephen king the shiningthe shining halloweenhalloween ghostsghosts hotelhotel

The Shining

*****
1980

‘…one of the great cinematic spell-binders that’s somehow more than the sum of the various memorable parts…’

Arguably the best horror film of all time, Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece is one that most people have a personal history with; mine started with the trailer on tv circa 1980, when I was still at primary school. Images shocked; the camera roving down the crevices of a snowy maze, two identical twins in a hotel corridor, a madman swinging an axe, a tidal wave of blood haemorrhaging from a closed elevator shaft. These images chilled me; what was The Shining?

Fast forward to being 13 and seeing the film for the first time on VHS (for once, not a problem, since Kubrick was using Academy ratio and there was no need to ruin the image by pan-and-scan). The Shining exudes dread, and the best way to see it is through a child’s eyes; the long helicopter shots at the start suggest that we’re going a long way from civilisation; no police, priests or other goodies are coming to our rescue. We follow Jack (Jack Nicholson) and his wife (Shelley Duvall) and their kid to the foreboding Overlook hotel, where all kinds of ghosts from the past are lurking. The tension is palpable in every scene, and I remember distinctly the feeling of relief when the film was over and the test had been passed.

Like many of Kubrick’s films, The Shining defied definition; it’s like an ink-blot test, that can mean anything to anyone, as the Room 237 film documented. Moon landing apology, Native American Indian genocide, creative madness, ghost story; even Stephen King wasn’t sure what Kubrick had done to his book. But so many conspiracy theories have been offered about the sub-text of The Shining, while ignoring the main text; if you take a look at Kubrick’s original trailer, it clearly and deliberately draws parallels between the rampages of most recent and previous care-takers, and confuses the audience as to whether we are looking at the past or the present. The suggestion is that Jack, however much he tries to resist, can’t stop repeating the past, and that theme is thoroughly explored through the idea of bad fatherhood here; the final, haunting, timeless image is very much on message with this interpretation.

The way The Shining shows the past overlap the present makes it an unnerving, essential film, and one that’s still frightening today. The performances work, and iconic scenes engage without ever pinning down a specific meaning, and that mystery is a key part of the irresistible power of the film. Even if you don’t care for horror films, The Shining is one of the great cinematic spell-binders that’s somehow more than the sum of the various memorable parts. Like Eyes Wide Shut, it’s the product of a master at the top of his game, and leaves the viewer scrabbling to defuse its power via explanation. As we ride our big-wheeled trike through the carpeted corridors of 2020, The Shining is the last thing you’d want to see waiting for you as you round the corner; to increase our feelings of loneliness, isolation and impending madness in these pandemic times, both the BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime are hosting this film for free in the UK at Halloween, saving you the need to leave your house to be utterly terrified.

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  1. I recently read the book, which I never had. Funnily enough, I did read its sequel Doctor Sleep. Great fan of King’s work, but never read The Shinning because I adore Kubrick’s The Shining and didn’t want to compare. Now, I finally have. Got the newly remastered 4K, and also a DVD copy of the miniseries directed by Mick Garris, and scripted by Stephen King himself. I know that King hates Kubrick’s take on his story, and now I want to find out what all the fuss is about, and compare both the movie and miniseries. As for the book itself? Loved it. Don’t know why I ever had any doubts about that, but still love Kubrick’s movie. I treat them as two separate entities. Great review, by the way.

    • It’s a hall of mirrors; there’s a hard to find original theatrical cut too. And yes, we shouldn’t have to choose between them, Kubrick takes things away from King, and each endeavour should be assessed on it’s own merits…

      • I have the original Theatrical cut on DVD. It came in the first Kubrick Warner boxed set I ever bought with 2001, Eyes Wide Shut, Full Metal Jacket, Barry Lyndon and A Clockwork Orange. It’s the only cut of the movie I’ve ever seen. The 4K copy I bought recently comes with the US extended cut, which I’ve never seen. Haven’t got around to watching it yet, though.

  2. I love your review but like author S. King, hated this movie. It’s as cold as COL in January, and there’s nothing that provides a spark of warmth. Yes, Jack N. played the perfect alcoholic madman, and Kubrick’s attention to details is sublime, except for the changing color of the typewriter and impossible layout of hotel. Instead of shine, all I see is slime. Is it because the writer dies, the builders desecrated native land, or the entire movie had a ‘get in your head’ vibe? There were elements of all things despicable–child and family abuse, gory murders, lonliness, lies… The only thing I liked was the Title, referring to Danny’s psychic abilities, which in theory saved him. Then again, if you watch sequel Dr. Sleep, Danny died in the fire, whoops…

    • And the continuity nightmare ensues for any sequel, when many people only know the movie. Thanks for this thought-provoking comment, which is in line with criticism the film got at the time. But turning the supernatural events of the book into allusions, Kubrick makes this a domestic violence horror over the more arcane elements, and I get that turns some viewers off. And of course, fans see the moving chair and hotel geography as being masterstrokes rather than errors, so in a way, all criticism is deflected. The unsavoury elements you describe add edge for me, but also play into cliches; many at the time felt it was a ridiculous effort by Kubrick to hang such detail on what is essentially a man with an axe chasing his family. The Sliming would be a good title for a horror film to be sure…

  3. This is one of those movies it’s hard to write a post on because so damn much has been said about it already. Like Psycho or Blade Runner. Even a cursory review of the background material is intimidating. Congratulations!

    • But it’s also the gift that keeps giving, a puzzle-box that gives a slightly different answer every time; I had to review it for the BBC, so reworked my notes for this piece. But it’s one of the most rewatchable films for sure…

  4. Hauntingly terrific review man…for real😀 (and yeah I know that isn’t completely proper English😅😅)
    Seriously though, this a truly amazing film, and one that I think will never grow old as far as I am concerned. Although I admit that I do like the book just a bit more, especially it’s ending, it doesn’t matter,as this really is a bonechilling film. Not to mention of course the terrific performance by Jack😊

    • Reviewing this one is like stating the obvious, but I guess it still needs to be said; this is a film like no other, and should be handled with care; I’m surprised to see it’s a 15 now rather than an 18 in the UK, it’s got an oppressive power that’s more than just the individual scenes…

      • Yeah, it’s exactly as you said…It starts with that right from the very first scene and doesn’t let up for a single second after that😀 Great stuff, and just one of those movies that never gets old frankly, no matter how many times you see it😊

  5. This is the real deal for sure. King isn’t just a good writer, but he’s an astute commentator on the horror genre; his Danse Macabre book really offers terrific insight into his take on things. The Shining works as a book for sure, and while King might not have liked Kubrick’s radical take, the film takes things to another level.

    • I think Kubrick was an ass and I’m not a particular fan of his big name movies, but I still have to acknowledge his mastery of the art of movie making.

      I know they made a movie/tv show out of Dr Sleep, but did they do a reboot of the Shining? King movies seem to be the darling child of reboots in recent years with IT and stuff so I’m not sure what’s been redone and what’s just being re-watched.

      • Yes, Stephen King had a mini-series made that was closer to his original vision, moving hedges and stuff, but it’s not really up to snuff.

  6. I thought the book was fantastic and it gave me the heeby jeebies (and no other King book really did that for me), so I KNOW I’ll never watch this movie. The visuals from horror movies just stick in my head and haunt me for weeks. I had abandoned reading any more King by the time Dr Sleep came out, but I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.

    Either way, I’ve seen enough pictures and little cut scenes for this to have become seared into my memory without ever having seen it. Talk about a phenomena.

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