The Classics of Horror #12 – The Shining (1980)

With the impending release of IT in the cinemas all around the world, let’s take a look back to one of the most successful Stephen’s King adaptations: The Shining.

The Shinig 1.jpgStanley Kubrick’s masterpiece hasn’t always been the undeniable gem is considered today: receiving mixed reviews upon its release and criticised by King himself as unfaithful to the source material, The Shining developed a cult following, first, and then a widespread acclaim only a few years after it came out.

On his part, Stanley Kubrick didn’t make any effort to please King with this adaptation: in more than an interview, he called the author’s work weak and susceptible of improvement!

“I’d admired Kubrick for a long time and had great expectations for the project, but I was deeply disappointed in the end result. Parts of the film are chilling, charged with a relentlessly claustrophobic terror, but others fell flat”, was King’s reaction to the movie.

What a clash between two titans!

Whether you side with the writer or support the director, the impact of both novel and film are undeniable. The Shining is a milestone of the horror genre, independently from the medium it utilises.

The story, quite straightforward, is gripping nonetheless. Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson) is an ex alcoholic, now writer, who is hired to keep the Overlook Hotel clean and tidy over winter, when the facility gets closed because the season is too cold and the maintenance too expensive.

Jack moves there with his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Yes, Kubrick didn’t make any effort to come up with the characters’ name!

Jokes apart, the Torrance family is obligated to cope with solitude and creepy stories that haunt the facility, which, eventually, drive Jack insane and make him try to kill his loved ones.

This simple set-up has been studied and analysed tons of times throughout the years: metaphor of King’s addiction to cocaine and alcohol? Hallucination of the insane mind of Jack Torrance? Ghost story located in a haunted hotel? Symbolic enactment of the holocaust? Nightmare linked to Native Americans’ cemeteries?

Regardless, the movie is good for what it is, without the need for absurdly long and profound explanations. In my opinion, The Shining is simply a work of art.

The Shining 1.1.jpgFrom a technical viewpoint, this film is perfect: the cinematography is stunning, the camera-work is mesmerising (with the introduction of Steadicam and other revolutionary techniques), the direction is spotless.

In regards to the latter, the perfectionism of Kubrick is well-known, including the fact that he wanted to repeat certain sequences an insane amount of time (the dialogue between Danny and chef Dick Hallorann, masterfully portrayed by Scatman Crothers, took 167 takes!). Which is why the film took 5 years to be made… an eternity in comparison to most of the flicks coming out today.

At the end, though, the slow process paid off and gave us a unique cinematic experience.

However, I imagine many modern viewers being let down by The Shining. Similarly to the making-process, the pace is rather slow and only upon second or third view it’s possible to notice some fundamental details that go unnoticed when you watch the movie for the first time.

The Shining featureYet, the acting is brilliant for the most part. Jack Nicholson, despite being considered miscast by Stephen King (really?), was born to play Jack Torrance in The Shining, with his borderline personality and uneasy on-screen presence. Scatman Crothers is also eye-grabbing and delivers the best performance of his career. Danny, a pivotal character in this film, gives a great child-actor performance as well.

On the other hand, Shally Duvall’s acting has been considered wooden and soulless since the movie came out. I tended to agree on this criticism for a long time, however, the more I watch the film the more I realise she pulled it off the way she was required to. Her character is supposed to be relatively meek, submissive, passive, and mousy and she delivers those sensations perfectly.

The Shining 3.jpgThe Shining is, overall, a marvelous film, yes, but is it scary? I can see people being genuinely frightened by the movie in the 80s, however today it’s lost part of its scare-factor, despite some chilling scenes such as the room 237 one and the two twins sequence.

Nevertheless, it still deserves its place on the numerous ‘best horror movies of all time’ lists and, in general, it’s just a great piece of cinema history that must be seen.

In conclusion, “I’m not gonna hurt you, I’m just gonna bash your brains in” if you don’t give The Shining a chance! Or, at least, that’s what Jack Torrance would tell you.

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