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Late to the Party: The Shining (1980)

Now, don’t lynch me. I know, how dare I call myself a horror fan without having seen Stanley Kubrick’s take on Stephen King’s novel The Shining?

Well, to be honest, I’ve never been impressed by Stanley Kubrick’s work, and I’ve never been a big fan of Jack Nicholson. I have read the book though, and thoroughly enjoyed Stephen King’s novel of isolation and insanity.

The Shining really isn’t just a horror movie though. It’s a piece of history and a cultural icon. No matter what you do, you can’t actually see The Shining with virgin eyes. It’s been parodied and referenced in so many other movies and television shows that even if you’ve never seen the movie itself, you still feel like you have. I mean, when you get an episode of The Simpsons based around your movie, you pretty much know you’ve made it big, even if they don’t want to use the episode’s subject by name.

Image courtesy of giphy.com

As the movie opens, I’m honestly struck by how bright and clean everything is. It starts, without introduction, with Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson. The scene is innocuous enough. He’s on an interview to become the caretaker for the Overlook Hotel while they’re closed for the winter, but it serves to give us some insight into Torrance’s character, as well as a taste of the dark history of the hotel itself.

From there we have some blackboard scene changes to introduce us to Wendy Torrance, Jack’s wife, played by Shelly Duvall, and their son, Danny, played by Danny Lloyd. We also have a little introduction to Tony, which is the entity that shows Danny visions and is an aspect of his ‘shining’.

It made me chuckle that on their drive up to the Overlook, they had a conversation in the car about the Donner party.

Image courtesy of TheGuardian.com

I was expecting the hotel to have much more of the creepy vibe we’re used to with dark hallways, flapping curtains next to a closed window, that kind of thing. Instead, the entire hotel is brightly lit, with pastel colors that give the scenes a soft feel to them. Maybe that’s what made me notice Nicholson’s very hard features. All the lines on his face are very stark and his facial expressions are very emotive. I think it sets up a nice contrast which really brings out Nicholson’s portrayal of Torrance’s descent into madness.

Image courtesy of denofgeek.com

The descent itself is pretty easy. Not sleeping during the night, passing out to nightmares during the day, leading to hallucinations of a bartender, and then to a ballroom full of people where he meets a past custodian of the hotel. Torrance then becomes convinced that he has to teach his errant wife and son “a lesson”, ie. hit them both repeatedly with an ax.

As Wendy discovers her husband’s spiral into insanity, she fears for her son and for herself and locks them into her room. I think we all know the scene that comes next.

Image courtesy of fact.co.uk

Danny escapes, while Wendy gets a reprieve when Hallorann, the head chef of the Outlook during the summer, played by Scatman Crothers, returns, summoned by Danny’s ‘shining’. Hallorann then gets an ax to the chest, but delivers Wendy and Danny’s escape vehicle. But first, Danny has to escape his psychotic father in the Outlook’s hedge maze.

Like I said in the beginning, while I’d never actually seen The Shining before, there really was no way to watch it with fresh eyes, and I’m honestly a bit disappointed at that. I can certainly see why some people view it as a work of art, and you can watch documentaries like Room 237 to see how other people have analyzed it and found ways that Kubrick was expressing his opinions on Native American massacres and the like.

I’m equally a bit disappointed in how the movie turned out compared to the book. There was a lot they had to leave out due to time constraints, but still. Hallorann (the only character in the movie I really liked) had a larger role.

Likewise the Outlook itself was more of a character. The movie makes it seem more like we’re just dealing with a man going insane, rather than a building that’s thickly haunted to the point it almost has a life of its own. We do get a glimpse of the Overlook’s spirits in Wendy’s final race through the building looking for the exit, but it really feels disjointed from the rest of the movie.

Image courtesy of horrorfanzine.com

If you haven’t seen The Shining, it’s worth it. This is considered a classic for a reason and with as much as it gets referenced and parodied, it’s worth seeing and knowing why and where it’s coming from.

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Check back next week to see what Justin Eckert thinks of 1979’s Zombie.