TBT: The Shining (1980)

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The first time I had heard this film title, I thought it was referring to something else entirely. And when I finally sat down to watch (whenever that first time was, I wish I could remember. . .) I came into the understanding rather quickly that yes indeed, this would be no comedy. No one would be getting pants-ed. No half-naked actors . .  . well. Not in the way you want them to be naked. *Shudder* That lady in the bathtub — thanks, but no thanks. What’s even more bizarre, in hindsight, is at the time I didn’t know at all what it was that I was getting myself into. Had no idea this film was a classic. Had no idea Jack Nicholson could be like. . .this. 

Today’s food for thought: The Shining

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Causing hotel keepers to go insane since: forever. . .and ever. . .and ever. . .

[DVD]

At the time I also had no idea there were deviations from Stephen King’s novel. Or that Mr. King himself wasn’t much of a fan of the finished film product. Of course I’ve paid no heed to the spirits that haunt this film reel for it is indeed one of the greatest of all time. That kind of high praise has for so long surrounded its director (I don’t know, some guy named Stanley Kubrick) that, to the uninitiated, it’s almost as if the center might collapse at any moment, like a doughnut jam-packed with a bit too much jelly.

At this point The Shining has almost become a mythological creature, existing now as a shrine to the frightening heights of Jack Nicholson’s madness and a podium before which Shelley Duvall may stand and proudly shout her name. I haven’t seen her in anything since nor have been so moved to do so, but in the same way I am not allowed to forget troubled writer Jack Torrance, I can’t scrub the pallid complexion of Wendy, his wife, from my brain. The horror has endured because these characters have, and for 34 years they have been thriving on the off-chance poor saps may make the mistake of revisiting The Overlook Hotel again on Netflix. Or, better yet: for newbies to take their first look around inside.

Me? I have spent the last several years successfully avoiding the interior of that place. It’s more like I’ve been running around in the maze out back, looking for some kind of way out of here. Yet, the imagery (and of course the quotes — “Here’s Johnny!!!”) has remained vivid and complex, mysterious but significant.

In need of extra income, Jack Torrance takes his family and secludes them in the beautiful but remote Overlook Hotel as the staff have been looking for a caretaker for the off-season, wintry months from December through May. This, Jack figured, would be as good a place as any to get focused on his writing. But the distractions soon become numerous and of an ominous variety, the source of which seems to be the Indian burial ground upon which the expansive hotel had been built. Over the coming days and weeks, Jack’s behavior increases in bizarreness and hostility, shrinking what was left of Wendy’s sense of self-preservation into a circle only she could fit into. And the Torrances’ only child is some kind of disturbed visionary who doesn’t ‘approve’ of the new surrounds. If that doesn’t promote cabin fever, what does?

Danny can’t exactly see dead people but he can sense the malevolent presences within this lonely building. His psychic abilities are referred to as ‘shining,’ and are also shared with certain members on staff, including the hotel chef — a man named Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers). Danny’s been able to foresee terrible things occurring here, but is he able to prevent them? Unfortunately that’s all out of his little, future blood-stained hands. Dad’s too blinded by his own frustrations as a failing writer (I can relate, dude) and thus is spending more time on his own, away from his wife whom he keeps having violent outbursts towards.

Stanley Kubrick on this occasion built suspense like nobody’s business, while simultaneously implementing some of the most recognizable set pieces you’re likely to find in horror. What we have here may not be everything that is presented in the novel. In fact a lot has changed, apparently. But what is used is also hellishly effective: the torrent of blood escaping the elevators; retro, 70s-style carpeting; hedge mazes, that also double as escape routes, by the way; the fire ax going through a bedroom door.

If blood and guts don’t creep you out, the stifling atmosphere had a better chance of chilling your internal body temperature by a few degrees. The Shining simultaneously dwelled upon and benefitted from the dress of decay. Everything from the abandoned space, to the season in which these disturbing transformations occur helped impress upon us that here is a family with no way of ridding themselves of harm. Of grisly, twisted and unpredictable violence.

If Jack were successful in completing just whatever it was he had committed to writing — a book, a collection of poems, perhaps? — I can only provide speculation as to how his real-life ending might have fit. A little bit bloodier? No doubt. More predictable? Eh, maybe. If all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, the more sane of us have been left wondering what this man would be like if left without that typewriter of his. At least here, he was temporarily distracted.

The beauty in Kubrick’s adaptation, accurate or not, has been the ability for audiences to imagine themselves in such a situation and what they would do. The supernatural forces driving former residents mad was a concept abstract and terrifying enough for two different auteurs — one a writer and another a filmmaker — to base stories off of and yet come away with two different experiences, both arguably equally successful. That’s damn impressive and a true testament to the power of well-conceived horror.

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5-0Recommendation: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is — and this is a boring way to put it, I know — a true classic. It not only stands the test of time, it almost becomes scarier each time you revisit it. Something else just keeps popping up, some detail you never noticed before. On that basis alone, if you haven’t still seen this movie I urge you to do so pronto. If you are a horror buff, I think we’re done here. If you’re squeamish, you should watch this anyway. Just so you’re not so squeamish in other, lesser horrors. Thicken that skin!

Rated: R

Running Time: 144 mins.

TBTrivia: A tale of horrifying edits. Apparently the original script was edited so many times it began to irritate Jack. It got to a point where he’d only read the new pages that were added to the script daily. He later cited the role as one of the toughest he’s ever undertaken.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

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24 thoughts on “TBT: The Shining (1980)

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  3. Excellent review!

    Stephen King is my idol, a spot he has shared with Rod Serling for a number of years now. I am sorry King doesn’t like the film. It would be cool if he gave it his endorsement, even though, as you mentioned, and as I know from reading the book, there are parts in the film that deviate from the novel.

    I am in total agreement with you. This is one of the best films the genre has to offer. It captivated my young mind the first time I saw it when I was a kid, and twenty years later, I still find myself mesmerized by the film, in general. The only thing I wish the movie had contained more of, were scenes with The Grady Twins, or Grady himself. If the film were made today, and received big box office, which it no doubt would, I can’t say with certainty, but I have a feeling, there would be a prequel involving those characters.

    The score is no surprise, and you’ll get no argument from me. For anyone who
    considers themself a fan of the horror genre, the film is mandatory viewing. Like you
    wrote, if someone is squeamish, they need to grow a thicker skin and watch the movie anyway.

    • Haha, very good point Robin! I feel like it’s one of those rare films all must see. It’s just. . .man, it’s just so good to the point of being required watching really. Like in high school, a book that the school forces upon all of it students in an attempt to collect some sort of communal interest in literature, The Shining should be homework for film students and film watchers in general.

      Unforgettable turn from Jack Nicholson helps ensure its status as a brilliant melding together of real-life weirdness (you can’t tell me old Jack isn’t a strange dude) and cinematic power. It’s really a fascinating watch. I’d imagine more so if you haven’t read the book, as you won’t be aware of said narrative deviations. I’m glad that I have deprived myself of the read thus far, as I pretty much am sure I will taint my own rating of this film by reading something that might actually be better. Thatnks for sharing your thoughts once more Robin! Cheers.

    • Well hello there T9M!!!! Yes, yes it really does.

      I recall seeing you gush about this in many a post before (I do believe it was you, or maybe it was just someone who blogs like you. Lol! I can’t say *looks* like b/c I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen your picture. Ha!)

      But yeah, for cereals. The Shining is classic horror. Glad we’re on the same page there. 😉

  4. Yaaaaasssss!! Another glorious Halloween TBT choice that I’m just now seeing because I’m lame… :/ But I’m here now, and I thoroughly approve of everything said in this review!! The Shining is one of the best of the best–even if Mr. King isn’t a fan (which I can kind of understand since the ending is waaaaay different in the book). Also, that Lego pic is perfection. Great job, Tom!!

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  6. I have to admit that I never considered this to be a classic until a couple of years ago. After a revisit, it just blew my socks off. It’s undoubtedly a classic. I also never caught onto Kubrick’s subtle insinuation that is it actually Wendy who could be going mad and Jack isn’t even at the hotel. It’s eluded to that Jack once harmed Danny in the past which would explain Wendy’s fears and how the story could be told from her perspective. Quite possibly the best horror film ever made.

  7. Yikes! This movie looks creepy! Great review, Tom. It’s on my Shame List, so I haven’t seen it, but I definitely want to! I’m sure right around Halloween is probably the perfect time to see it too. 🙂

    • Ah yeah, I did forget this was one on your list, wasn’t it? Halloween is a great time to catch up!!! I would agree. 😀

  8. A good film certainly, at times very good and certainly reverred but I’ve never rated this as a classic. Nicholson is memorable absolutely but he’s a very troubled man from the get go, which means he can only take it in one direction – looney tunes mad. Duvall is plain irritating and I the fact Scatmam Crothers gets an axe through his guts the second he walks into the hotel after we follow him for so long trying to get there is hilarious. It’s a black comedy rather than out and out horror. Great review Tom and I always love reading people’s views on this film. That’s my two cents anyway!

    • I would have to definitely agree with your thoughts on Shelley Duvall. She’s pretty annoying and not only that, but she’s one aspect about the ‘changes’ to King’s novel that I would agree with being a bad call. King cites his character as being virtually the clear opposite to what Duvall turns in but I try to ignore those things. I’ve always loved this film, it’s just so. . .iconic.

      Thanks for the thoughts man, it’s always nice to give perceived classics their due criticisms as well. Need to have that balance, otherwise its almost as bad as critics railing against something without mercy — there’s no unique perspective! 😉

  9. An astonishing film. The fact that King doesn’t rate it is another kind of horror. So many iconic images. But that carpet is always the most powerful one for me. Great review.

  10. “The Shining is — and this is a boring way to put it, I know — a true classic. “

    Probably the best example, in my lifetime anyway, of a film being reevaluated after initially being greeted with lukewarm to bad reviews.

    IT makes the pair of Razzie nominations it received at the time seem rather quaint. (Worst Director – Stanley Kubrick, Worst Actress -Shelley Duval)

    It definitely grows on you.

    • Hard to really think of this movie receiving less-than-stellar reviews for this these days! Thanks for the perspective there, that makes it all the more interesting.

  11. Really nice write up! I have found that my appreciation for this film grows with every rewatch and every article I read about it… it just keeps on evolving in your brain as you think of new things and see moments differently.

    • Hey dude, thanks! I think I’m with you on that. Though I’ve only seen this I think 3 times total (probably too few 🙂 ) it does seem to get better and more haunting with each viewing. Jack certainly gets better. Very good point, and another mark of a quality production.

      • Yeah it’s curious isn’t it… I think the first time I saw it I thought it was very good but I think all of the endless praise which I knew had been given to it made the experience somewhat underwhelming. Gave it a few more looks after the year and it crept under my skin and is now a firm favourite.

        Yeah Jack just gets more and more interesting with every viewing doesn’t he!

    • I have not and now I doubt I will! Haha! I figured it might, some of the things I was reading King complain about I just didn’t agree with. He calls it a ‘cold’ movie, which I think is horse poop. Sure, Jack’s not a particularly nice man to begin with and his wife ain’t exactly a looker but. . .I think King was making some personal attacks here. . . . . . . .

      not really.

  12. This is a really messed up movie in the best possible way. From the blood pouring out of the elevators to the kid talking with his finger, creepy stuff. And it has an ending that I can’t wrap my head around. Great review man!

    • Cheers Eddie my friend.

      There are certainly iconic moments abound here, aren’t there? And I personally LOVE the ending despite the lack of the boiler explosion part. A major deviation from the novel, apparently. Have you read the book yourself?

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