In 1980, masterful and legendary director Stanley Kubrick gave life to a film that today is arguably considered to be one of the finest horror films ever made. But it is common knowledge to Kubrick fans and Stephen King fans of whose novel the film is adapted from that it’s not entirely a straight-forward transition from page to screen.
The Shining centres around the life of the Torrance family who relocate for the winter as the husband played with a terrifying directness by famed Jack Nicholson as he is allocated the seemingly easy task of being the caretaker of a posh hotel in the middle of nowhere during its close season. What starts out as a job that any patient and calm man would be insane not to do eventually become even more dangerous and frightening than you could expect.
Danny Torrance played with an unnerving curiosity by the unknown Danny Lloyd is Jack’s son. This little boy first appears to be a regular little boy but as the opening sequences with his mother Wendy (and the irritating and ‘ditsy’ wife of Jack) present to us that Danny has a secret; he has an imaginary friend called Tony who we are led to believe challenges him to complete tasks.
As the film is set in an isolated hotel, there isn’t much space for a mass amount of characters and Stanley Kubrick (known mostly for 2001: A Space Odyssey and the controversial Clockwork Orange) works magnificently with what the King novel presents to him. Aside from the family and the minimal screen time of the manager (who has a much larger part in the novel), the fear factor of this cultured horror masterpiece leaves room for one more character and the performance highlight of the entire film to the charismatic and daring Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers). This African-American guy is unlike any hotel chef you could imagine, and his immediate connection with young Danny of whom he addressed as before he has even been introduced by the manager or by the rest of the Torrance family in the opening third of the film leaves me with a very suspicious feeling, but the film unsurprisingly gets weirder and weirder throughout, but never to the point of exploitation or an over-the-top nature and the film as a whole feels very subtle in its approach, something that both the King novel and this Kubrick adaptation go hand in hand.
As with all horror films, the approach from the director is where films succeed and fail, but for me the most important aspect and terrifying element of the whole piece is how accurately and pitch-perfect the camera shots are selected and arranged. Additionally to the approach and tone, the pacing is quintessential and is the difference between witnessing a satisfying horror movie or watching one that races to a cliché and ridiculous ending without the time for the customary ‘edge of your seat’ feeling of psychological tour-de-force like The Shining.
If like me you enjoy slow-burner horror film with a haunting atmosphere and endless amounts of iconic cinematography then The Shining is something that I’d find easily recommendable to anyone. It’s a film with such a vast knowledge of what it contains, but to me the most frightening aspect of this horror master class is what Kubrick decides to leave out.
Stanley Kubrick is the true master of cinema, a pioneer and as much as I enjoy his other classics such as Full Metal Jacket or Eyes Wide Shut I challenge anyone to find a film with more iconic cinematography and unforgettable moments than The Shining contains in its modest 115 minute running time.
Here’s a brief roll call of those moments: the Grady twins, “RED RUM” (Murder in reverse); the blood seeping through the corridors; the typewriter with the words “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”; the encounter with bartender Lloyd; the man in the bear suit; the final shot; the maze sequence and more importantly and recognisable of them all the “HERE’S JOHNNY!” axe sequence. Go on, I dare you, find more scenes like those in another film.
Turn the lights off, the volume up and witness greatness at its highest level.