Deeply iconic, gut gnawingly creepy and referenced from everything from Seed Of Chucky to Ready Player One, The Shining is, simply put, one of the greatest horror movies ever made…. unless you’re Stephen King, that is, but we’ll get back to that later.
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson, cementing his legacy by sporting every tic and demonic facial expression in his arsenal like his life depends on it) is a troubled, ex-alchaholic writer who, in a desperate effort to cure himself of writer’s block has accepted a job of an off-season janitor at the remote Overlook Hotel located in the Colorado Rockies. What with this being the 80’s and Jack being a bit of an unreasonable arse, he’s brought his long suffering wife, Wendy (a magnificently brittle Shelly Duvall almost driven mad by director Kubrick’s treatment of her for real) and their imaginative – if a little weird – son, Danny along for the stay despite rumours of some unpleasantness befalling a past janitor and his family. After a lengthy tour given by a kindly cook played by Scatman Carruthers, it becomes apparent that young Danny is gifted with a special sixth sense the cook also has and who has dubbed it “The Shining”. This is the very definition of a mixed blessing, because despite having the ability to communicate telepathically with others who “shine”, Danny in now also a target for the hotel itself which is loaded with the malevolent spirits it’s been hoarding for decades (or is it?..)
As the winter arrives and the snow seals them off from the outside world, Jack’s mental state rapidly deteriorates, Danny encounters with the hotel’s secrets become increasingly life threatening and the hapless Wendy helplessly watches on uncomprehendingly as her world starts curling up at the edges. Can this already crumbling family unit hold it together and resist the corrupting influence of the Overlook, or will all work and no play make Jack an axe wielding dull boy?….
Stanley Kubrick’s stark study in insanity and isolation is in many ways the capper of an incredible decade of an intelligent and innovative series of genre based trouser-wreckers that contains everything from The Exorcist, Carrie and Rosemary’s Baby to The Omen, Texas Chainsaw and Jaws. Remarkably tight and stoically mature about it’s admittedly B-list premise (Haunted mansion! Whoooooo!), The Shining is a stripped back masterclass in tone, mood, cinematography and good solid scares. The dread, conjured by rigid perspective shots and clinical composition on the screen invoke powerful feelings of isolation and disconnection, whereas Danny’s endless trundling of his tricycle over the Overlook’s distinctive carpets while being closely followed by Kubrick’s stalking steady-cam is both literally and figuratively haunting.
The character’s are shrewdly utilised too, all containing a surprising amount of faults (during Jack’s alcoholic days he accidentally broke Danny’s arm while scolding him and Wendy’s been making excuses for him ever since) which balance the more extreme performances (seriously, Nicholson is off the chain while Duvall is rendered virtually hysterical for a third of the movie) and make the more overt horror aspects all the more affecting.
Ah yes, those horror bits. A seemingly endless procession of timeless horror iconography that contains the watery occupant of room 237, the climactic maze pursuit, Lloyd the bartender (“Your credit is fine Mr. Torrance.”), THAT line spoken through an axe ravaged door and many more that are instantly recognizable but people that haven’t even seen the thing.
King loathed the film which shook loose a lot of the books imagery and character arcs – the Overlook in the novel is practically a living breathing thing, sodden with ghosts and boasting topiary animals that move and fixtures that bite whereas Jack is a far more redeemable character – and considering it dealt very much with the author’s own struggles with addiction, you can sort of see his point. But from the opening shots of an impassive gods-eye view of a solitary car carrying it’s occupants towards the hotel and it’s fate while the claustrophobic score blares it’s heart out; to the final creeping shot of a photograph on the wall that still inspires debate to this day, The Shining is an out and out masterpiece.
And remember… It ain’t gonna hurt ya. It’s just gonna bash your brains in. Just bash ’em the fuck in.