The Shining (1980)


Stanley Kubrick takes on Stephen King, and while it may not be the most faithful adaptation, The Shining is a gorgeously crafted plunge into fear and insanity. Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall play a husband and wife who take their young son with them to the remote Overlook Hotel, where they’ll be all alone for several months working as caretakers during the winter down season. The hotel, with its high walls and never-ending hallways, is vast and spooky. I personally get an odd sense of wish fulfillment experiencing the first half of the film — it’s fun to be all alone in such a big place. There’s something forbidden about it, and discoveries to be made.

And made they are. As the young boy starts having horrific visions of the past, the isolation takes its toll on Nicholson, who begins to lose his grip on reality. The hotel and its ghosts threaten to destroy the family, and before long, you get Jack Nicholson chasing a squalling Shelley Duvall around with an ax. It’s a thing of glory.

The Shining is a masterful blend of atmospheric dread and psychological terror that have a direct relationship to one another. If you sit in a big cold room listening to the wind blowing all around you, who’s to say that after a month or so you wouldn’t start to go a little mad? I also like that Nicholson’s character is an author. It’s as if opening himself up to inspiration was a way of giving the hotel’s supernatural forces a foothold in his mind. Kubrick also makes great use of early steadicam photography, which gives the hotel scenes a floating, otherworldly quality.

My only gripe is with the abrupt ending, but anyone who loves Kubrick has come to expect that sort of thing. The film split audiences upon its initial release, but is now widely regarded as one of the greatest horror films ever made. A more faithful TV miniseries adaptation was directed by Mick Garris in 1997. Stephen King reportedly likes the TV version better. With Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers.