The Shining Review (1980)

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

The Shining Review (1980)

Horrorific content by penguin_pete on October 01st, 2018 | Movie Review | Supernatural, Psychological, Madness, Isolation, Motel

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It’s about a man who brings his family to a haunted hotel while working as its winter caretaker.

The Shining was directed by Stanley Kubrick and stars Jack Nicholson (from Wolf), Shelley Duvall (from The 4th Floor) and Danny Lloyd.

He came as the caretaker, but this hotel had its own guardians - who'd been there a long time

The Shining Review

Finally, A Good Stephen King Adaptation!

Wow, after the Present Author had to kick around Maximum Overdrive and Children of the Corn, I was beginning to feel like a bully picking on Stephen King all the time. It’s a relief to get to review the one Stephen King adaptation widely celebrated as one of the greatest horror movies ever made...

Wait, what, you say The Shining is also the least faithful Stephen King adaptation ever? Oh boy, are we ever in trouble.

We’re in luck: I’ve read the book. And I’ve seen the other TV miniseries that King oversaw. I’ve also read Danse Macabre and absorbed King’s thoughts on the matter. So I can objectively tell you this movie kicks ass and blows every other consideration out of its realm. Not because it’s a good Stephen King adaptation, but because it’s a Stanley Kubrick film.

This is Kubrick’s movie, King was incidental.

Kubrick, a director of legendary status, left this world with a body of work only thirteen feature films long! When most directors are barely hitting their stride, he had already established himself as one of the greatest living auteurs. Out of his film canon, at least six of them (Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, Eyes Wide Shut, and this one) are landmark magnum opuses that people still rave about today. Kubrick was simply from a completely different dimension. Each of his films were like an alien civilization composing a thesis on humans, furthermore a different alien species each time.

So Kubrick, truly in a class by himself, chose to dabble in our humble little horror genre just one solitary time, and like he always does, he left behind a profound work celebrated as one of the greatest hallmarks of its genre. Yeah, his adaptation isn’t faithful to the source material. What do you want? Kubrick was a planet; you came into his orbit and he did what he wanted with you. What are you going to do, argue with him?

A “Cabin in the Woods” story with a fancier cabin:

The story is so basic that it’s a cookie cutter of the horror genre: some people move to an isolated building, creepy stuff happens. Since the cast is so limited, it’s a good thing that the core characters were all top talent working in peak form. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) will eventually wield the world’s most famous ax, Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) turns in the bravest mama hen ever filmed, Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) is the obligatory psychic kid who is the innocent soul of the movie, and Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) turns in a surprise performance as the mentor of the family.

Granted, The Shining plays fast and loose with King’s novel (which is also excellent on its own merits). And people even now grouse that Jack Nicholson’s presence spoils the plot, because from the first frame you know he’s bad news. King’s novel (and the TV adaptation he supervised) plays the patriarch of the Torrance family as redeemable, a man struggling against the forces of evil that eventually overpower him. We see Nicholson, we know he’s the Big Bad Wolf with a bag over his head, looking for the first excuse to spaz out.

But so what? We traded in suspense - not knowing what's going to happen - for dread - knowing damn well what's going to happen and it's only a question of how and when. Look what we produced anyway:

The Meme Machine

Every scene, every shot, every line of The Shining is separately memorable on its own. Can you even count the moments in this movie that have become cultural touchstones both within and without the horror genre?

The twins. The hedge maze. The “Here’s Johnny” scene. Redrum! The “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” manuscript. “Stop swinging the bat.” The elevator blood waterfall. Jack at the bar. The tennis ball thundering off the wall. Room #237. Danny’s Hedstrom Trail Cycle rolling over hard floor, carpet, hard floor, changing the noise each time. Danny’s talking finger movement. The ballroom full of ghosts and skeletons. The man in the doggy costume. The manically red bathroom. The “Apollo USA” rocket sweater Danny wears (Google “Danny Torrance sweater” and you, too, can buy one modeled after it). Jack Nicholson’s fingers performing a sarcastically condescending typewriter demonstration; "When you come in here and you hear me typing...”: tack TACKITTY TACK tack TACK! The photo from July 4th, 1921. The freezer door. “Hair of the dog that bit me, Lloyd!” The haunting soundtrack composed by Wendy Carlos, and the industrial soundscape Kubrick says was inspired by his favorite movie, Eraserhead.

Name the most iconic carpet pattern to ever appear in a movie. Yep, that hexagon maze in warm fall colors that carpets the halls of the Overlook. Name the second most iconic carpet pattern to ever appear in a movie? Yeah, stumped, aren’t you? That’s because there isn’t one. The floor covering in this movie is more famous than thousands of other movies. That pattern is sold by rug and carpet retailers even now.

And we have to shout-out here to a whole blog that catalogs The Shining ephemera, The Overlook Hotel.

On a side note...

Stephen King started out life as a school teacher before his first break in writing. Ever notice how many of his books have kid characters? What was taking roll call in a Hampden, Maine high school like for him? “Carrie”? “Danny”? “Isaac and Malachai”? “Charlie”? Charlie, will you please quit burning your pencil down to a point, use the pencil sharpener like everybody else! Danny, put your finger down and knock it off, of course you’re here I can see you! Isaac, if I have to tell you not to lead an insurrection against the staff one more time...

If you're not done reading about The Shining yet, head over to our signature scene post and enjoy the bonus material with more Shining-related videos than you can shake an ax at!

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