I have three favorite sub-genres when it comes to horror films: Slasher, Zombie and Haunted House. In regards to the Haunted House films, “the Shining” from 1980 ranks at the very top. An eerie, unnerving tale that could only be realized to its full potential by the master of the surreal, Stanley Kubrick.
Struggling author, Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson), has been hired to be the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, secluded far away in the mountains. Jack, his wife (Shelly Duvall) and their son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), get accustomed to the cavernous hotel as the staff gradually leaves for the winter. All save for Dick Hollaran (Scatman Crothers), who sticks around long enough to have a few words with Danny. Danny has a bizarre gift: the ability to read other’s thoughts and see visions of the future. Mr. Hollaran has that ability, called the shining, as well, and warns Danny to be careful. The Overlook Hotel has a bad history and can cause men to go out of their mind. Soon, the Torrences are left all alone in the Hotel, confined within the premesis by a frigid snowstorm. As the weeks progress, the Hotel begins to “speak” with Jack, chipping away at his sanity. Jack is about to snap, and that means trouble for his family.
The Shining isn’t just a scary film, it’s downright creepy from start to finish. Even when nothing is going on, the scenery, the music, the lighting…everything comes together to deliver a very uncomfortable feeling to the audience. Stanley Kubrick directed many stellar films in his career, but out of them all, the Shining is easily my favorite.
Stephen King didn’t like it so much, though. It takes numerous liberties with the source material (King’s novel), and as a result, offended King to the point of demanding his name be removed from the credits. A stricter adaptation was later made as a TV miniseries in 1997, but despite being more accurate to the book, it was downright terrible.
The shining uses special effects sparingly, and instead, relies on a fantastic performance from Jack Nicholson to really convey a sense of dread and terror. Jack Nicholson has always been a pretty scary-looking guy, but he’s just a monster in this film. While his performance is magnificent, there is one problem I did have. From the beginning, even before they reach the hotel, you sorta get the feeling that Jack is a little nuts and quick to anger, as opposed to a normal Dad driven over the edge of sanity. While Jack’s gradual transformation into an axe-wielding lunatic was still excellent, you get the impression he had already started down that path long before the first scene in the movie.
The more visually stimulating horror effects are about as memorable as Jack Nicholson’s performance. The elevator spilling over with blood, the old hag in the bathroom, the cobwebbed room full of corpses, and, of course, the most frightening moment of them all, the scene with the furries. Brrrrr! All of these moments are delightfully frightening and not soon to be forgotten.
“The Shining” narrowly trumps “Poltergeist” as my all time favorite Haunted House picture. It’s a fanastic movie on all levels and should be scene by everyone at least once in their lifetime.