The Shining: Or Why I'm Never Going to a Hotel in the Mountains

The next film on our list is the popular horror classic, The Shining.  Released in 1980, this is Stanley Kubrick's screen adaptation of Stephen King's novel.  So you know it's going to be kind of f-ed up.  It comes in at an impressive #117.  I mean, come on, scary deserted hotels, horrible murders, and Jack Nicholson?  Sign me up!

Jack Torrance is an ex-schoolteacher/writer (one wonders why he no longer teaches - I chalk it up to the fact that he's abusive and generally off-putting).  He's decided to take a job as the winter caretaker of a large, isolated hotel up in the mountains.  Jack is warned about cabin fever, and that the hotel has a history of driving the winter caretakers into a homicidal rage, but Jack seems wholly unconcerned.  He moves his wife, his creepy son, and his creepy son's even creepier imaginary friend into the hotel, and they hunker down for the next five months.  Prediction: this will not end well.

Sure enough, it doesn't take long before Jack starts to act all squirrelly and unstable (I ponder the concept that maybe they just filmed Jack Nicholson without telling him for a few weeks).  Increasingly weird things happen in the hotel, with Jack acting crazier, and Danny's Shining acting up.  Ultimately, Jack begins to all out hallucinate, and interact with the hotel ghosts.  Some, like Lloyd the Bartender, are fairly benign, but others, like Grady the Caretaker-cum-Murderer-cum-Snazzy English Butler, encourages Jack to savagely murder his family. (Why is it always the butlers?)

Meanwhile, Wendy is not at all pleased that her son has been traumatized pretty much into a coma (leaving the ever-helpful Tony to speak for him) and begins to make plans to leave the hotel, presumably to go find a doctor for Danny.  This is the straw that broke the psychopath's back, and Jack goes ballistic when Wendy mentions her plans.  She brains him with a baseball bat and locks him in the food storage cupboard, where Grady gives him a pep talk and helps him escape.

So Danny and Wendy are up in their apartment, and we find out that all this Redrum nonsense that Danny's been going on about actually means murder. (Because that's redrum backwards, clever trousers.)  Immediately following this revelation, Jack starts trying to break down the door with an axe.  The rest of the film he spends terrorizing his family, until he meets his demise out in the elements.  Which leaves the score, Battered Wives: 1, Abusive Assholes: frozen to death in a maze.

Random Musings:

  • Fifty two seconds into the movie and I'm already officially unsettled.  I blame the score.

  • I think it's so funny that Stephen King was totally opposed to the casting of Jack Nicholson in this film.  He wanted a normal guy who was driven mad by the hotel, not someone like Jack who seems perpetually unhinged even before the crazy shit starts happening.  That said, I struggle to think of who could play this role with the panache that good old Jack does.

    • Whoa.  Why is this kid talking in that creepy voice through his finger?  WTF is Tony?  Why does this family seem incredibly disturbed even before they go to the hotel?  I need a hug.

  • Maybe this is just me, but I feel that I would be...let's go with reluctant to take a job where my predecessor went crazy, axe-murdered his wife and children, and then pulled an Ernest Hemingway.

  • I'm sorry, I think this movie might just be over the legal limit of creepy little kids.  One of the twins has to leave, otherwise Kubrick is getting fined.

  • They really couldn't have picked a better location for this movie.  It's so big and creepy and empty, with all these long, winding corridors.  I'd be scared even if there weren't creepy twin girl ghosts and elevators filled with blood and Jack Nicholson.  I like stories where the setting is almost its own distinct character, and that's definitely the case in The Shining.

  • I feel so bad for poor Wendy - she's such a sweet, simple, optimistic girl and Jack's such an asshole to her.  Even before he starts trying to kill her.

  • So I guess this film answers the question of what's creepier than two identical little girl ghosts who speak at the exact same time.  Two identical little girl ghosts who speak at the exact same time with creepy, inexplicable English accents.

  • How old is Danny supposed to be?  I know the actor was 6, but I wonder how old the character is.  Shouldn't he be in school or something?  I mean, they're up in the mountains for like five months, and it doesn't seem like they're homeschooling him at all.

  • OK, so the scene where Danny is sitting on Jack's lap, and Jack is telling him that he would never ever hurt him in his creepy Jack Nicholson voice?  Give me the elevators full of blood any day, because that is some freaky shit.

  • Did he seriously just refer to his wife as "the sperm bank"?  Oh hell no.

  • OK, so...the hot naked chick/hideously aged and decomposing naked broad is enough to make me want to dig my eyes out with a spoon.  Why a spoon?  Because it'll hurt more.

  • In related news, I am officially never staying in room 237 of any hotel ever ever again.

  • At this point, I'm finding that I have to agree with Stephen King.  Yeah, Jack Nicholson is scary, but imagine how much scarier this movie would be if it was about a loving, normal husband/father, who slowly went mad at the hotel.  Probably more effective than a guy who's already a little violent and alcoholic.  Like the scene when he's waking up from the nightmare about killing Wendy and Danny, and he's torn apart by would be so much better if it was a genuinely nice guy having dreams like that.  Just my $0.02.

  • It's so unsettling when Grady, the old caretaker who butchered his family, shows up as the butler in Jack's hallucination.  He gives me the shudders.  Also, he pushes Jack in the direction of "correcting" his family, which is just not on.

  • You know, people always talk about how creepy the "Redrum!" thing is.  And yes, it is horrifying.  But I find the whole, "Danny isn't here right now, Mrs Torrance." "Danny can't wake up, Mrs Torrance." "Danny went away, Mrs Torrance," thing way more chilling.  Hell, what am I saying?  Everything Danny says/does is creepy as shit.

  • I love Wendy pacing up in her room, talking through how she's going to get her and Danny out of the hotel, even if Jack doesn't want to come.  Who says Shelley Duvall was the weak link in the cast?  Ok, the bat-swinging episode is pretty dire, but hey, it gets the job done.

  • Oh man, the manuscript of All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy.  Someone hold me.

Seriously, is there a more unsettling moment in the entire film?  When she digs through the papers and realizes that her husband has completely lost it, followed by him slowly entering the room and calmly asking her, "How do you like it?"  Shit has gotten so real I can't even handle it anymore.

  • I've always heard that Kubrick was very protective of little Danny Lloyd, so much so that he didn't even know that The Shining was a horror movie until he was much older.  Now, my question is it possible that anyone even remotely involved with the shooting of this film could think it was anything else?  I realize he was a little kid, but still.

"Nom nom nom this scenery is tasty, maybe I should go find some more of it to chew on."

  • "Wendy, listen.  Let me out of here and I'll forget the whole goddamn thing.  It'll be just like nothing ever happened." Yeah, not sure I buy that, Jack.

  • I love this shot.  She's so great cowering in the corner like that, while the axe slices through the door.  Jesus, Wendy really does have a lot to put up with, doesn't she?

  • Halloran really is my favorite character in the entire film.  It's such a shame that he's heartily dispatched about 6.8 seconds after entering the hotel.

  • Audrey does not like the hotel ghosts.  Audrey would like them to go away now please.  Audrey is so disturbed by them she has resorted to speaking in the third person in an effort to distance herself from the creepy hotel ghosts.

  • I'm not trying to be mean, but Wendy kind of runs the way I would expect Kermit the Frog to run.

  • Wait wait wait.  Hold everything.  What does the final photograph of the film, showing Jack at a 1921 Fourth of July party at the Overlook Hotel, mean?  Kubrick, why do you do this to me?!

So that is The Shining.  And I like it!  OK, well, it's not my favorite horror movie ever.  It could do with a pair of scissors like whoa.  But what I do really like about it is that it doesn't always go for the quick scare.  It could have been a full movie of those shots of the twin girls or the old lady in the bath or any number of other things.  But instead it went for a slow burn, gradually increasing the tension as things get madder and madder, until Jack's running around chasing people with axes and quoting talk show hosts.  I like that it's more unsettling and off-putting than outright frightening.  And the score is great.  It keeps you on edge the entire way through.  There are some really well shot scenes, especially when Danny is riding his Big Wheel down the corridors and you just know something unpleasant to going to be around the next corner.  Overall, well done, Stanley and Stephen.  Hats off to you both.

Thanks for reading, and check back next time for Listen to Britain!

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Robert said...

Nice post on a classic horror film. I agree on the scene with Danny on Jack's lap. Probably the creepiest scene in the movie for me.

Out of the two theories on the photo - reincarnation or absorption - I go with reincarnation. The photo's creepy in general.

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