The Shining (1980)

2014 #80
Stanley Kubrick | 120 mins* | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | UK & USA / English | 15 / R

The ShiningFêted director Stanley Kubrick turned his hand to horror for this Stephen King adaptation. Poorly received on release (it was nominated for two Razzies: Worst Actress and Worst Director) and reviled by King (he attempted his own version as a miniseries in 1997. It didn’t go down well), it has since been reassessed as a classic. I’ve never read the novel, so have no opinion on the film’s level of faithfulness or (assuming it isn’t true to the book) whether that’s a good thing or not. As a movie in its own right, however, The Shining is bloody scary.

The plot sees Jack Nicholson, his wife and young son travelling to a remote hotel to be its caretakers while it’s closed over the winter. As the weeks pass by, strange things begin to happen. Nicholson begins to go a little stir crazy… or is it something worse? As the hotel becomes cut off by a snowstorm, everything goes to pot…

It’s somewhat hard to summarise The Shining because, in a way, nothing much happens. There are some mysteries, but few (if any) answers. That prompts plenty of wild theories — there’s now a whole film about them, even — but whether any of those are right or not… well, you know what wild theories are normally like, right? Really, story is not the order of the day. Kubrick seems to have set out to make a horror movie in the truest sense: a movie to instill fear. And that it does. And then some.

But you're not called JohnnyGradually, inexorably, the film builds a sense of dread; a fear so deep-seated that it feels almost primal. There are few jumps or gory moments, the easy stomping ground of lesser films. There’s just… unease. It’s a feeling that’s tricky to put into words, because it’s not exactly “scary”; even “terrifying” feels too lightweight. There are undoubtedly sequences of suspense, where we fear what’s coming or what will happen to the characters (everyone knows the “Here’s Johnny!” bit, for instance), but that’s not where the film’s impact really lies.

I guess some find it slow and aimless. There are certainly fans of King and his original that are just as unimpressed as the author by the way it supposedly shortchanges Nicholson’s character. There may be some validity to both of those arguments. Nonetheless, I found Kubrick’s realisation to be probably the most excruciatingly and exquisitely unsettling film I’ve ever seen.

5 out of 5

The Shining placed 3rd on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2014, which can be read in full here.

It was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2014 project, which you can read more about here.


* The Shining was initially released at 146 minutes. After a week, Kubrick cut two minutes off the end. Following a poor reception, he cut even more for the European release (some say 31 minutes, but that doesn’t add up). He maintained the shortest version was his preferred cut, though it’s not the one released in most territories… except the UK. ^

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2 thoughts on “The Shining (1980)

  1. It’s great, isn’t it, bags and bags of atmosphere and an unsettling sense of mounting dread that works so well it almost makes a disappointment out of the ending. I think it’s probably my favourite Nicholson performance; he gets across really well the sense of a man with all that pent up anger and resentment ready to pour out and he’s just about holding it together. Otherwise, what can you really say about a film that extracts dripping suspense and terror from the camera following a little kid as he buggies around the floors of an empty hotel? I’m almost tempted to drag my disc out right now and give it another watch.

    You mentioned the novel and not having read it. I did so again fairly recently. They’re basically different animals, which I think is the source of King’s resentment – Kubrick took the premise and then basically dragged it in an alternative direction, grab-bagging bits from the book that he found most effective e.g. the conversations with Lloyd, and forgetting the rest. King’s novel is fine and has its moments, but I’m glad the film ignored certain bits (the book has characters being threatened by topiary!) and focused on the tension and claustrophobia of those three people trapped and cut off in a massive building. The film is basically better and if I’d written the novel knowing that would have riled me also.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Atmosphere” is certainly the word! I don’t even particularly care that I’ve no real idea what it all meant because it’s so effective at creating that mood.

      Violent topiary wouldn’t really fit in Kubrick’s film, though I feel it’s an idea someone should maybe use at some point…

      Liked by 1 person

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