‘The Shining’ still creepy 30 years after its original release

The Shining, based on the original Stephen King novel, makes for an engaging, off-putting cinematic experience. Director Stanley Kubrick’s movie still holds up more than 30 years after its original release. Jack Nicholson is the definition of scary. Shelley Duvall is a perfectly innocent woman experiencing the savage nature of her murderous husband. And what about that atmosphere?

Kubrick is able to make the Overlook Hotel a maze of haunted corners, eerie hallways and constricting rooms. There seems to be no exit, and that proves fatal when Jack Torrance (Nicholson) begins cracking from his increasingly maddening cabin fever.

The story is wonderfully simple: Three-person family moves into a faraway hotel to take care of the property during the winter months. There’s not another soul in sight, and although Jack appreciates the chance to work on his new novel, the deafening silence overpowers him. He can’t fight the intrusions to his fractured mind; he can’t live within the confines of this palatial prison.

Wendy (Duvall), at first, loves the adventure behind the new location. She has a full kitchen of food and appliances, and as the snow begins to drop, she falls in love with the beauty of the Overlook. The two people who matter most in her life — Jack and their son Danny (Danny Lloyd) — are by her side, and the cruel world has been shut out for the foreseeable future.

Danny rides his tricycle down the long hallways of the hotel, careening past empty room after empty room. As his father begins losing his mind, and his mother begins realizing the horror that’s about to occur, Danny utilizes his unique gift, called “the shining,” to predict future events.

The movie represents a perfect melding of direction, acting, cinematography and dialogue. John Alcott’s photography is memorable, including an elevator filled with blood and Wendy and Danny’s escape through a bathroom window onto a snow pile. Everything is shot in a very matter-of-fact manner, as if we are looking at portraits come to life. This is obviously one of the hallmarks of Kubrick’s style: He shows A, then shows B, and we are left to deduce that the two images are connected.

My favorite sequence is also one of the more violent scenes in the movie. When Jack is trying to get to his wife through a locked bathroom door, watch how the camera follows the ax in his hands. It’s almost as if the camera is on a boomerang system, tracking to the left and then snapping to the right, just like the movement of the weapon.

Other highlights: the mad dash through the maze, the seamless transition between the present and past, the closeups of Jack’s scowling face, the line delivery by Nicholson, especially in the final third of the film.

The movie is often classified as a horror classic. There’s no denying that the story is horrifying, but it transcends genre. Although violence is at the heart of the film, there’s not too much on-screen blood baths (except that elevator scene, of course). Instead, Kubrick focuses on the eeriness factor, trying to convince us of the Overlook’s suffocating compartmentalization.

When watching The Shining for the first time, the audience is meant to share Jack’s experience. We’re all asked to look in the mirror and realize we’ve gone a little mad.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • The Shining

  • 1980

  • Directed by Stanley Kubrick

  • Written by Kubrick and Diane Johnson; based on the novel by Stephen King

  • Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Joe Turkel and Scatman Crothers

  • Running time: 142 minutes

  • Rated R

  • Rating: ★★★★

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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