Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Running time: 146 minutes
For some film fans this is the ultimate horror movie. Adapted from Stephen King’s novel, about a blocked writer trying to work his way back by holing up at a remote hotel closed for the winter, it eschews big jumps and cheap tricks for an unsettling, disturbing and unforgettable descent into madness. But does it?
King himself was extremely unhappy with the film, claiming it was like a beautiful car with no engine, you can admire the paintwork and design but it doesn’t go anywhere. Strong words, and a reviewing for Halloween, for me, backs him up. It has a certain look and style, certainly, but the journey into bonkersness simply isn’t there. It also regularly does what Kubrick said he wouldn’t resort to – cheap tricks straight out of Freak Show, including blood-covered ghosts, sudden mirror shots and plenty of grand guignol.
The whole argument could have come, of course, from the fact that Kubrick rejected King’s screenplay, writing his own, which led King to state Kubrick had completely misunderstood his work and didn’t really know what a horror film should be. One thing is for sure, it’s Kubrick’s only attempt at a horror flick, he never returned to the genre.
The casting was also a problem for King, especially Duvall. He wanted a cheerleader type, who had never had any problems in life before her trip to the country with deranged hubbie. Duvall is clearly nowhere near this, almost, as King said, the opposite. She looks fragile and haunted from the beginning, and after two hours of trying to protect her young boy Danny from her loony husband she is almost washed out. King believed she looked like a caricature horror woman victim – all she does is scream and look stupid. Fair point. Duvall does though give it her best, apparently under huge pressure from Kubrick, who was awful to her, and she does at least give the film an emotional centre. Nicholson is high-octane, hilarious and scary in equal measure, but it’s not a performance to garner much sympathy. The boy is tremendous though.
Released for one night only for Halloween, it does at least give us a chance to see it again on the big screen. Here again it looks a little dated. Those opening helicopter shots are a little wobbly, and the celebrated shots of Danny riding his trike through the corridors are overdone. The dry ice and fake snow in the closing sequence also look a little creaky. That said, the sequences in the bar still look amazing, where Jack wanders into the apparently empty nightclub only to find a party in full swing, and a barman who is all too happy to give him the drink he is so craving.
The Shining is one of those films people get obsessive about, simply because it is made by an obsessive. We know, for example, that every one of those sheets of A4 paper has “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” typed out on it even though we see about 1% of them – apparently Kubrick’s secretary had to type them out for a year, poor thing. It has also spawned a raft of conspiracy theories – that it was Kubrick’s admission he filmed the fake moon landings, that it’s about the Holocaust, that it’s all a dream – duh. All of them are complete nonsense, of course, and frankly rather tedious.
For this special release there is a seven-minute short film, which will presumably be added to any future disc release. There is an interview with the twins as they are now, which is quite sweet, and some stuff about the camerawork and setting, but not much else – it’s a DVD extra at best.
Overall verdict: Kubrick’s work is under constant scrutiny, and you’ll have made up your mind by now whether you think he’s a genius or a long-winded bore, and where The Shining sits in the horror canon.
Reviewer: Mike Martin