An education in horror: The Shining

Last night, I sat in my lounge room typing, a belly full of soup, a warm heater keeping out the cold, and a feeling of safety and sanity. A stark contrast to the world I had entered in the afternoon, at a screening of Stanley Kubrik’s classic horror thriller, The Shining, which was playing at Broadway cinema for the Mayhem Horror Festival

Although this film was made over 30 years ago and has legendary cinema status, somehow I had never seen it before.

I’m still reeling from the experience. Visually stunning, incredibly creepy, Kubrick’s imagining of Stephen King’s novel is unlike anything else I’ve seen.

Opening scene of The Shining

From the opening sequence, flying across spectacular mountain scenery, with a deep and sorrowful soundtrack playing, the sense of foreboding is strong.

Set within the Colorado mountains, the film is a study in isolation, the supernatural and madness. Jack Torrance and his family have taken up residence at The Overlook hotel for the winter, to act as caretakers while the hotel is closed for the season. Right from the beginning, we feel that something isn’t right in the hotel, amplified by the hotel manager telling Jack that a few years previously, a caretaker caught ‘cabin fever’ at the hotel and murdered his wife and daughters.

As the story unravels we realise that all is not as it seems as the hotel. Jack’s wife, Wendy, tries to make a normal life within the isolated and lonely rooms with her son Danny, or ‘Doc’ as they call him, but as the time passes, and a storm snows them in, Jack loses his grip on sanity.

I absolutely loved the way the film looked. It was released in 1980, and the hotel is fantastically retro. The carpets feature bold geometric patterns, adding to the sense of space in the hotel, with its cavernous rooms and seemingly endless kitchen.

Danny explores the Outlook Hotel

I especially loved the way Kubrick follows Danny as he pedals around the hotel across the huge patterned carpets, around and around in circles, with the camera seeing the world from the same perspective as the boy.

Ghostly twins

The ghostly twin girls who appear to Danny, are especially creepy. As is Danny’s imaginary friend ‘Tony’, who seems to have a mind of his own, and apparently lives in Danny’s mouth and is the manifestation of his telepathic powers.

Wendy and Danny…. REDRUM

The only thing I didn’t entirely find convincing in the film was the character of Wendy, played by Shelley Duvall. Wendy is insipid and submissive. She doesn’t seem to understand the world around her, and seems oblivious to Jack’s faults, and is even a pushover when it comes to her son and his demands.

Apparently the character is much more well-rounded and lively in the book. In the film, I found myself willing her to wake up to what was happening and take control of the situation, and I found Duvall’s portrayal to be quite unconvincing at times. Although I did love some of her outfits, particularly the corduroy dungaree dress and checked shirt she runs around in at the end of the film.

Seventies style, with knife

Jack

Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance on the other hand, is utterly convincing… terrifyingly so. His descent into the unhinged is frighteningly believable, and those famous expressive eyebrows are used to devastating effect. From his imagined conversations with residents of the hotel past to his encounter in the warned against Room 237, Nicholson goes from caring father to psychotic murderer without a falter.

I was lucky enough to see the extended version of The Shining yesterday, which is 24 minutes longer than the original screened in Europe, and features additional and extended scenes.

Broadway Cinema had been dressed by Mayhem’s organisers to celebrate this special screening of The Shining, with photos from the set on display around the cinema, a creepy window of ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, and the addition of Room 237 brass numbers to the toilet doors.

Room 237 at Broadway

I’m not a particularly huge fan of horror when it comes to blood and gore, but I do love the tension and intrigue of a good psychological thriller and hugely enjoyed The Shining. I’m already looking forward to watching it again, and am intrigued by the amount that’s been written about this film and its possible meanings and conspiracy theories.

Have you seen The Shining? What’s your favourite scary movie?

After The Shining, I’ll be continuing my education in classic thrillers. Next up will by Psycho I think – another classic which has until now passed me by!