THE SHINING  (REVIEW)
Dir. Stanley Kubrick
Reviewer. Dan Cook
“No TV and no beer make Homer… something, something” - The Simpsons, Treehouse of Horror V (1994)
Dear reader, I have a question for you. What links these 4 people; Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, composer Ennio Morricone, actress Diane Keaton and director Stanley Kubrick?
No, it’s not that are all amazingly talented artists. The answer is that while they are rightly considered to be among the very best in their respective fields, each of them have been nominated for a Golden Raspberry award. Yep, he may be regarded as the greatest filmmaker to ever work behind the camera but in their inaugural year of 1980, the Razzie voters nominated Kubrick, the same man responsible for 2001: A SPACE ODESSEY,A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and DR. STRANGELOVE as the worst director of that year. And for what movie was Mr. Kubrick so ridiculously nominated? THE SHINING! Yes, the movie widely considered to be the greatest horror in the history of cinema was indeed chosen as one of the worst directed feature films of 1980. If this unforgivable travesty doesn’t prove the lingering pointlessness of the Golden Raspberry Awards, then I don’t know what will because in every sense of the word, THE SHINING is an absolute masterpiece of psychological terror that burrows into the darkest recesses of the soul and leaves a lasting impression on everyone who sees it.
Based on Stephen King’s 1977 novel of the same name (although King would famously distance himself from this adaptation and produce a more faithful yet far lesser TV mini-series some 17 years later), THE SHINING tells the story of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a struggling writer who takes on the demanding role of the Winter caretaker of the remote Overlook hotel. Bringing along his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and his gifted child Danny (Danny Lloyd) for the extended stay, Jack sees the disquieting isolation of his job as a good chance to get his writing career back on track and soon, his typewriter is very busy indeed. However, little does the former alcoholic know that his temporary home houses many malevolent spirits and as the falling snow begins to cut the family off from the rest of the world, the murderous intentions of the hotel start to invade Jack’s already cracked mind.
On its surface, THE SHINING may appear to be like any other haunted house thriller, with an innocent group of people falling victim to an evil entity. However, like an archaeological dig, the deeper you explore THE SHINING, the more there is to uncover, to debate and to ponder over. Many books and documentaries have been made regarding the supposed themes and subtexts purposefully inserted into the movie by the notoriously meticulous Kubrick and for decades, the film has been a consistent source of discussion for cinephiles and horror lovers alike. Replete with strange imagery and shot in an intensely claustrophobic fashion, THE SHINING is a consistently beguiling and often disturbing watch that has long remained a high watermark for the genre and with consistently beautiful cinematography and typically innovate direction from Kubrick as well as some of the finest performances to be seen in any horror picture, it’s an extremely entertaining watch even if 100% of it isn’t fully explained or even understood.
Jack Nicholson is absolutely terrific as the psychologically damaged author whose vices prove to be the perfect magnet for the evil forces of the hotel and there are times that the actor delivers a line or pulls a face that is genuinely terrifying to behold. One key scene has the character of Jack menacing his wife on the towering stairs of the hotel and it is one of the most intensely deranged things ever put to film. Of course, Nicholson is great as the lucid Jack but it is when the character goes completely berserk and waves the iconic axe that his performance really becomes something indelible. It’s one of the actors finest ever roles and the movie for which I believe Jack Nicholson will be forever remembered.
Child actors are usually criticised for their work in horror movies but little Danny Lloyd is absolutely terrific as the innocent boy whose special psychic talents unintentionally bring about the chaos that befalls him and his parents. Assertive yet vulnerable, it’s a very intense performance and Lloyd is more than a match for the tribulations that both the script and Kubrick throw at him over the course of THE SHINING's 2 hour running time. His croaky murmurings of the word “REDRUM’’ alone surely stand out as one of the most unforgettable set pieces in the history of the horror genre and never fail to send shivers up my spine.
For years, both Nicholson and Lloyd have been lauded for their work in THE SHINING and quite rightly so. However, while they regularly receive critical acclaim, their co-star Shelley Duvall is conversely criticised for her wide-eyed portrayal as the hysterical Wendy. Like Kubrick, the actress was shamefully nominated for a Razzie and to this day, her work in THE SHINING splits even the most fervent of fans. This is a travesty because her portrayal of Wendy is nothing short of absolutely extraordinary. It’s a pained, tortured, broken and desperately heart-breaking performance that serves as the emotional anchor of the entire movie and she carries the weight with amazing bravery and courage. The harrowing ordeal that Kubrick put Duvall through in getting the performance he wanted for his film is well documented and very sadly, the psychological effects of her work on THE SHINING have left deep scars that may never truly heal. No actor should ever have to suffer at the hands of a director but Shelley Duvall is completely spellbinding here and delivers what I consider to be the greatest performance given in any horror movie released in the 80’s. Just watch the iconic “Here’s Johnny!” scene again and focus on just how convincing the pure terror is in her tearful eyes. Simply incredible.
Despite receiving mixed reactions upon its initial release from both critics and, as previously mentioned, Stephen King, THE SHINING is regularly considered to be one of the greatest horror movies ever made - and for very good reason. It’s an intensely harrowing and often shockingly violent experience that asks many questions and leaves it’s audience to ponder it’s many disturbing riddles and remains for me the finest achievement in the career of the great Stanley Kubrick. With some of the most celebrated set pieces and iconic imagery in all of horror as well as a nightmarish synth score from Wendy Carlos which expertly accentuates the movies’ relentless atmosphere of dread, THE SHINING stands as a true behemoth in both cinema and pop culture whose haemorrhaging elevators, splintered doors and highly quotable dialogue will remain as immortal as the ghosts that will forever haunt the corridors of the Overlook.