Since we are less than a week out from Halloween, let’s take a minute and talk about one of my personal favorite horror films. It has become such a favorite of mine that I generally watch it on Halloween day as a matter of tradition. This testament to the macabre is The Shining (1980) by legendary director Stanley Kubrick.

What by today’s horror standards would be considered a “slow burn”, The Shining details a descent into madness that is unrivaled in film. From that long opening establishing shot of the drive to the Overlook Hotel to the frantic race through the hedge maze in the blinding snow, to the very last reveal, Kubrick constructs a visual master’s class on direction.


It is important to not place all the credit onto the shoulders of Kubrick, but to also marvel at the work of the actors. Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall both give performances which are outstanding and in some cases defining. That image of Jack (Nicholson) busting through the door with the ax in hand delivering the famous line; “Heeeere’s Johnny!”, is indelible.

In all actuality, The Shining is full of moments and scenes on par with that iconic series of frames. The very first trailer for The Shining that was shown in cinemas consisted of just the stationary shot of the elevator doors sitting closed while gallons and gallons of blood start spilling out. How awesome is that? The trailer doesn’t tell you anything about the movie, just the title, director and who’s in it… all overlaying a scene with an ocean of blood! Even better, Kubrick said it was “rusty water” in order to make it pass the MPAA board!

In my opinion too many good films are slightly maimed by their trailers. Two great examples of this are What Lies Beneath (2000) and Cast Away (2000) which coincidentally both came out the same year and have the same director (Robert Zemeckis). Even though I said we would have a five year grace period for spoiler warnings and the trailers really do give these things away, I am going to do one here anyway. Soooo…

SPOILERS AHEAD

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The trailer for What Lies Beneath literally tells you that Harrison Ford is the villain, while half the actual movie is built around this being a HUGE surprise… bad trailer! Then Cast Away goes and does the exact same thing (well mostly, it doesn’t say that Tom Hanks is the villain or anything), it blatantly shows that Tom Hanks gets off the island… bad trailer! I understand the need to show flashy things to get people into the cinema, but please take a page from The Shining, don’t do it at the expense of giving away the plot.
Okay, stepping off one soap box and onto another.
I know Stephen King did not like Kubrick’s film version of his novel, but I think it is the best adaptation of one of his novels to date. Carrie (1976) and Pet Sematary (1989) are both good (namely the killer Ramones song at the end of Pet Sematary) but they cannot hold a candle to The Shining (maybe The Green Mile (1999) or Shawshank Redemption (1994) come close). King’s description of the movie version as “a fancy car without an engine” is particularly unfair, especially when you look at the subtle craft found in the film itself. As an experiment, try and find the color red spread throughout the movie, it is everywhere. Granted, King had only been a big name writer for less than a decade, but he stands by his opinion of this adaptation.
I, of course, disagree. I think Kubrick actually streamlines and improves the plot and builds a much creepier story. The unorthodox way Kubrick treated Duvall, which by all accounts was traumatizing, got the best performance imaginable. She really does look beat down, tired and stress out so that by the time Jack (Nicholson) loses it, she is genuinely terrified. Even Jack Nicholson expressed how difficult it was working with Kubrick, but the ends justifies the means sometimes.

animated animated GIF
In summary, The Shining is actually in my Top Ten favorite movies of all time, mostly due to the outstanding cinematography, direction and acting. The story is wonderful of course, but if you take away visually striking scenes like Danny (Danny Lloyd) riding his big wheel around the hotel, or the part with the twin Grady girls, or that truly odd and scary scene of the people in the animal masks, the story is only so good.
Kubrick and company elevate the story and transcend the plot to make an insanely great example of “modern horror”. If you go away with nothing else from this post, go away with this axiom…
the shining animated GIF

Happy Halloween!

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6 thoughts on “Greetings From the Overlook Hotel

  1. Hey Joe, have you read The Shining? How would you compare the book to the movie? I LOVE the movie so much, and in this one solitary instance, I kind of think the movie was better than the book. (Gasp! Scandal!!!) The scene with the twins based on that creepy Diane Arbus photo haunt me.

  2. Thanks for commenting! I like the book okay, but I think I am like you on this one… I LOVE the movie. In a way I just think the film visually illustrates the collapse of Jack Torrance better than the novel. I am not sure if it is because of the gradually increasing elements of ghostly happenings, or the skillful visual images that stick with us as the viewer (such as those Grady Twins) but the movie just puts you there in the Overlook with the Torrance family in a way that I think the book could not.

    It is so hard to make a movie better than the book nine times out of ten, but I believe that The Shining does just that.

    I am hard pressed to come up with the creepiest image from the movie, but I think I would go with that random (and I do mean COMPLETELY random) shot of the people with the animal masks in the bedroom. That quick shot is just so out of place and spooky that it sticks with me.

    For funsies, look up Shining IKEA Commercial in Google. I had a good laugh at that!

    Again thanks for commenting!

  3. Hey Joe!

    I love this movie. I actually saw before reading the book, and agree with you completely about the trailer. It’s totally creepy, but totally vague at the same time–a tricky combo to pull off effectively. Of course, one could argue that having Kubrick’s and King’s names attached is enough to bring people into theaters, so it hardly matter what they even put in the trailer.

    Still! Another trailer that I think works on a similar level is the one for Dario Argento’s “Suspiria.” Again, very creepy, very vague. Good stuff.

    The only thing that makes me sad about “The Shining” nowadays is that, since there’s a sequel out, if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book before, then you go into it knowing that Danny survives.

    1. Hey Laurel!
      I like to pretend there is no sequel to The Shining! Seriously though, I completely understand that, at least he named it Doctor Sleep, so it remains at least sort of vague. I have also heard that they (whoever “they” are) are planning on making a movie prequel to The Shining which I think is completely unnecessary.

      The Susperia trailer is great. Dario Argento is often left out of the conversations regarding great 70’s and 80’s horror directors. I also have to give a plug to the awesome Goblin soundtrack used in that movie.

      If you like the Susperia trailer, check out the fake trailer by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) for a movie called Don’t which was part of the fake trailers shown in theaters with Grindhouse (2007). It nails the feel of the Susperia trailer while being really funny at the same time. It’s fried gold!

      Have a Happy Halloween!

  4. What??? Sacrilege!! 🙂 I found The Shining to be one of the scariest books I ever read. The description of the fire hose unraveling while Danny is riding his bike in the hallway–pure unadulterated spookiness!

    1. I agree, Jodie. I think The Shining is a phenomenal book and one of King’s spookiest. I think it’s scarier even than Salem’s Lot.

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