The Shining

This could well be the greatest horror film ever made: chilling, visually stunning and featuring some excellent acting, it can hardly fail to scare. The Shining is a rare event in horror, it doesn't follow the usual format of b-grade acting, poor effects and predictable plot. Instead we are treated to a masterpiece with superb direction from Kubrick, incredible acting (especially from Nicholson) and a strangely original plot which is thankfully not too closely based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.

Jack's in a bad mood

The action takes place in the atmospheric and isolated Overlook Hotel. Jack Torrance (Nicholson) is a struggling writer who has agreed to act as caretaker of a large hotel while it is closed over the winter. He takes wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) to accompany him. His son has some psychic ability referred to as "The Shining". The film begins with the Torrance family driving to the hotel through some beautiful scenery. They arrive and, after being shown their quarters and duties, are abandoned for the winter months. The chef who shows them the kitchen recognises "The Shining" in young Danny and ominously warns him to avoid certain places in the hotel.

At first everything is fine, Jack has solitude to concentrate on his writing and Wendy and Danny have a huge hotel and grounds to explore. Soon they are snowed in and things begin to take a turn for the worse. It transpires that there are malevolent forces at work in the hotel and Danny's psychic gift allows him to tune into them. Unfortunately for the family Jack is not doing so well on the writing front and proves susceptible to evil suggestions. It doesn't take long before Jack is storming through the hotel, looking for his family, with murderous intent. How will they cope with a frighteningly off the rails Nicholson? Watch it and see.

Having read the Stephen King book The Shining I can safely say the film is infinitely superior. It is in fact one of the only examples I can think of where the film is much better than the book. The story has been simplified and this actually made it more believable, as the original book was too silly. The sense of mystery which Kubrick evokes comes in part from his failure to explain exactly what is going on, this allows people to interpret the film in different ways.

Kubrick's direction is superb, the whole film looks stark and is filled with terrifying images which brand themselves on your mind. Look out for the creepy twins, elevators filled with blood and amazing end shot. This film is also a very tense experience, the fear of Wendy and her son is almost tangible.

The Shining Poster

The acting is probably the highest standard ever achieved in a horror film. Nicholson is so good, completely believable. His character is pathetic at times, and intimidating at others. Over the course of the film we see him gradually descend into madness and produce an unforgettable acting display. Shelley Duvall is the archetypal whiny, wishy-washy female target. I actually think she is a little too good at it, because if I had to live with her I'd consider a murderous rampage myself. Danny Lloyd is probably the best kid actor I have ever seen in a film despite the intensely adult genre. He manages to be serious throughout and gives an impressively realistic portrayal which is cheese free.

The dialogue and soundtrack are also very important in making this film work. The scene where Wendy finds the typewriter and evidence of her husband's madness is thoroughly excellent. The sound is suitably creepy and atmospheric throughout and the deafening silence of isolation is also used to great effect.

This film has embedded itself in popular culture, every student in the western world has a poster of Jack leering menacingly through the broken door. There have been several appreciative nods to The Shining from several films and even one of The Simpsons Halloween specials. Stephen King proved himself a moron by complaining that he disliked Kubrick's film. He then made a TV version himself, which I thought was not fit to lick the dirt from the original's boots. I can only guess King is jealous that he has failed to come up with anything as scary as this, and that the book had to be altered for film to make it more frightening.

This film is a one-off, a never again to be repeated recipe, a benchmark for others to strive to reach. You don't need to be a horror fan to enjoy this and you can't be a horror fan until you've seen it. The most chilling, spooky and atmospheric film ever made. Just go and watch it.


Reviewed by Simon Hill

Return to Top