By Christina Moreno
The Shining – 1980 – dir. Stanley Kubrick
The Shining is one of the most respected and well-crafted films of the twentieth century. There are few horror films that rise above the campy reputation of the genre, but those that do remain embedded in the nightmares of the millions of people who dared to watch them. The ability to create fear within an audience is difficult, to say the least. But the ability to keep that fear alive after the movie is over, to keep a person looking over her shoulder while she walks back to her car, is something even the most seasoned filmmakers have trouble doing. The most disturbing aspect of The Shining is that the terror doesn’t rely on the ghosts or the bloody past of the Overlook Hotel. It is the intense isolation of winter coupled with Jack Torrance’s spectacular fall into madness that provides the wonderful (or terrible, depending on if you enjoy being scared) adrenaline rush of fear. With memorable performances by Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall, Danny Lloyd, and Scatman Crothers, The Shining is an iconic horror film that continues to scare new generations of viewers.
The film is an adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name. While the basic plot remains the same, author and director had different visions of the story. I won’t compare the two, but I will say that I’m a fan of both book and film and I recommend becoming familiar with either. The film follows Jack Torrance, a writer, who takes on the job of the winter caretaker at The Overlook hotel. Due to intense snowfall and the harsh conditions of the mountain location, the hotel shuts down for the season and any who are inside the hotel will be completely snowed-in and isolated from any civilization. Jack sees it as an opportunity to get some writing down, but is warned by the manager that the previous caretaker went on a horrible rampage after going mad—he killed his wife, children, and finally himself. The hotel is revealed to have been built on an Indian burial ground and as all horror movies teach us, this leads to haunted buildings, portals to hell, and general spiritual unrest, if you will. The Overlook is no different.
This blatant foreshadowing of events does nothing to change Jack’s mind, and so he moves his wife and son in. This is where the movie begins to get scary, but mostly because the audience can feel the unease. We can already assume that this situation isn’t going to end pleasantly. All ghosts aside, the real terror comes from Jack Torrance’s unraveling. The lethal combination of the isolation of the winter with the emptiness of the large hotel is what poisons Jack’s mind and turns him into a axe-wielding psychopath. The Overlook spooks are merely the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Boredom is frustrating to the average person, but three-months in an empty hotel with no one but your wife and kid, a typewriter, a heavy case of writer’s block, and a hotel that carries oceans of blood within the elevators, can lead any supposedly sane man to murder. I mean, my family can barely sit together when the power is out for more than a few hours. Digressions aside, what more can be said about The Shining that hasn’t already been observed? It’s scary the first time you watch it, and will probably scare you the second and third time you sit down to enjoy it. Because this isn’t a horror movie you can see once and be done with—it lingers like a ghost in the room.