Year: 1980 Director: Stanley Kubrick
Based on the novel by Stephen King, The Shining tells the story of ex-teacher and would be writer Jack (played by Jack Nicholson) who gets a job caretaking a hotel closed for the off season in the secluded mountains of Colarado. His takes along his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their young son Danny. In their isolation Danny begins to experience a mysterious telepathic / clairvoyant powers ("the shining") and sees visions of previous guests of the hotel. Jack meanwhile is experiencing writers block, which gnaws away at him, and with the isolation fever biting he begins a descent into madness, with his family locked in the hotel alone with him.
The Shining was released without over much praise by the critics. Perhaps the 5 year wait since Stanley Kubrick's previous film Barry Lyndon meant expectations were inordinately high. What perhaps the critics did not like was the idea that the film fell into the category of achieving style over substance. Whilst it is true that the basic storyline is relatively straightforward, the film, like the original book, hinges on the atmosphere of underlying foreboding terror being maintained. Kubrick achieves this with absolute mastery. Visually the film is stunning with Kubrick's long term cinematographer John Alcott doing some terrific work with both the wide angle shots, and in particular the now legendary steadicam work that has since passed into movie legend. The performances of both Nicholson and Duvall were again not universally acclaimed at the time, but repeated viewings of the film show what great performances they have given and the respective mania and abject terror seem actually truly believable rather than over the top (as their performances were originally viewed by the critics). Not even a superb cameo performance by the legendary Scatman Crothers (the voice of Hong Kong Phooey) could help the films reception with the critics. The performances of Nicholson and Duvall were no doubt helped by the frustrating and nerve shredding way that Kubrick works. His perfectionist streak often leading to scenes being shot over and over again many tens of times (sometimes over a matter of days). Added to this, the constant script tweaking and it's little wonder Nicholson and Duvall managed to portray, respectively, the mania and nerve jangling teror so convincingly. It probably did Kubrick little good either as it took him another seven years to release his next film (1987's A Full Metal Jacket). The Shining appears to be a film where the critics got it wrong. Perhaps their expectations of a Stanley Kubrick film were not met, or maybe it was ahead of its time, but The Shining now enjoys a much better reputation and is quite rightly, a firm favourite of many horror fans - including us.
The Shining features in our Interactive Haunted House of Horror guide to horror films and scary movies.
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