The Test of Time: The Shining (1980)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they continue to be must see? So…the point of this here column is how a film stands against the Test of Time, if the thing holds up for a modern horror audience.

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Scatman Crothers

Winter can be a bitch, a brutally cold, miserable season with snow, ice, and… murder? Sometimes it happens. Now many movies (horror and non-horror) have been set during the time of Jack Frost, but not a lot of ‘em seem to truly capture the relentless, lonely cold of winter. THE THING comes to mind (I swear each viewing of it results in a lost toe to frostbite).

But leave to a semi-mad genius like writer/director Stanley Kubrick to adapt one of semi-mad genius Stephen King’s best novels to not only make viewers feel the hurt of winter, but to immerse us into a psychological mind f*ck. Now many of Kubrick’s movies get the label of “classic” (small films like 2001, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, FULL METAL JACKET), but does Kubrick’s horror entry hold up against the Test of Time?

Under the examination: THE SHINING.

"No, Dad, you look just fine." 

THE STORY: Struggling writer/father/alcoholic Jack Torrance can’t catch a break after he’s fired from his teaching position. However, when he lands a new gig as winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel in Colorado, it’s a position that will give him all the peace and quiet he’s desired for so long. Unfortunately for Jack, things don’t turn out swell as he’s either being possessed/haunted by ghosts or he’s losing his marbles. Even more unfortunate for his family, Jack ends up wanting them all dead. His wife and son's only hope comes from the boy's special gift of shining, and the Overlook's cook who explains most everything viewers need to know.  

"Don't mnd me. I can just read your son's thoughts."

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: THE SHINING opens to perfection. That long, slow sweeping helicopter view of a Colorado lake and endless pine trees sets up everything. Sure, it looks neat and all, but it also plays like a wandering spirit finally catching up to its prey that happens to be driving a shitty yellow VW. From there, the movie creates a perfectly slow build, allowing freaky to emerge in just the right spots. 

Never in a rush, THE SHINING avoids the traditional cheap horror genre gotcha gags or overtly stupid decisions by characters. Instead, it gives us subtleties. We get hints of Jack’s hidden issues with anger and booze. We get hints of Wendy’s salacious affair with Popeye (kidding, more like her damaged and frail psyche). We get hints that their son Danny is one of three things: a) a normal kid with an invisible talking finger friend; b) he’s a wacko; c) he’s got a special gift that lets him shine. 

Speaking of kids, I usually think kid actors ruin movies. Not their fault. They’re young and do what they’re told, but most of the time they still suck, pulling me out of a story. Young actor Danny Lloyd doesn’t though as young Danny Torrance. Kubrick doesn’t require too much of him (some dialogue, lots of blank looks), and his best scenes come from those long, freakin’ fantastic tracking shots of him riding his three-wheeler down the halls. Such a simple concept made so hauntingly eerie as his plastic wheels transition from wood to carpet over and over (and those twins don’t hurt the creep factor).  

Could that maze symbolize the human psyche? Na...

Nicholson by nature looks like a psychopath, which did go against King’s vision for the character. Obviously it would have been a different movie with another actor (King thought DELIVERANCE’s Jon Voight was perfect), but Nicholson owns the role. He might look unhinged too quickly (like in the first scene), but the man plays the best kind of nutty. During the “Interview” in his first scene, Jack already looks haunted, ready to snap. Forty-five minutes in, (on “Tuesday”), he tells Wendy to “Get the f*ck out of here” after typing and ranting like a loon. And he only goes downhill from there as moments later he stands at a window (with a snazzy sweater) with murder and mayhem oozing from him. 

Shelley Duvall could be called the weak link, but it’s tough to blame the actress as she went through hell during the production. She never looks in charge or as if she could defeat Jack, but that makes her survival all the more powerful. And I’ve always loved Scatman Crothers portrayal of Dick Hallorann. He seems so damn earnest yet caring. I never doubt his motivations (even with that funky painting in his room). 

And what can I write about Kubrick. THE SHINING (like all his works) looks fantastic of course, with his obsession over camera angles, colors, set design. Shit, his anal attention to EVERYTHING is what makes it a work of damn near perfection. While a lot of things are left unexplained (especially if a viewer never read the novel) in scenes like that brief furry sex party, it only adds to the insanity that the Overlook brings out. 

Nothing to see here. 

WHAT BLOWS NOW: Umm, not much. I know people exist who have issues with Kubrick’s THE SHINING (King being one of them). But I don’t agree. It’s a beautiful looking, continually haunting film. I think a lot of people’s complaints come from playing the compare and contrast game with King’s novel. I’ve read it and completely loved it (and I’m part way through Dr. Sleep now). Are there differences? Sure. A lot of them. But I don’t understand people who want books exactly the same as the film. Two different animals serving two different masters. It’s fine to do something new with the material. Otherwise, how can a movie surprise?

THE VERDICT: A lot of horror movies have been fantastic and others are better than THE SHINING, but how many genre flicks seem epic, larger than our comprehension, that actually feel classy despite the madness and blood? I can’t think of any. With Kubrick in charge, THE SHINING is a film where its horror will never fade, and Jack will continue to f*ck up kids for decades to come. 



Now that's a behind the scenes photo. 



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