The Shining (1980) [REVIEW]


Despite how universally praised this movie is by most horror movie fans, as well as fans of all movies, the creator of the source material, Stephen King, doesn’t even like it! What a kook! In fact, Mr. king disliked this movie so much that in 1997, he directed his own version and made it a two part miniseries for TV. I recently finished reading The Shining and because it was Halloween time, I figured it’d be a great time to revisit the movie. I enjoyed watching it so much that I watched it again the next time to try to do a better job of talking about it on the internet, so hopefully I don’t sound like a dummy when you read this. I have to admit, Stephen King did have some good points about what was done differently than the book and how that affected the movie, but I guess you’ll just have to read this review to find out what those things are! Hahaha! Tricked you into reading this!



Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and their son Danny (Danny Lloyd) are heading to a giant hotel in the Colorado mountains to take care of it for the winter. Jack looks forward to finishing his book, Danny looks forward to it because he doesn’t have many friends anyway, and Wendy is just glad to see the men in her life happy. Strange things start happening at the hotel, like Danny seeing the bodies of two girls who were murdered there, he has visions of blood rushing out of an elevator, and Jack holds conversations with the spirits of former employees. Jack’s outbursts become more and more extreme towards his family, and when Wendy and Danny try to defend themselves, that only pushes Jack further. Will Wendy and Danny be able to snap Jack back to reality before the spirits of the hotel pull him past the point of no return? You’ve probably already seen this movie, so it’s more or a rhetorical question.


Strange how 30 years ago, this outfit is something Shelley Duvall can naturally pull off, while Zooey Deschanel will try it and look like an idiot. LET ME JUST HOLD YOU, SHELLEY. I’LL MAKE THE BAD MAN GO AWAY.

There’s no question about whether or not the subject matter of the book was horrific, from a dad trying to kill his family to hedge creatures coming to life to ghosts to rotting bodies, so obviously the movie itself is going to be horrific, right? Not according to Mr. King. Although director Stanley Kubrick was no strange to terrifying elements in his movies, he had never made a more traditional “horror” movie, like one about a haunted hotel. One of King’s biggest complaints was the fact that he felt Kubrick didn’t shoot it like a horror movie, edit it like a horror movie, and seemed to not know how to make a horror movie. King has a point, as it’s not shot/edited like a traditional horror movie, but that’s what makes everything all the more horrific. Some of my favorite older horror movies, like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, or The Omen, are successful because the story is treated with respect and the film itself doesn’t give in to the trends of horror movie filmmaking up to that point. Similarly, The Shining has lots of really long takes, really long scenes, really wide shots, and although the soundtrack help sets the mood of the story, but isn’t used just to startle  the audience. Were Kubrick to have treated this like any other horror movie of the time, there’s no way it would’ve been nearly as effective as this movie was, and still is.


I think I’m one of the few people who aren’t incredibly terrified by these twins. I don’t know why, but creepy little kids don’t do it for me.

Believe it or not, one of the issues that Stephen King had with this movie was the casting of Jack Nicholson, who gives one of his most memorable, and terrifying, performances, and is definitely one of the most terrifying villains ever seen on screen. Unfortunately for Mr. Nicholson, King does kind of have a point in being upset with this casting decision. In the book, we get to see how great of a husband and father Jack Torrance is, despite some mistakes he’s made in life. By making the character so good, it was so much more painful to see him slowly descend into madness. As soon as viewers see Jack Nicholson, being familiar with his intensity, you don’t get to see as much of Torrance’s goodness. Not that you automatically think he’s a jerk or anything, just kind of ambivalent towards him, but once he irrationally snaps at Wendy 40 minutes into the movie, there’s no going back. At least in the book there was a little bit of redemption for the character. I think I’d call this one a draw because although the audience never really like Jack Torrance, it’s such an amazing performance from Nicholson and he’s such a ferocious character, you don’t really want to like him. Also, speaking of ferocity, I have to say that one of the most terrifying moments in not just this movie, but in any horror movie, is a segment involving Jack breaking down a door with an axe. Since Nicholson used to be a volunteer firefighter, the prop door that was made for him to break was destroyed very quickly. They replaced it with a much tougher door, and in this segment, when the camera pans to the left to follow the head of the ax, only to whip to the right as it tries to keep up with the velocity of the swing, you really believe the terror in Shelley Duvall’s screams from the other side of the door. Even though it’s a very memorable line, I can’t help but wonder how much that scene could have been heightened had Nicholson not followed the door’s destruction with “Heeeere’s Johnny!” By the way, I think Shelley Duvall was just as fantastic in this movie as Nicholson and I hope she regained her sanity that Kubrick completely destroyed while working with her on set.



In addition to those two big issues Stephen King had with the movie, there were multiple smaller changes that were a lot more sensible. In the book, there is a group of large hedge animals that come to life to attack Danny, but given the special effects available at the time, Kubrick opted to incorporate a giant hedge maze. In the book, Danny has visions of his father coming down a hallway and smashing the walls with a croquet mallet, which is a weapon Jack used on Wendy. Since the weapon was changed to an axe in the movie, the visions Danny had were of an elevator opening and blood pouring out and down a hallway. During Jack’s flashbacks in the books, he sees a masquerade party and one man is dressed up as a dog and acting very subservient to another man. These sequences aren’t really explored in the movie, except for one scene where Wendy is walking through the hotel, and when she looks down a hallway, she sees a man in a tuxedo on a bed and a man in a dog suit, probably doing some freaky perverted stuff, and then both of these men just stare at her. To me, that’s another one of the most terrifying, mysterious scenes in any horror movie. Masks are so creepy. It’s these subtle changes that I don’t think make one version better than the other, but I do have to point out that in the movie, the explanation for everything going on at the hotel was that it was built on an “Indian burial ground”. Seriously? That’s the best you could do? The book doesn’t really give any sort of explanation for why these things are happening, other than mentioning all the terrible things that have happened there. I’m sorry, Stephen, but I think Mr. Kubrick takes this round. Although the book is good, in typical Stephen King fashion, it takes him 700 pages to tell you a story that could have been told in 500. Another interesting point about the movie is that it’s typically in top ten lists of greatest horror movies of all time, yet there’s only ONE death on screen. Pretty impressive that it can have that reputation without having to show the gore that most movies rely on now. Although, seeing an old, naked, decomposing lady was pretty disgusting. I can’t wait to see what horror movie Stanley Kubrick makes next!


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4 responses to “The Shining (1980) [REVIEW]

  1. gotta say your all caps kill me now made me laugh out loud.

    Sent through the Apple Network of happy fruits.

  2. Pingback: Eraserhead - RetroSmack - 1977 - Smack 49 of 77·

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