He's not alright Jack
Quite often you hear people say that "The Shining" is one of the greatest horror movies ever made and there is no doubt it is an iconic movie which gave us the iconic image of Jack Nicholson's face peering through a smashed door. But here is the thing, watching "The Shining" now for the first time, some 30 years after it was released, is it still a great horror but has it stood the test of time. By the reaction of those who I persuaded to watch it for the first time it's not as horrific as they expected, in fact some found it quite boring and said it was overrated. As for me, well I watched "The Shining" for the first time in the 90s and whilst I thought and still think it is a brilliantly crafted and ambiguous horror movie it's more psychologically creepy than scary.
Looking for some peace and quiet to work on his writing, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), his wife and son head up to the Overlook Hotel to act as caretakers for 5 months whilst the hotel is closed. Whilst Jack is informed about a previous caretaker who went so crazy that he slaughtered his family, he doesn't tell either his wife or son, but Danny (Danny Lloyd) has a special gift and has visions of the previous caretakers family. But it seems to be happening again as Jack whilst trying to write starts suffering from cabin fever completely losing it and going after his family when a vision tells him he must correct them.
Now to be upfront I've not read Stephen King's novel but I am aware that Stanley Kubrick's vision differs from the original story. Maybe that is in my favour as it stops me from feeling disappointed by the changes but what is for certain is that Kubrick's vision is a mixed bag. The opening 30 minutes as we get the build up to the Torrance's taking on the caretaking role is purposefully slow going, it almost meanders, biding it's time as we as an audience are basically given a view of the landscape, the various areas of the hotel and the surroundings. And at the same time it sets up the spooky history of the hotel as Jack is informed of the caretaker who in 1970 went crazy and slaughtered his family, which I have to say is very forced, almost spoon feeding us with what to expect. Plus of course we learn of young Danny's special gift where he can see things that others can't, with Kubrick never really explaining why Danny has this gift to add some mystery to things.
But then get past these 30 minutes and the Torrance's having settled in to the hotel and "The Shining" as well as Kubrick steps up a gear. From a visual perspective we not only have the creepiness of the visions which young Danny sees but we also get Kubrick's use of camera shots which extend deep down corridors, highlighting the repetitiveness of the hall ways. And from a storyline point of view we first witness Jack starting to loose it, struggling to write, becoming short in temper and basically becoming an arsehole. But again there is an ambiguity to this as whilst we know there are strange things going on we are never entirely sure to begin with whether Jack has this hidden side with a short fuse or whether he is going mad.
And as "The Shining" Progresses we get more of the same as the intensity levels rise, be it more moments of Kubrick brilliance with camera angles or more creepiness such as what is in room 237, a scene which I must admit lead to a scene that caused chills to run down my spine. And of course we have the element of Jack going totally loopy, seeing things and going after his wife and son leading to the iconic shot of Jack's head peering through the bathroom door he is just smashed to pieces with an axe. On a visual level there is no denying that in "The Shining" Kubrick has crafted a horror movie which is full of stunning camera work and iconic shots and I'm not just on about that one of Jack but also of the actual hotel in all its snowy glory.
But here is the thing "The Shining" is not what many would call a horror movie these days. It isn't full of blood and gore and as such it is no surprise that modern audiences may not find it that frightening. But it is a movie which plays on your mind, Jack's deranged face, those eyes rising up into his eyelids and that grin it all plays on your mind and the more you think about it the more it creeps you out. It is very much an old fashioned horror of it's era where horror was as much about how a movie made you feel than what you saw.
Now whilst Stanley Kubrick has crafted a memorable movie it is two actors who make it creepy and the first of these is young Danny Lloyd. Maybe it's just me but a young kid who can fix a stare and deliver a mixture of being vacant and evil at the same time is serious creepy and that is what Danny Lloyd does time and again. He may not have much more to do than that, well that and cycle his trike down the long corridors but is enough to give you the heebie jeebies. But of course the other actor is Jack Nicholson who can play deranged like no one else. There is something about the way he stares and smiles whilst the rest of his face seems motionless which is simply evil and it is this which time and again brings the horror to the story. Yes there is the fact that Jack starts the movie very much a family man but by the end of it he is an evil, deranged monster but it is the amount of evil he brings which makes it memorable.
What this all boils down to is that there is no denying that "The Shining" is a brilliant movie especially on a visual level with Kubrick delivering many iconic scenes and camera angles. But for me this is a movie which is not so much scary but creeps you out the more you think about it and Jack's deranged face. In a way it is understandable why some who watch it for the first time now think "The Shining" is overrated because this is an old fashioned psychological horror rather than an in your face blood and guts movie.