Somehow I had never seen the classic horror film The Shining until a few days ago. The screenplay was based on the novel by Stephen King, and was directed by Stanley Kubrick. Released in 1980, it has since become known as one of the best-made horror films in the genre. Jack Nicholson’s performance is legendary, clips from his most madman scenes being shown over and over for the sheer horror. So I watched The Shining and was duly impressed.
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a writer who accepts a job at a resort in the off-season winter months as a caretaker. He feels he can do the job while still getting in plenty of good writing time. He and his family arrive at the expansive property in the mountains just prior to winter descending upon the landscape, the snow and storms making passage away from the resort nearly impossible.
His wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his son Danny (Danny Lloyd), each have their own problems, as does Jack. His son has a gift, or perhaps you could call it a curse, a telepathic sense that the chef of the resort, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) explains as “shining.” Danny, and Dick also, can see things or intuit things others cannot.
After a short time passes at the deserted resort, the three family members individually are haunted by images, ghosts, premonitions; who knows what they really are. The suspense is drawn out into a tight, thin line. It’s just the three of them in the main building; high ceilings, long hallways, huge industrial kitchen. Lots of opportunity for paranoia and drama.
Shelley Duvall played Jack’s frumpy wife Wendy perfectly. It’s hard to imagine anyone else looking so pathetic and homely as Shelley became for this role. Danny, the little boy, is so expressive, even when he is looking vacantly at something, he is totally believable. Mr. Kubrick must have had a good time directing him.
This is a very fine horror film. I appreciate Stephen King’s imagination and writing. He often writes stories about writers, their writer’s block, their insecurities as an author, and he plays this up with Jack, sitting at the typewriter in the large room every day. Jack chastises his wife for interrupting his writing; something I could relate to as writers get into a kind of meditative state when the story is flowing and the last thing we want is to be interrupted. I wouldn’t be as rude as Jack about it though!
Jack Nicholson is truly one of the finest actors of his generation. His face is so facile, so malleable, his emotions so raw and high, he really pulls off the persona of Jack as the disturbed caretaker/writer.
The film is rated R. There were some special features on the DVD that I didn’t watch, but die-hard fans may want to as it follows the interactions between the actors and director unfold as filming progresses. I recommend The Shining. It’s film history and a good scare.