5 reasons ‘The Shining’ will scare you half to death
Spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen The Shining, read on at your own risk.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining, an adaptation of the book by Stephen King, stars Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, Shelley Duvall as his wife Wendy Torrance, and Danny Lloyd as their young son, Danny. Jack Torrance — a recovering alcoholic, struggling writer and former schoolteacher — brings his family to the isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains to serve as caretaker of the hotel while it closes down for the winter season. Cue maniacal laughter…
Here are five reasons why The Shining is among the greatest horror movies of all time:
1. Stephen King
The master of horror wrote The Shining. Although the screenplay strays from the book, the basic themes are present: a slightly off-kilter father and husband slowly degenerating into madness, a son with a psychic gift, a gorgeous hotel shrouded in evil that lures the Torrance family there to destroy them.
Probably the scariest thing about the movie is that it’s not so far removed from reality as to seem totally implausible. Although it weaves in themes of the paranormal, the characters and the situations seem decidedly real. The movie makes you believe in a world where past and present merge, where dead men who murdered their families have conversations with live men about to do the same.
2. The Set and Cinematography
Director and producer Stanley Kubrick succeeded in creating his own vision for The Shining while staying true to King’s basic plot. He brings the terror inherent in the book to life through the massive, ornate backdrop of the hotel and his choice of camera angles and use of the Steadicam. From the panoramic opening sequence high above the Rocky Mountains to the eerie shots that trail the young Danny Torrance from behind as he rides his Big Wheels through the hotel, the mood of isolation in an emotional and physical sense is well-established.
3. The Music
The Shining has one of the best, if not the best, movie soundtracks of all time. The music is able to convey a sense of movement as well as emotion, often washing over the listener like a wave, stabbing like an icy-hot pitchfork, or giving the strange but distinct impression one is swimming in a sea of knives. The shrill, piercing strings, swooning tubas, odd bells and random voices become another character in the movie.
4. The Acting
Realistically, Jack Nicholson has to do very little to seem clinically insane. But in this movie, Nicholson is able to lend the character of Jack Torrance with subtle shades of insanity that intensify throughout the movie until he ultimately loses his mind. In the beginning of The Shining, Torrance just seems short-tempered and slightly off. By the movie’s end he has become a raving psychotic possessed by the hotel, and Nicholson’s work allows this to happen gradually but believably.
Opposite a major star like Nicholson, Shelley Duvall more than holds her own as the damsel in distress who ultimately saves herself. Duvall brings to the character a sense of both resourcefulness and helplessness as she watches her husband slip into madness and sees her son retreat into himself as a result of his disturbing psychic visions.
Danny Lloyd plays the Torrance’s young son with a maturity that belies his years. Lloyd brings to his psychic character an understanding of things that would be lost on the average 7-year-old.
5. The Twins, Redrum, The Woman in the Bathtub and the Elevator Full of Blood
Probably the greatest thing about The Shining is that the terror is mostly psychological, not physical; unlike many horror movies, there is little gore involved and there are virtually no special effects. There are however, frequent shots of the world’s eeriest-looking set of twins, a tidal wave of blood rushing out of an elevator at the hotel, Danny Torrance’s chanting of “Redrum” that precedes the climax of the movie, and a beautiful woman in one of the hotel rooms that turns out to be a long-deceased and decayed body in a bathtub.
It’s these chilling moments interspersed with the psychological breakdown of Jack Torrance in the grip of the hotel that make for a truly spine-tingling horror experience.