After chopping a hole in the bathroom door with an ax, Jack Nicholson places his head firmly in between the broken wood, looks at his wife and says, “Here’s Johnny.” It is one of the most famous visuals to come out of any film in any genre. There is nothing scarier than a killer who stands inches from his prey, but takes the time to crack a joke and mess further with the mind of his potential victim. Moments like this are rarely seen in the horror genre today, as filmmakers tend to go for cheap thrills, torturous kills, high body counts with tons of bloodshed, and digitally enhanced villains. However, these newer “horror” movies fail to create illicit nightmares like Freddy Kruger’s evil laugh from Nightmare on Elm Street, Michael Myers’ evil presence in Halloween, or like Jack’s psychotic grin in The Shining.
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is an intricately constructed horror masterpiece that takes the haunted house story to a whole new level. The 1980 film stars Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, a writer who takes a job at the isolated Overlook Hotel as its off-season caretaker with his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Despite warnings of having a “tremendous sense of isolation,” hearing stories of a previous caretakers’ murderous rampage, or the fact that the hotel sits on an Indian burial ground, Torrance seems eager to make the move Colorado.
The Torrance family is dysfunctional from the start. It is so bad you can tell this is a story about a man’s hate for his wife and child - he's always writing and wanting to be left alone and never seems to have a relationship with his wife or son. Jack no longer drinks liquor because of the time he hit Danny during an alcoholic rage, and Wendy seems to be a doormat wife, who does nothing but annoy her husband. Danny has psychic powers called “shining,” which Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers), a chef at the hotel, talks about being a gift few have, but allows them to see things others cannot – like the events in room 237, blood spilling into a hotel corridor, or two little girls laying in pools of their own blood in the middle of a narrow, blue hallway. The family barely functions together as a unit, having only one genuine “family” moment: driving to the hotel; a moment where cannibalism becomes a topic of conversation. The Shining uses foreshadowing in the most blatant, in-your-face kind of ways, where you know something will happen. It’s just a matter of when, where and how.
The Shining shows why Kubrick is considered one of the great directors of all-time. Not only does he get top-notch performances from his cast, but he takes the horror genre to a new level by creating scenery that becomes a character in the movie. His use of the Steadicam (he had its inventor, Garrett Brown, working on the film) and a wide lens on the camera bring an eerie feeling to the movie and makes everything look like it is swallowing the characters – the hedge maze looks 12 feet high, as do the walls of the hotel. The constant movement of the camera makes it feel like each character is being followed by something, or someone. His complex and dizzying shots flow smoothly and give a supernatural feel – almost like Kubrick is the ghost watching these characters wander through an endless maze, much like the one in the garden of the Overlook. The set designs also incorporate Indian designs, bringing in the aspect of the Indian burial ground the hotel is built on.
The use of the Steadicam is especially important in this film, as it is one of the first to use the technique. With it, Kubrick is able to keep the camera low to the ground while following Danny as he rides a bicycle through the hotel floors – the plastic wheels making sounds when on wood but not on carpet – or when he’s running away from his ax-wielding father. Tag this smooth motion with chilling scores from György Ligeti and Wendy Carlos and The Shining becomes a thrilling movie that keeps you at the edge of your seat, waiting for the ball to drop, which it does - but on Kubrick’s time, not yours.
Nicholson’s performance is often cartoon-like and over-the-top, but that is why the character is as successful as it is. Kubrick needs Torrance to go from mild-mannered writer to family-stalking psycho slowly but surely. The layers this man is wearing have to be removed piece-by-piece, rather than stripping it all off at once. Scenes like “Thursday,” where Torrance stares out the window at Wendy and Danny playing in the snow, show a man starting to lose his marbles. It is also those types of scenes that make Wendy’s discovery of Jack writing thousands of pages saying, “All work, no play, makes Jack a dull boy” more shocking. Torrance has run-ins with supernatural forces, but never attempts to learn from them like his son, so they drive him over the edge – he even imagines drinking again, which is when his rage reaches its peak. Nicholson masterfully uses his ear-to-ear grin, his psychotic and playful laugh, and those deep, haunting and tired-looking eyes, to create one of the great psychopaths in movie history.
Kubrick also does a brilliant job of isolating all of the characters on this enormous set. Danny is often found playing with his trucks, riding his bicycle or watching cartoons by himself. Wendy, who often looks like a confused drug addict in need of a fix, is always found cooking or watching television alone. Jack is often found throwing a tennis ball against the walls, or writing at a large table in a gigantic room, throwing fits when Wendy interrupts.
While Kubrick masters his surroundings with peaceful yet creepy camera shots, and stellar performances, there are questions and flaws in the story – perhaps by Kubrick’s own design to leave out the specifics and have certain things remain open-ended. It is never addressed why Halloran has this ability to see things like Danny, but cannot see or feel danger from Jack until he is in Miami. It is never quite clear why Danny said Tony, the little boy that lives in his mouth, won’t let him talk about the “shining” but he divulges his secrets to Halloran in the kitchen. One of the minor and almost unnoticeable flaws comes at the beginning of the film when the name of the former caretaker who kills his wife and children is Charles Grady, but when he appears before Torrance, the man’s name is Delbert Grady (Philip Stone). These little unexplained gaps or inconsistencies in the story, however, do not take away from this being a thrilling horror movie. While it may not be Stephen King’s version of what happens, it is Kubrick’s – and in the filmmaking industry, that is really all that really matters.
The chills start as soon as the main menu pops up on both discs of this special edition of The Shining. You are instantly greeted with the chilling opening score from the movie as the screen turns blood-red, and the only other image is a doorway with the word “Redrum” scrawled across the middle. To give that supernatural feel to the disc, if you do not choose one of the options within a few minutes, the movie automatically begins.
On the first disc, each menu item has another chilling image on its page – the scene selection has the image of blood filling the hallways, while the special features section has an image of those creepy hall-dwelling Grady twins. The features on the first disc are limited to the theatrical trailer for The Shining, and a commentary by Steadicam inventor/operator Garrett Brown and historian John Baxter. While some portions of the commentary are interesting to listen to, especially since the Steadicam played such a large role in the making of the film, these two are not the people that should be talking about the movie. It’s features like these where you wish Nicholson, Duvall, or Kubrick (even though he died in 1999) were talking about the movie.
The second disc, however, is where the fun and adoration of Kubrick’s career is on display – and it’s not all just about The Shining. Some of the features make references to other Kubrick classics like A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon, while other features just talk about the legendary director. The one feature that remains from past versions of The Shining DVD editions is Vivian Kubrick’s documentary “The Making of The Shining.” The daughter of the legendary director made the film when she was 19-years-old. She captures behind-the-scenes moments of everything from Jack preparing to chop down the bathroom door where his wife is hiding to her father fighting on set with Duvall. While the documentary itself is an incredible homage to her father, his eye for detail and grueling work ethic, it gets even better if you turn the optional commentary on and listen to Vivian share the process of making this documentary, as well as thoughts of her father.
There are three new features for The Shining – all include in-depth looks at the making of The Shining and the career of Kubrick. The first new feature is “View from the Overlook: Crafting The Shining.” It includes a series of interviews with authors John Baxter and Paul Duncan, executive producer Jan Harlan, screenwriter Diane Johnson, actor/director Sidney Pollack, Steven Spielberg, William Friedkin, Nicholson, Crothers, award-winning cinematographers, and many more. It’s broken up into sections which dissect the director’s intentions with the story, the sets and the cast. The one thing I love about this 30-minute documentary is the fact that they all praise Kubrick’s work in a way that never seems like they’re being paid to say these things. Everyone that speaks about the film and its director, talks about things they love about the movie, whether it’s the way the typewriter sounds in the enormous hotel or the fact that Jack is almost comical in his approach to chopping down a door.
“The Visions of Stanley Kubrick” is another interview-driven documentary that focuses on the endless hours of work Kubrick puts into creating the look for The Shining. It talks about everything from his initial vision of the film to the way the creepy bluish lighting was achieved in the final scene of the film where Jack chases his son. It is another great feature that discusses Kubrick’s eye for detail, and love of photography. While the first documentary focuses on the making of The Shining, this feature focuses on the man behind the camera who is always in control. It’s another great feature, especially for Kubrick fans.
The final feature is simply called “Wendy Carlos, Composer,” and delves into the musical aspect of The Shining. Kubrick is known for his use of music, classical or otherwise, in all of his films. Kubrick and Carlos were a team for The Shining, as well as A Clockwork Orange. This interview features Carlos sitting in front of computers and playing music that appeared in the film, as well as some that didn’t. While it may not seem like a fascinating subject matter, if you listen to Carlos speak, it’s hard not to watch the entire seven minutes. She speaks so passionately about the music, as well as Kubrick, that you’ll want to listen to her as she directs the band with an imaginary baton while listening.
Kubrick is a filmmaker unlike any other. The man made a total of 16 films in a span of almost 50 years, and he has the respect and admiration of nearly every filmmaker imaginable – mainly because he did things on his own terms. Each of his films shows a meticulous attention to detail and an incredible knowledge of the camera. The Shining is just one of his masterpieces, and it’s about time it gets a two-disc special edition fit for a king.