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Come Play With Us, Danny

August 3rd, 2011 · 2 Comments

“The real problem is that Kubrick set out to make a horror picture with no apparent understanding of the genre. Everything about it screams that from beginning to end, from plot decision to the final scene — which has been used before on The Twilight Zone.” Stephen King interviewed for Playboy Magazine, June 1983

The Shining (1980)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick & Diane Johnson, based on the novel by Stephen King
Produced by Stanley Kubrick
146 minutes (original U.S. theatrical version)/ 144 minutes (U.S. theatrical version)/ 119 minutes (international version)

Debating whether or not Jack Nicholson’s fortissimo performance in The Shining — as a family man who slips into homicidal insanity during his season as caretaker of a haunted hotel — needed to be played at such a high volume is like debating whether Jimi Hendrix really needed to light a perfectly good electric guitar on fire at Monterey Pop. There may have been a perfectly good exercise in gothic terror and things that go bump in the night lurking within Stephen King‘s novel, but the film version was designed and constructed by Stanley Kubrick. Drawn up as a last will and testament to the horror genre as far as the high and mighty Kubrick was concerned, the film inflicts such psychic trauma on the viewer that it needs a joker like Jack in the deck to soften its wicked blow.

Striking ominous chords from the start, schoolteacher Jack Torrance (Nicholson) accepts a six month stint as caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, encouraged that winter’s isolation will give him time to outline a novel. The general manager feels obligated to mention a tragedy in which a previous caretaker killed his wife and two daughters with an axe before shooting himself. Jack responds that his wife — a fan of “ghost stories and horror films” — will be thrilled. The skittish Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) finds the illustrious hotel spooky, while 7-year-old Danny (Danny Lloyd) receives visions of the future that are nothing short of terrifying. A departing cook (Scatman Crothers) confides to the boy that they share a special power his grandmother called “shining”. Assured there’s nothing  to be scared of, Danny senses something bad lurking at the Overlook, particularly in Room 237.

Warner Bros. president John Calley knew that Stanley Kubrick had an interest in the paranormal and sent him a galleys copy of The Shining in 1977. Ignoring a first draft Stephen King had been contractually guaranteed to author, Kubrick adapted a script with novelist Diane Johnson, who was teaching a course on the gothic novel at UC Berkeley. Certain exterior shots of the Overlook Hotel would be filmed at the Timberline Lodge, on the slopes of Mount Hood in Oregon. The vast majority of the film — including the hedge maze — was manufactured at Elstree Studios outside London. Filming commenced in May 1978 and given Kubrick’s refusal to be hurried through a schedule, didn’t wrap until April 1979. Kubrick tinkered with his film even after it was in U.S. theaters for five days, cutting an epilogue in which the general manager visits Wendy in the hospital.

The film departed so radically from his book  that Stephen King authored the teleplay for a 4-hour mini-series version that aired on ABC in 1997. Kubrick ignored many of the elements King found eerie — an elevator, a firehose, animal shaped shrubs — to focus instead on a child’s subconscious dread of a parent turning into a monster. The magnificence of The Shining is how Kubrick exploits that fear viscerally. Snippets of a blood soaked future flash through Danny’s mind while the corridors of the hotel breathe with living images of the past. Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind provided electronic sound elements, which Kubrick sourced with music from classical composers György Ligeti and Krzysztof Penderecki to create one of the most unnerving film scores ever. Criticized at the time for not watching enough horror movies, the bottom line is that Kubrick’s vision is scary as hell.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 423,027 users: 91% for The Shining

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: N/A

What do you say? The fan trailer below was superior to any I could find from Warner Bros.

Tags: Ambiguous ending · Based on novel · Bathtub scene · Dreams and visions · Famous line · Father/son relationship · Midlife crisis · Mother/son relationship · Paranoia · Psycho killer · Road trip · Supernatural · Woman in jeopardy

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Thomas Pluck // Aug 3, 2011 at 6:55 am

    I love this movie. And I love Stephen King, though after seeing the miniseries version I’ve put off reading the novel a while… ghosts managing boilers… not so sure.
    And you hit the nail on the head, this movie is about dread. People complain that Jack goes nuts immediately, but it’s obvious he’s been spiraling downward for a long, long time.

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Aug 5, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Tommy: I’ve been a fan of King’s short stories since I could have nightmares, but his novels have never been my cup of tea. I think his resentment of the Kubrick film is a good lesson for authors who engender enough success to have Hollywood pay attention to them: take the check and walk away. Thanks for commenting!

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