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Home > Reviews > Movies > THE SHINING (1980): Retro Review…HEEEERRRRE’S JOHNNY!!


The Shining – 1980

Everyone has their own favorites; from the American Film Institute to Fangoria Magazine to IMDB and every other website you can imagine, if you look you’ll find the “Top Ten Scariest Movies” lists.  As Fellow Fans, of course we all have our own, more personal lists of the same, going up to twenty, fifty, hell, one or five-hundred “scariest” flicks.  Being the horror nerd that I am, I try to check out all the lists that I can find, to 1) see if I agree, 2) look for horror films that may have slipped past me, and 3) to look for patterns.  If you do the research, you’ll find an amazing amount of solidarity on a handful of films that make almost everyone’s “top ten”, and almost without fail, you’ll find amongst those the 1980 Stanley Kubrick foray into outright horror, his version of the Stephen King novel, The Shining.

Jack Torrance certainly feels he is on the upward slope; he’s left his teaching job, and decided to pursue a career as a writer.  Now I’m here to tell ya, that’s not paying a lot o’ bills while you’re working yourself into it; to make ends meet for himself and his wife and son, he takes a job as a winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel, a large and storied (see what I did there?) structure high in the Rockies.  He knows that during the winter months the hotel becomes snowbound, but he feels that the isolation will be a good environment for him to write; his wife, Winnie, and son Danny come with him, the small nuclear family settling in to the monolithic hotel with a kind of wonder and excitement.  Winnie makes herself at home in the ginormous, fully-stocked kitchen, and Danny finds a veritable racetrack in the empty halls to ride his Big Wheel.  Unfortunately, that’s not all that young Danny finds; you see, he’s got a special gift, a telepathic/clairvoyant ability that some folks call “the Shine”, and people that have it can see things that others can’t…and boy, does Danny see some stuff; scary stuff.

No…this isn’t creepy at ALL…

In a hotel as old as the Overlook, there’s bound to be some bad stories, and bad stories leave bad energies…and as those energies begin to exert their grip on poor Jack Torrance, young Danny can only watch as his father is slowly overtaken by the dark powers that lurk in the crossbeams and shadowed nooks of the cavernous building, and the visions he sees are only a prelude to the horrors that are to befall his small family…

Chances are, Fellow Fans, you’ve seen this one, thus the short summary; many before me have summed up this film far better than I can; I will neither dishonor them nor embarrass myself by belaboring the issue.  For those of you that haven’t seen it…well, I certainly don’t want to spoil anything.

What I will say is that this film is deserving of all the praise heaped upon it; the psychological tension and sheer terror that it begets is truly something to experience.  Kubrick’s signature direction lends itself beautifully to an oppressive, atmospheric horror story, his use of wide angles and sound creating a pall of suspense and unease that has gone largely unequalled in the “haunted house” subgenre.  The set design, maximizing the use of things that simply “could not be” nurtures a subliminal sense of wrongness that you don’t really recognize on the surface, it just grinds on your mind.  Watch it more than once to see what I mean:  doors that can’t possibly lead anywhere, a television that runs with no power source, windows that can’t exist where they are seen…it’s these small bits of detail (attention to which Kubrick is hailed for) that spin the web of terror without any exposition being required.

…NEVER a good sign…

What exposition there is comes from the brilliant performances of the small, intimate cast:  Scatman Crothers is sympathetic and emotional as the Overlook chef, an outsider to the family that, having “the Shine” himself, seeks to aid the young couple and their child against the malignance he himself has sensed in the hotel.   Shelly Duvall (in what she calls the most harrowing experience of her acting career) is positively gut-wrenching in her portrayal of Winnie Torrance, trying to hold onto her sanity and protect her child as the man she loves transforms and unravels before her uncomprehending eyes.  Little Danny Lloyd literally “shines” in his role as Danny Torrance, the young actor making a completely convincing (and goddamn creepy) boy with a special gift come to life, dealing with a paranormal blessing in a fashion only a child could understand.  Finally, we have Jack Nicholson, breathing psychotic life into Jack Torrance; I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a more terrifying transformation on film than the one his character goes through.  This is especially unnerving since said transformation isn’t literally physical (although with his expressions and bodily motions, Nicholson creates a perfect semblance first of slipping sanity, and finally full-blown madness), but is instead expressed almost totally with facial expressions, tics, and vocal intonation; it’s truly a remarkable performance.

Heeerrre’s JOHNNY!!

It doesn’t make all those “top ten” lists (including that of yours truly) for being a crappy flick; for a genuinely frightening film, one that gets down deep in your mind, eschewing jump scares and special effects for an almost unbearable atmosphere of dread and terror, you’ll have a hell of a time finding a movie that does it better than this one.

Recommended, even if you’ve already seen it…c’mon, it’s almost Halloween; what are you waiting for?




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Andrew Thompson

Editor-In-Chief at LeglessCorpse
The Mouse...VP/co-owner of LC Films, Editor-In-Chief of your average guy with what is most likely an unhealthy affinity for horror movies, sci-fi, superheroes, bacon, old cartoons and horror movies. Oh, I almost forgot, I really dig horror movies; new ones, old ones, it matters not; I love 'em. Husband, father, veteran and scribbler. I like bacon as well. The Mouse abides 😉