David Martin visits The Overlook Hotel and explores the cult status that Kubrick’s film holds. All work and no play makes David a dull boy…
When is a film based on a book not a film based on a book? When it’s Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining. Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name it is famous for Nicholson’s seminal performance and the fact that King disowned it. Kubrick co wrote the screen play with Diane Johnson and chose to focus on the portrayal of Torrance rather than the supernatural elements of The Overlook itself. Don’t get me wrong they are still very much there but they are the push over the edge for Torrance rather than the insidious force King wrote about. I can think of plenty of films that use dramatic licence that takes them away from their novel origins, not many that actually end up being better than the novels themselves. Released in 1980, The Shining is now considered to be one of the best horror films ever made. In you face King!
|Wiggle that finger once more and I’ll snap it off|
The Shining tells the story of recovered, kind of, alcoholic Jack Torrance and his disastrous decision to take the job of the winter caretaker at The Overlook Hotel. Yeah, because that’s going to end well isn’t it? Resentful and angry at pretty much everyone, Torrance takes a job which shuts him away from any outside intervention in a place where there is no booze. Just irritating Wendy (played by the highly axable Shelley Duvall) and their son Danny, who is gifted with the most horrendous hair cut. Oh and then there’s Tony, Danny imaginary friend, who has a tendency to take over Danny and sometimes just his finger. The scene in which Wendy is chatting to Danny’s “Tony finger” makes me laugh every time. JUST STOP TALKING TO HIS BLOODY FINGER YOU STUPID RIDICULOUS HARPY! Anyway, they are soon off to The Overlook Hotel for six months of work and writing for Jack, hes a novelist dont you know? Wait just one minute, what sort of inept parenting is this? what about Danny’s schooling? Wendy has the sort of IQ that would be second to a house brick, just breathing is a real Krypton Factor sized task for her, so she isn’t going to home school him. Danny is just left to his own devices and spends most of the day getting lost in the maze with dippy Wendy or riding around on a push along car and showcasing The Overlooks impressively disgusting carpets. I find the carpets the most disturbing part of the film, they look like someone has vomited copiously in many shades of technicolour hideousness. No wonder the ghosts are restless, I would be apoplectic with poltergeisty rage.
|What do you mean you don’t like my singing?|
Danny isn’t just any sort of kid, oh no, he is an M and S kid and he has The Shining, a sort of pre cog with added possession and frothing at the mouth. When Danny arrives at the hotel he is greeted by Scatman Crothers, who doesn’t use the opportunity to showcase his dubious “singing” talent. Dick Halloran, and one becomes only too aware of what a dick he is later on, has got The Shining as well and alludes to the very current threat that The Overlook hides. It seems the last caretaker, Delbert Grady, went a little mad and chopped his family up into little pieces. At least he stacked them in the corner out of the way, there’s a good maniacal caretaker then. This would also explain the two twin, well there would be two wouldn’t there, girls that keep wanting Danny to play with them, dirty, horrible girls that they are. Not just content with a quick game of shove piggy shove or pitch and toss they want him to play with them forever, I have no words. Danny isn’t interested as he has become fixated with an even worse kind of carpet he has discovered in room 237 and goes for a quick look. Sadly, the very dead and very mouldy old lady takes exception to his carpet lust and promptly mauls the poor kid. Guess she didn’t like his haircut either. Poor Jack gets the blame for this, even though he has spent most of his time feverishly typing his magnum opus (isn’t that an eighties car), snigger. Wenchy Wendy goes all Duvall on him and Jack is rather miffed, taking out his rage on the innocent kitchen ware he finds. At this point Lloyd the ever so pale and possibly very dead Barman pops up and offers Jack a glass of Jack. Torrance gleefully accepts and The Overlook owns his very soul pushing him to further acts of murderous silliness and dubious dancing. The mood is rather spoilt when Grady spills Advocaat on him and Torrance decides Duvall and Danny need to die.
It turns out that Jack stepped out some time back, probably around the time he was staring at Wendy and Danny in the maze, nice juxtaposition from model to actual maze here. His novel consists of the phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” typed over and over with different font sizes and spacing. Nice, very nice but its a no from me! The scene in which he finally confronts Wendy on the stairs and announces he is going to “bash her brains the fuck in” always makes me giggle. Well come on, shes had that coming since the start of the film! Wendy runs around the hotel like a crazed chicken with its head cut off and is horrified to find that someone has filled the lift with ribena (other blackcurrant fruity drinks are available) and there are some guests doing the naughties with animal masks on.
|What do you mean black isn’t my colour|
REDRUM, REDRUM, Danny is a horsey race pundit now albeit with added bloody sharp knife. Cue lots of running around, hiding in a bathroom and “here’s Johnny” Torrance gets pissed off, axes the poor Halloran and freezes to death in the maze. Halloran, what a useless, half arsed hero he turned out to be. Danny communicates to him with The Shining, clearly operating on a sort
of, before its time, wifi or tinternet type of deal and Halloran realises that those dastardly Overlooky creeps are up to no good. He gets on a plane from his home in Florida, decorated in wonderful kitch 70’s decor and nudey ladies- boom-chicke-wa-wa. He then rents a snow plough and makes his way up to the hotel, fully aware of what he is walking into, where he shouts his arrival very loudly and gets axed in the chest by deranged Torrance. What a dick!
|Yes I’d love to murder Shelley Duvall|
That’s essentially the film and you can kinda see why King didn’t like it as there are several elements which are head scratchingly confusing. Are the manifestations real or just brought on by paranoid and Wendy’s bad cooking? Did Torrance really drink? How did he get out of the locked larder Wendy dumps him in? What drives The Overlook to push people over the edge like this? What the hell is the final scene about, as we see a younger Torrance in an old picture on the wall of The Overlook? and why, why, why did Kubrick cast Duvall as Wendy? Shes bloody terrible in every single film shes ever been in. There are more unanswered questions than a big book of the worlds most unanswered questions and the film has more plot holes than a Moffat, Doctor Who story. Yet The Shining is still an amazing, powerful and striking film. I think you can put this down to two things and the first is Nicholson. Jack Nicholson’s performance as Torrance must rank as one of the most chilling and accurate portrayals of an alcoholic, pushed over the edge by forces he doesn’t comprehend and tortured by his fractured family. For me a Nicholson performance is all in the eyes and doesn’t he do psychotic better than anyone else! He is just riveting from the first scene right through to his popsical ending in the maze. The Shining is Nicholson’s film and he completely and utterly owns ever minute of it, it is Nicholson’s performance that launches the film into the stratosphere and gifts it horror cult status. Secondly, Kubrick’s direction is just sublime with the pacing and build of paranoia and terror at a level where it becomes almost audible. The Steady Cam technique Kubrick developed for Danny’s carpet scenes are still dizzingly wonderful and its hard to imagine the film without them.
In 1987 The Shining was made into a tv mini series, with Rebecca De Mornay taking the role of Winifred Torrance and Steven Weber playing the role of John Torrance. Whilst it is much more in line with the novel and I do enjoy watching it Kubrick’s version will always remain unsurpassed in its genius as a horror film. So, like or not, King this is the version people love and rightly so. Haven’t checked into The Overlook for a while? well then I guess you should “go check it out”
Follow David Martin on Twitter as @Ventspleen2014
Photos from Wikipedia and IMDB