The book The Shining by Stephen King didn’t make much sense – he described it as “just a little story about writer’s block” – and the film doesn’t make much sense, either.
Former teacher and recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and his son Danny (Danny Lloyd) go to stay at the Overlook Hotel – a Colorado mountain resort – during the closed season.
Jack is to be the caretaker for the place while it is closed for winter under twenty-five feet of snow. It seems like the perfect place for budding writer Jack to get some work done and earn a little money in the process.
There’s talk of a former caretaker named Charles Grady who was driven mad by the cabin fever of the Overlook in winter and murdered his wife and twin daughters with an axe. The minute Jack arrives he rolls his eyes like Bela Lugosi and says he feels like he’s been there before.
The Torrance child is already flaky before he gets to the Overlook.
He has conversations with his finger and a friend who lives in his mouth named Tony, and he has the supernatural ability to communicate without words the visions he sees, a trait shared by the hotel cook, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) and called “shining.”
Danny begins to see disturbing flashes of the past relating to the murders and is warned to stay away from a particular room. More troubling though is the mental deterioration of Jack . . .
Suffering from severe writer’s block and losing his grip on sanity in the alienating environment, he begins to see hallucinations/ghosts. One, in particular, a butler named Delbert Grady (Phillip Stone) – presumably (and slightly confusingly) a manifestation of Charles Grady – tells Jack that he must “correct” his wife and son.
“I’m not gonna hurt you . . . You didn’t let me finish my sentence. I said I’m not gonna hurt ya, I’m just gonna bash your brains in. I’m gonna bash ’em right the fuck in!”.
Wendy and Danny must then flee from Jack as he slowly loses his mind. All kudos must go to young Danny for his ingenious way of getting away from his axe-wielding daddy.
By the time Jack crashes through Shelley Duvall’s bathroom door with his hatchet, he’s narrowing his eyes into Wolf Man slits, crinkling his forehead, jutting out his unshaven chin, ripping his hair, flashing his molars, and cackling, “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!”
There are some silly nightmare sequences and one haunted ballroom scene that looks like an outtake from The Great Gatsby (1974).
At one point, a rotting naked corpse rises from a bathtub and it isn’t even remotely frightening, only repellent and senseless.
Almost certainly the ‘daddy’ of psychological horror movies, The Shining is one of Kubrick’s finest. It also did nothing to hinder his reputation as a difficult director – apparently he demanded 127 takes of one scene from Shelley Duvall.
Still, his persistence paid off, as we are drawn into the bizarre hidden secrets of the hotel and Jack’s insanity.
Hotel room 217 in King’s novel was renumbered 237 (a non-existent room) by Kubrick for the movie because the hotel owners were concerned that nobody would ever rent out 217 again.
Stephen King was not particularly happy with Kubrick’s interpretation of his tale of the deterioration of reality and gradual descent into madness. In 1997 he collaborated with Mick Garris on a TV mini-series that follows his original novel almost to the letter.