Everyone watches their favourite horror films on Halloween, but over the last few years I’ve dedicated October 31st to THE horror movie, and seeing it on the big screen for the first time recently, a thought struck me… This might be the only film ever that gets scarier the more someone watches it.
Sure, there are other horror movies that everyone remembers their first experience of (ALIEN, THE THING, JAWS), and others that might not be quite as good, but are undoubtedly as scary (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, 28 DAYS LATER, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS), but none of these come close to THE SHINING’s mix of perfectly orchestrated, slow-burn psychosis. It’s incredibly measured. Until suddenly, it isn’t…..
This all stems from one of the great actor-director partnerships in cinema history; Nicholson, giving the performance of his life, might be scarier as the embittered husband and father, with his bottled-up aggression and barely restrained menace, than the axe-wielding force of nature that is eventually unleashed, and Kubrick, whose notorious eye for detail and demanding nature created the overwhelming, isolated nature of The Overlook, has been frequently imitated, but never surpassed.
Upon first watch, viewers may be distracted by Shelley Duvall’s unorthodox performance, however upon repeat viewings, her ‘flat’ line readings (most notably in the radio conversation with the forest rangers) and loose body language complement Nicholson’s hurricane of a performance perfectly.
The unsung heroes are Garrett Brown, who pioneered the technique used in the tracking shots, with the steadicam ghosting through hotel corridors and hedge mazes, and production designer Roy Walker (who had previously worked with Kubrick on BARRY LYNDON), who was sent by the director to photograph real hotel rooms, to give the Overlook a ‘patched-together’ feel, as opposed to any specific aesthetic.
The most famous moments have been so widely parodied and homaged (‘No TV and no beer make Homer something something...’), quotes like ‘Hereeeeee’s Johnny’, and ‘Come play with us…forever and ever and ever’ are ingrained into the zeitgeist forever. But it’s the countless other moments that really set THE SHINING apart from other horrors, be it Jack seeming to laugh straight at the viewer upon meeting Lloyd in the Gold Room, or the way he dissolves from furious to pathetic when coercing Wendy into freeing him from the pantry, to Al Bowlly’s ‘Midnight, the Stars and You’ playing over the unforgettable closing scene. It’s similar to The Beatles music, your favourite scene in THE SHINING is the one you’re currently watching.
Despite Stephen King’s animosity towards it, THE SHINING remains iconic in every sense of the word, as good on the 100th watch as it is on the first, and a must for all confirmed ghost story and horror film addicts.