The Shining- History of a horror classic.


The hotel, the maze, room 237 and its wrinkly denizen, Lloyd, the twins, the elevator full of blood, the guy and his illicit liaison with a bear in one of the upstairs rooms. There is a lot to frighten, disturb and unsettle in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen Kings 1977 novel ‘The Shining’.

Set in the isolated Overlook Hotel, nestled in the mountains of Colorado. Jack Torrance and his family move into the hotel for Jack to act as caretaker during the Overlooks off season, Jack welcoming the seclusion so he can work on his book. It isn’t long before the family start to realise that all is not what it seems at The Overlook.

Kubrick opted to change and leave out facets of the novel to improve the narrative flow of the film instead focusing more on the effect on Jack’s mind, slowing unraveling as events become more strange and his contact with the inhabitants on the hotel become more frequent, it was a move that divided fans upon it release but ultimately the right one in my opinion.

Filmed in predominantly on constructed sets at Elstree studio, the facade, interior & exterior of The Overlook was the largest build at Elstree up to that time covering several sound stages. The Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon stood in for the Overlook during the opening aerial shots. You may notice that the infamous hedge maze is missing from these shots as it was not a feature of that hotel but constructed on the Elstree lot. Kubrick also utilised a fledgling piece of technology at that time to achieve the quick paced tracking shots, the stedicam, now a staple of film production was in its infancy at that time and wonderfully put to use, no longer reliant on dolly tracks, the user could freely follow the subject, unencumbered by the previous restraints of the studio environment.  

The production was a notoriously fraught affair. Kubrick being a consummate perfectionist would insist on take after take after take to get exactly what he wanted from his performers. The scripts would change daily prompting star Jack Nicholson to throw away new copies handed to him as he knew a new one would be right behind it. Nicholson learnt most of his lines before shooting a scene. Tensions between Kubrick and female star Shelley Duvall were high, they would argue frequently on set for all to see about the script, Duvall’s performance and anything else that Kubrick could throw at her. Duvall become so stressed she became physically ill during a portion of the filming. Many believe this was a method used by Kubrick to get exactly the performance he wanted out of Duvall for specific scenes, others attest that he just flat out didn’t like her. 

It was publicised after its release that King did not like Kubrick’s take on his novel, the changes that he made and the fact that less emphasis had been made on Jack’s personal demons, particularly his alcoholism which is allegorical of the whole story, Jack literally being controlled by his demons. King most likely felt or be perceived to have felt so strongly due to the fact that he poured a lot of what he was going through personally at the time he wrote the novel into the character of Jack that he may have felt slightly more precious of it more so than another less personal project.

The Shining is arguably one of the finest horror movies of all time. It is expertly driven by a master film maker, brought to life by a fantastic cast and contains some of the most visually arresting and iconic imagery in cinema. If you are looking for a film to watch this Halloween, you could do a lot worse than making a visit to The Overlook, you’ll never leave.

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