All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy
Stanley Kubrick is known as one of the greatest cinematographers ever. Next to “A Clockwork Orange” and “2001 A Space Odyssey” sits “The Shining. I remember watching this when I was a kid and getting very bored. I couldn’t quite figure out why Danny’s finger talked to him, but when I re-watched it later in life I started to understand how incredibly creepy this movie is. Creepy in regards to both story and setting.
To this day, if I sit in front of a long hallway I am just waiting to see the Grady Twins in their little blue dresses and Mary Jane’s. The movie just has that nostalgic feel that only horror movies from that time can emulate.
So I started thinking…What makes "The Shining” such a great horror movie?
Released in 1980 and based on Stephen King’s 1977 book, The Shining stars Jack Nicholson & Shelly Duvall. Nicholson’s Jack character is a recovering alcoholic who takes on a job as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. The hotel (actually the Timberline Lodge in Mt. Hood, OR) is a secluded ski resort with a history of both good and bad. It seems like the perfect fit for Jack, wife Wendy, and their son Danny…a winter paradise.
It is explained to the audience early in the film that the shining is basically a mix of telepathy, precognition and psychic abilities. This allows those inflicted with the shining to see the past and the future. When you mix this with a haunted hotel built on an indian burial site, it is a match made in hell.
The hotel and it’s location is the monster of the story in one aspect. The size and scope of this location is crushing.
This film was the first time that Kubrick used a steady cam. There is an engulfing feeling as the camera follows Danny on his big wheel through the halls of retro carpet. The wheels rolling on and then off of the carpet and around corners give you a rhythm that keeps you on the edge of your seat waiting to see what may appear at the next turn. The vast size of everything can give the viewer a sense of solitude, like you are out to sea with no land in sight. The terrifying climax of this journey culminates with Danny coming face to face with the Grady Twins.
A big part of the “creepy” lies in the slow, drawn out actions of pretty much everything. Whether it be the long panoramic shot of the car driving up the mountain road or the slow motion blood flowing from the elevator, the pace leaves a sort of anticipation.
As the story progresses and Danny has a good idea there is something very very wrong with the Overlook Hotel, and we start to see the unraveling of Jack.
Short tempered, distracted, and not really sleeping but rather just staring at the walls.
Meanwhile, Danny decides to go into the forbidden Room 237, and Jack finally passes out in front of the typewriter. This in my opinion is the turning point of the movie. Jack starts having a nightmare where he explains to Wendy he dreamt he killed her and Danny by chopping them up into tiny pieces. While Wendy is trying to console him, Danny enters with bruises on his neck and a torn shirt. Wendy automatically blames Jack.
Jack is left wondering what just happened. He is still recovering from the hellacious nightmare as Wendy takes Danny out and away. Jack frustrated heads to the empty bar in the Gold Room. Once he sits down, the bartender appears (just a reminder, Jack, Wendy, and Danny are the only ones truly there).
Wendy returns with news that Danny says there is a crazy women in Room 237 that attacked him. Now we start to get weird. He finds a young sexy naked lady in the bathtub. To his horror during a quick make out session, Jack discovers she has transformed to a decaying old dead woman. Wendy finds that all Jack has been typing these days is page after page of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.
Jack as officially flipped his lid.
From a ballroom filled with ghosts, to witnessing what appears to be a bear like creature about to preform a sex act on a guy in one of the hotel rooms…we have truly reached Crazy Town!
Danny at this point is fully possessed by his invisible friend Tony and engulfed in "the shining".
With the radio down, the snow cat inoperable and psycho Jack on a killing mission, the speed of the rest of the movie has no comparison to the first half. It is a race through an enormous hotel for Wendy and Danny to stay alive.
Jack axing down the door to get to Wendy in the famous “Here’s Johnny” scene is classic cinema. Continuing the theme of “what is around the corner”,we have the climatic end of Jack chasing Danny through the enormous maze just to be lost and freeze to death.
In summary of what makes this movie so darn erie... it is just clever and strange.
It is like a bad dream that doesn’t totally make sense but still makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The Shining takes visuals just odd enough to make you feel very wrong and uncomfortable. It is a perfect painting of madness.
Or maybe Jack just has always been the caretaker?
Does The Shining make your list? Where in your Top 10 would it fall?