Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) brings his family to the secluded Overlook hotel for the winter, hoping to use the time to write a new novel. However, the hotel is home to a darkness that soon takes possession of Jack, causing him to carry out horrifically violent acts on his family. All the while, his young soon sees terrifying visions of the hotel’s past and future, leading him to understand that the hotel is entirely unsafe.
Due to being born a decade after The Shining was released I missed out on the opportunity to see The Shining in the cinema. However, thanks to the film’s re-release in the UK for Halloween 2017, I was able to – finally – see one of my favourite horror films where it belongs; on the big screen and it certainly did not disappoint.
I will refrain from explaining the events of The Shining, because you’ve all seen it. You know the key lines. You’ve seen the creepy twins, the blood gushing out the elevator and the chilling mutterings of “red rum.. red rum.” It’s a horror classic. Even if you’re not a fan of horror films, you’ve probably seen The Shining or, at least, heard of it. To some people it’s the scariest film of all time. I probably wouldn’t be able to muster much of an argument against that view.
37 years after its original release and The Shining is still bloody, freaking terrifying. But, why? How does it remain to be so damn chilling after all these years? We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of scary films since 1980 and many of those have been brilliant, too. But, very few films – if any – have managed to hit the chilling heights of The Shining. The sheer, freaking scariness and the unrelenting dread of The Shining is matched by no other. The terror is unstoppable to us and unstoppable to Jack. It feels like it’s never going to end and when it does, you’ll be chilled to the bone.
The score still manages to haunt and pierce the ear drums as it reflects and emphasises the supernatural goings-on in the hotel and Jack’s shattering sanity. The music is mainly shrieking string instruments that are as frantic as Wendy (Duvall) as she fights to protect her son from her husband’s lunacy. As you’d expect, in the cinema it’s all the more frightening because it’s 100x louder than you’d have in your own home. It’s no wonder that so many horror films have followed The Shining’s footsteps by accompanying their scenes of terror with music that was not traditionally associated with horror. The sinister beauty in Gyorgy Ligeti and Krzyzstof Penderecki’s work is a sublime and perfect accompaniment to The Shining’s untraditional means of frightening its audience.
Psychological horror will always be the most effective. Chopping someone into little bits, with gore and blood flying all over the place is scary, sure. But, a truly effective horror film will get under your skin and into your head, refraining from typical jump scares to frighten and, will instead, latch on to your mind and take you on a mind-bending and disorienting ride. That is The Shining to a T. The non-stop use of smooth steadicam and tracking shots brilliantly invite the audience into the space of the hotel, drawing us into Danny’s point-of-view so that we can view much of the film’s events from the perspective of a child. The walls are looming, the space feels huge and the hotel feels physically intimidating. As a feat of technical achievement, The Shining was a game-changer in 1980 and is equally as impressive today.
The Shining features some of the best performances in film, period. Jack Nicholson is a terrifying revelation and Shelley Duvall gives the most intense performance of her life (and we all know what that performance did to her, how it changed her life). Danny Lloyd – who only acted in 1 more film after The Shining – shone equally as bright as his adult co-stars. Every whisper to his little friend Tony – who mutters back like a croaky little monster – will creep you out. His “Shining” ability is scary as it is, let alone when it allows him to see what his father is about to do. The conversation where Danny asks Jack if he’d ever hurt him or his mum is one of my favourite scenes in The Shining, because it becomes an important turning point. Nothing is the same after this confrontation and it becomes a countdown for Jack’s final psychological snap and the iconic chase that follows.
There you have it. The Shining is still as great as you remember and if you can get the chance to see it on the big screen this Halloween, then I encourage you to do so. It is an essential experience for horror fans and those that appreciate that Kubrick magic. It truly remains to be one of the scariest films of all time and is all the more chilling on the big screen where its frantic soundtrack and disturbing imagery can truly get under your skin.
Words: Jessy Williams (@JessyCritical)