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The Shining (1980)

The Shining book & blu-ray

Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece The Shining is a top 5 horror film for me. Full of madness, familial dischord and elemental terror, it gets under my skin like no other film. I have come back to this film many times over the years and it never fails to chill and disturb. From the opening notes of the ominous score and the stunning helicopter shots of the foreboding mountains, the start of the film is literally an ascent into a hellish prison for Jack Torrance and his family.

Stephen King famously hates this adaptation as it turns Jack into a psychopath almost from frame one and while I understand his criticisms (the book was a very personal one for him, as it dealt with his own alcoholism and how it affected his family), Kubrick’s version tightens the screws on Jack’s sanity almost immediately, showing us a man on the edge. From there he layers on the scares with the appearance of the ghosts of the Overlook, including Lloyd the bartender, the naked, rotting woman in Room 237 and freaky blowjob bearsuit man.

Kubrick does however minimise the role of Wendy Torrance, giving her less agency than in the book. As played by Shelly Duvall, this iteration of Wendy is a somewhat meek woman, diminished by her husband, fearful of his outbursts and desperate to bring the family back together.

One of the many tricks Kubrick employs is his use of space, from the landscape to the huge foyer & Ballroom of the Overlook to the endless loops of the corridors & the hedgemaze, all used to swallow & constrict the characters. Or in Jack’s case, absorb him into the fabric of the hotel itself, doomed to follow in the footsteps of the previous caretaker.

I get why King hates the film as it strips his deeply personal story of the slow & sad decline of Jack, an avatar for King as he struggled with alcoholism & the fears of hurting his family. But Kubrick’s reinterpretation remains a chilling descent into terror & classic of the genre.

The book is one of King’s best, a literal grappling with his demons through the pages of his own book, examining what it means to balance his art with his responsibilities as a family man, whilst battling the overpowering spectre of alcoholism.

Reading the book now, as a father myself also facing these duelling responsibilities makes it a gut-wrenching read. Knowing full well that Jack will ultimately fail in his role as protector of his family, instead trying to kill Wendy and Danny at the Overlook’s urging is a hard journey to take.

5 ‘Here’s Johnnys’ out of 5.

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