Movie Review

The Shining

Stanley Kubrick's epic nightmare of horror
The Shining Movie Poster

US Release Date: 05-23-1980

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick


  • Jack Nicholson
  • Jack Torrance
  • Shelley Duvall
  • Wendy Torrance
  • Danny Lloyd
  • Danny Torrance
  • Scatman Crothers
  • Dick Hallorann
  • Barry Nelson
  • Stuart Ullman
  • Philip Stone
  • Delbert Grady
  • Joe Turkel
  • Lloyd the Bartender
  • Anne Jackson
  • Doctor
  • Tony Burton
  • Larry Durkin
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: October 30th, 2014
Jack Nicholson and Danny Lloyd in The Shining

Jack Nicholson and Danny Lloyd in The Shining

The Shining is a film my brothers and I saw many times when we were young. As I watched it, I remembered many lines I had forgotten and no doubt my brothers will as well. Kubrick created many memorable moments and images that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. The ambience of the massive hotel in the isolated mountains is a perfect setting for a haunting.

The Overlook Hotel is an old summer resort in the Rocky Mountains that closes down every winter due to its isolation and the harsh winters. Jack Torrance, a former teacher and wanna-be writer, is hired to look after it, doing such mundane work as keeping the boilers going so the pipes do not freeze. Jack is informed that a previous caretaker murdered his wife, two daughters and then himself. Jack is not bothered by the story as he is more interested in the isolated time to write a novel.

Jack does not tell his wife, Wendy, or their psychic son, Danny, about the murders. When given a tour of the hotel by the hotel cook, Danny discovers that he is not the only person with the ability to know things. “How'd you like some ice cream, Doc?” The cook calls it "Shining.” As far as his parents know, Danny has an invisible friend named Tony. What they do not realize is that Tony is actually a spiritual presence in Danny that tells him things he needs to know.

As they begin their solitary confinement, everything seems copacetic. Then Jack becomes irritable, short tempered, confused and eventually his sanity slips away at an increasing rate. Danny is the first to see some of the hotel ghosts in the form of the murdered daughters. Their line, “Come play with us, Danny.” is as creepy today as it was the first time I heard it. Jack first sees one when he enters the empty hotel bar and says, “I’d sell my soul for a glass of beer.” If ever there was a cue for a demon to appear. Wendy does not see them until the end when it seems as if the spirits of the past have all come out to play.

After being attacked in a room, the cook warned him to stay away from; Danny tries to contact him with his “Shining” for help. Jack meanwhile, quickens his trip over the edge. Is he going crazy or is he possessed? Wendy finds herself confused and scared of her husband. She realizes he has lost it when she reads the many pages of his novel, no doubt titled, “All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy.” Danny also goes through a change when Tony takes over. “Danny isn't here, Mrs. Torrance.”

Things start to spin completely out of control with Tony’s warning of, “Redrum!” While the cook tries to return to the Overlook Hotel, Jack decides his family needs to be dealt with. This all leads to Jack chasing them with an axe. Here we have the famous scene of Jack hacking a whole in a door and saying such lines as, “Little pigs, little pigs, let me come in.” “Heeere's Johnny!” and “Wendy, I'm home.”

Jack Nicholson plays crazy with such gusto and panache that he is scary as hell just by staring. His actions and delivery of any line mark him as capable of any heinous act. Even before he sees the bartender, Jack acts as if he flew over the cuckoo’s nest one too many times. He truly plays Jack as one of the most frightening characters in film history.

Shelley Duvall is also amazing. She spends much of the film trying to keep up with all that is going on around her. She goes from optimistic to confused and then scared for her and her son’s life. I found one of her best scenes to be early on when she talks nervously to the doctor about Jack’s past.

Danny Lloyd as Danny Torrance was perfect casting. He spends most of the film with a look of intense curiosity on his face. As he was only six when this movie was made, Kubrick was careful to keep him away from the violence and gore. Note how few times he is actually in the same shot as Nicholson. Lloyd did not even realize this was a horror film until several years later. He first watched The Shining when he was 16. He would only make one other movie before moving back to the Midwest, where he became a teacher, got married and had six children. I wonder if he makes them wait until they are 16 to watch this.

The Shining is truly one of the best horror films ever made. It does not have the fastest pace or largest body count by any means. What it has is Kubrik showing us just enough to get us to want to see and know more. He draws you in right away and builds your interest with every passing scene. Like an experienced stripper, he knows when to reveal something and when to hold back, keeping the audience completely enthralled throughout.

Reviewed on: October 31st, 2014
Danny Lloyd meets the ghosts of the little girls in The Shining.

Danny Lloyd meets the ghosts of the little girls in The Shining.

Unlike Danny Lloyd, I can remember watching this movie at a fairly young age. Probably too young, to be honest. I remember being creeped out by it then and even now, over 30 years later, it still manages to disturb. Stanley Kubrick's visionary directing style on top of Stephen King's story (although much was changed from page to screen) is a potent combination.

Although it's now justifiably considered a classic, it may surprise you to learn that it wasn't hailed as a masterpiece upon its release. In fact, Kubrick and Duvall were both nominated for Razzies for worst director and actress, respectively. While most critics have since revised their opinion, Stephen King has continued to find fault with it, with most of his complaints being related to changes Kubrick made to his story, but perhaps King is just too close to the material to be an objective judge.

Whatever your opinion of the story or the changes made in the adaptation, it's undeniably a visual masterpiece. Kubrick makes innovative use of a moving steadicam. The camera is almost constantly in motion. We follow the characters through the Overlook hotel and the maze on its grounds. This is particularly effective in the scenes where we see Danny riding his Big Wheel through the hallways and in the climax during the chase through the maze. But even in the more mundane moments, we follow Wendy and Jack as they walk through the hotel until the point where the Overlook becomes a character in its own right.

The scares are of the creepy variety rather than the jump out of your seat kind. It's the isolation and the buildup to the film's supernatural moments that really make them effective. Those little girls and the old lady in room 237 are the most memorable, but there's a tension that underlies almost every scene. It's easy to forget that for a such a famous horror movie there's actually only one onscreen death.

One complaint of King's has been about the casting of Nicholson and I do see his point. Jack is terrific when he goes on his murderous rampage, but because of the baggage he brings to the part, the journey from sanity to madness doesn't seem like a long trip. He seems pretty near the edge from the very beginning of the film and he's not a very sympathetic character at any point.

Interestingly for such a supernatural film, for most of the movie it's never clear if what's happening is supernatural. Is Jack crazy? Is Danny just a troubled child? Notice how whenever Jack speaks to a ghost he's standing by a mirror, or, in the case of the food pantry, a shiny metal door. Are the "ghosts" just a reflection of his own madness? Is Danny's invisible friend just a figment of his own imagination? It's not until the ghost of Grady opens the locked door that it becomes apparent that what's happening isn't just in the minds of the father and son.

I second Eric's compliments of Danny Lloyd. His performance is terrific. He's completely natural in the part and virtually steals the movie. Duvall as well delivers a fantastic performance. Her character is frustrating at times because she seems so weak. After her story to the doctor at the beginning of the film however, it's not a stretch to imagine that Danny wasn't the only one to suffer physically at the hands of Jack. Nicholson is also good, even though at times I felt that his quips as he threatened his family bordered on being too comical.

Ultimately though, this is a director's movie as most of Kubrick's films were. He creates and sustains a mood with his use of color, camera movements and an eerie soundtrack. His imagery is often dreamlike and it's difficult to look away from what's happening on screen. His unique vision more than makes up for any small weaknesses or inconsistencies in the script or characterizations.

Reviewed on: November 5th, 2014
Shelley Duvall in The Shining.

Shelley Duvall in The Shining.

I have those same vivid memories of seeing The Shining as a kid. It was easily one of the scariest movies my 14-year-old self had ever seen and remains so to this day. I've watched it a few times over the years, the time before this was probably three years ago, and it never fails to creep me out. I spent the summer of 2014 reading the novel for the first time, as well as the author's long awaited sequel called Doctor Sleep. Since my opinion of the film mirrors that of my brothers, I will instead spend my review comparing Kubrick's movie to King's novel. I will be giving away major plot points from both, so stop reading now if you don't want to know.

King goes into greater detail introducing the characters and filling us in on Jack's troubled past before they arrive at the Overlook. It takes King until chapter 12, page 129 to get to the part where Ullman is giving the Torrance family the grand tour, Kubrick gets there in less than 30 minutes. In the book we learn more details about how Jack once broke Danny's arm, and how he lost a teaching position due to his drinking and subsequent inability to control his temper. Jack's having trouble supporting his family and he's desperate for the job at The Overlook Hotel. He gets the interview only after an old mentor of his pulled a few strings. In the movie it is shown as pretty much just a great opportunity for Jack to write his novel in seclusion. Jack's alcoholism is glossed over in the movie. While he does drink in a few scenes it isn't shown as triggering his psychotic episodes as clearly as it does in the book. King was an alcoholic while, as far as I know anyway, Kubrick was not. Perhaps this explains the change of focus.

Danny, in the novel, is extremely intelligent for his age and more open about his psychic gift. He also has a much stronger bond to his father. As mentioned above, there are obvious limitations to casting a six-year-old child in a horror movie like The Shining. It makes sense that in Kubrick's version Danny is closer to his mother since, by necessity, Danny Lloyd would share more scenes with Shelley Duvall than with Jack Nicholson.

As for Wendy, in the novel she has a less codependent personality. The dialogue at the doctor's office where she excuses Jack's violent behavior is not in the book. On the written page, even during the most terrifying moments, she is never reduced to crying hysterically as she is shown doing in the movie. Of course it is Duvall's wonderful performance that really helps sell the horrors of the Overlook Hotel. Very few actresses can maintain such a believable expression of wide-eyed, shrieking terror (see photo) like she does for the final thirty minutes or so. Bravura!

Other differences include the iconic hedge maze that features so prominently in the movie's climax. In King's version there is no maze. Instead there is a topiary animal garden featuring lions and dogs that come to life and move about from time to time, something that would have required greater special effects than were available in 1980 to believably pull off. In the book Dick Hallorann (the hotel cook played by Scatman Crothers) comes to the rescue from Florida just like in the movie. The difference is that Jack kills him on the screen but only wounds him on the page.

I'm a fan of Stephen King. I fully enjoyed his book and he deserves all the credit for creating these characters and the Overlook Hotel. However, Stanley Kubrick's movie is a classic horror film while King's novel is merely a scary summer read. One is a masterpiece and the other is pulp. Some of the most famous things in the movie were created for the screen. The wall of blood, the creepy twins, the “All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy” scene as well as some of the most quoted lines including, “Here's Johnny!” were thought up either by Kubrick or Diane Johnson, who adapted the screenplay. I think Jack Nicholson is brilliantly over-the-top as Jack Torrance even though he is, admittedly, quite a different man from the guy in the book.

Most importantly, perhaps, is the look of the movie. It was brilliantly and seamlessly shot and the hotel sets are some of the best ever built for a film. The Overlook Hotel is alive. In the book it wants Danny because of his powerful Shining. In the movie it wants Jack because he is the reincarnated soul of the 1920's caretaker. In the book Jack dies when the hotel boiler blows up. In the movie he freezes to death in the maze. In the book the evil at the Overlook is defeated as it goes up in flames. In the movie the hotel survives to haunt another day, a new (old) soul held prisoner. Now that's a proper ending for a tale of horror such as The Shining.