Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, an adaptation of Stephen King’s classic horror novel of the same name, has been talked about to death. Yeah, yeah, everyone knows about its Razzie Award nominations, King’s hatred of it, and Kubrick’s infamous directorial behaviour on set. There have been a million blog posts, articles and features – even documentaries – about everything that surrounds this controversial, yet highly regarded flick, but I am going to write another one anyway.
What has sparked this post is a recent feature I spotted in Total Film magazine entitled ‘It It Just Me?… Or is The Shining not scary?’ that doubts the films brilliance, as well as questioning its overall scariness. For a film that is so often referred to as the scariest film of all time – or at least one of them – this opinion is not, it seems, widely held.
Now before I go any further I must get one important point off my chest: The Shining is my favourite film of all time. There, I said it. I will defend this masterpiece to the hilt, and for myself only awesomeness shines (yeah, intentional) through in those beautifully crafted 144 minutes of running time.
It is the one film that makes me sit up on the edge of my seat like a giddy schoolgirl every time I watch it. Do I find it scary, though? Not particularly. Firstly, I rarely get scared watching horror films – I often find them rather funny nowadays – but I see Kubrick’s adaptation as more of a psychological thriller. Of course it has horror elements – and I can understand why it makes so many people pee their pants – but, for me, it is all about getting in your head and trying to mess with it.
King’s novel – which I also adore – is more of a traditional ghost story. The author leaves no doubt that the Overlook Hotel is haunted, whilst Kubrick leaves it far more open to interpretation. The Total Film piece criticises the director for “leaving too many questions unanswered”, but is that not one of its strengths? Its mysteriousness encapsulates everything good (and bad) about it; the characters, the hotel, the plot – it is supposed to be a mind f**k, with Kubrick dropping subtle hints and clues each way and everywhere as to what the hell is truly going on, so why do we need every single answer handed to us on a plate? Why is Jack going crazy? What else happened at the Overlook we do not know about? You can decide that for yourself. It just works – get on with it.
The movie – beautifully shot, expertly crafted and purposefully anti-climatic (those sounds, that blood, the two girls) – not only has a wondrously creepy musical score, and nor is it just home to some of the most iconic scenes in film history, but it also opened my eyes to the wonders of Jack Nicholson. Some may call his performance over the top, others even declared it as hysterical, but I see it as a masterclass of sinisterness that reins in both of those two elements and just freakin’ owns it. Those eyes – those tiresome, overbearing things – they will stick with me for ever, and ever, and ever… (Sorry, I had to do it!)
The Shining is a cinematic masterpiece, and there are no two ways about it. Even when things seem to get a little ridiculous – the facial expressions particularly – the late, great filmmaker manages to bring it all together again with a dose of extravagant sound or a perfectly timed transition. There are no cheap thrills about the movie – no gimmicks, no quick scares – it is different, it is unusual, and it just works. Throw your mainstream horror expectations out of the window; it is an uneasy, creepy, mind-bogglingly spectacular ride. Do not pin it down and try to put it in a box – let it overcome you, let it all just sink in and appreciate how Kubrick’s efforts have produced one of the best films ever made.
What do you think to The Shining? Is it the scariest film of all time, or is it simply overrated?