Horror movies aren’t made like they used to be. I don’t think that saying that means that I want modern filmmakers to repeat the past, but rather that I’d like them to stop repeating the present. Most horror films today are very dependent upon the gore and jump scares thrown in to “surprise” the audience, but the filmmakers fail to realize that after a handful of movie like this, the effect of these methods wears off. My favorite horror films are the ones from the 70s and 80s, when the genre was starting to be pushed to limits that it never was in the past. One of the movies from this era that did a fantastic job capturing the true essence of horror was Stanley Kubrik’s classic, The Shining.
The Shining is based on the Stephen King novel of the same title. In this film, a man named Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, takes his wife and son, played by Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd, respectively, to the isolated Overlook Hotel to become the off-season caretakers of the facility and the grounds. Jack is planning on using this time to work on his book, while his wife Wendy is excited to take some time away from their home. Soon after arriving at the hotel, Danny has a conversation with Dick Hallorann, played by Scatman Crothers, in which Danny is told that he has a special ability called the Shining that enables him to see images from both the past and future. Meanwhile, Jack begins to be driven insane by the hotel, and starts hallucinating about having conversations with the hotel’s inexistent bartender. As Jack goes further and further down this hole, it becomes apparent to Wendy that both she and Danny are in danger, and action must be taken to preserve their lives.
I hadn’t seen The Shining until just a few months ago. Most of my horror experience up to that point had been from watching old John Carpenter movies, the Alien series, and horror-comedies. I had known that The Shining was another classic in the genre, but it just took me forever to get around to watching it. Finally, one night my roommate Sebastian and I popped it in, and I was completely surprised by the experience. This movie has several moments in which you are certain that something terrifying is coming in the next scene, only to reveal a text leading the film into the next day or a scene with Jack bouncing a ball off of the walls. This teasing method used earlier in the film makes it much more surprising and horrifying when something scary actually does happen. Kubrik had a great grasp on how to effectively execute horror in this movie, and his methods here should be studied greatly by anyone attempting to create a decent entry for the genre.
Instead of using a “jump scare” method, Kubrik relied more on the actual images and situations onscreen to terrify audience members. This movie has several infamous moments such as the bathtub scene, the hallway scene with the little girls, and of course, “Here’s Johnny!” Even though I was aware of each of these parts during my first viewing, the film was still very scary to watch every time one of these events came onscreen. I really appreciate being affected by a horror film in this way, and it’s something that I would like to see more of in modern films.
For the most part, the acting in The Shining is top-notch. Jack Nicholson, as anyone will tell you, is great as the main character Jack. Danny Lloyd is also one of the best child actors that I’ve seen in a film if only because I never found him annoying like I do young actors such as Edward Furlong from Terminator 2. Shelley Duvall, however, I only enjoyed in the second part of the film. The Shining, like any great horror film, starts off slow, but Duvall’s character makes this part of the movie even harder to get through than it already is. Most of her lines in the first act feel like she is reading them right off of the script without putting any thought into them at all. Her acting improves drastically during the film’s climax, but her performance during the beginning of the movie really drags down an otherwise perfect horror flick.
Despite my disappointment with Duvall, I still enjoyed The Shining. This is one of those classic horror films that you watch with your friends every Halloween, even if you invited over that one guy who would rather pop in Paranormal Activity 23. Beyond being an excellent horror film, The Shining follows that great Kubrik method of being ambiguous as to what is actually happening in the story, leading to many fan theories involving ideas such as reincarnation and the afterlife. The Shining is an absolute classic, and it’s a must-have in the library of any true horror fan.