The Shining remains a Halloween tradition. When Stanley Kubrick started a film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Shining he didn’t set out to make a masterpiece. He was coming off of the release of a film that wasn’t a very big success commercially and he wanted to make a commercially appealing film that would generate some box office cash and hopefully get a little critical acclaim. But the primary motivation was commercial success. Thanks to his relentless attention to detail and his ability to use suspense and other elements he ended up creating one of the scariest films of all time. The film was released 1980 but is still culturally relevant today. References to scenes within the film are everywhere in popular culture. References to “Redrum” and other plot devices are almost universally recognized.
Even though the film is an adaptation of the novel there are some large differences between the novel and the film. Stephen King was notoriously unhappy with the film that Kubrick did because he didn’t think it conveyed enough of the supernatural element of the story. But audiences loved it. The film has stood the test of time fairly well. At the time the film was made with the newest technology but by today’s standards the production quality is laughable. However the style of the film remains one that people instantly can relate to, even if the costumes and styling are distracting because they seem out of place in a modern context.
The basic story is the same in the novel and in the film. The story is about the Torrance family. Jack Torrance, a recovering alcoholic, takes a job for the winter as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in the remote mountains of Colorado. The hotel is snowed in for most of the winter so it is closed but still need to be looked after. Jack is a writer and he thinks that the job of caretaker will be ideal for him. It will give him time to write and provide a home for his family. It is revealed that during a drinking binge Jack broke the arm of his young son, which prompted him to stop drinking. Jack decides the job at the Overlook is the perfect new start for him, his wife Wendy and his son Danny. After taking the job Jack is told that the previous caretaker lost his mind from the isolation and cabin fever and killed his entire family.
Almost immediately upon arriving at the Overlook Hotel the family starts to experience paranormal activity. Jack starts to mentally destabilize, although at first the family doesn’t notice too much change in his behavior. Danny, who has telepathic abilities, picks up on several spirits inhabiting the Overlook hotel. He is repeatedly drawn to room 237, even though he was warned to stay out of that room. Danny sees the spirits of different people in the hotel, including the spirits of twin girls. Jack’s behavior becomes more and more bizarre, scaring Wendy and Danny. Wendy starts to think about taking Danny and leaving Jack at the hotel. But ultimately she decides it’s better for them to stay. Jack becomes increasingly unstable and ends up trying to kill both Wendy and Danny. One of the most famous scenes in the movie is Jack chasing Danny through the hotel’s hedge maze in a blinding snowstorm. Danny, realizing that his father is tracking him by his footprints in the snow, manages to fool his father by backtracking through his footprints so that he doesn’t leave new marks. Jack freezes to death in the maze. However there is a picture in the lobby of the hotel from July of 1921 in which Jack appears in the center of the photo.
The film has been named one of the 11 scariest films of all time because of Kubrick’s direction as well as the screenplay. Another thing that adds to the mystique of the film is that the Overlook Hotel is based on a real hotel that really is haunted. The hotel that Stephen King used as the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel is the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. Like the Overlook the Stanley sits in the mountains of Colorado and does get snowed in. It has had a lot of tragedy and the dark history of the hotel has added to the mystique. Many people have claimed to witness paranormal activity at the Stanley, including Stephen King and his wife. In the novel The Shining the room that is the epicenter of the paranormal activity in the hotel is 217. That’s because Stephen King stayed in room 217 of the Stanley Hotel and had a lot of paranormal experiences there.
The Stanley Hotel does have documented paranormal activity. In one season the critically acclaimed TAPS paranormal investigation team did an investigation at the Stanley Hotel and captured video and audio evidence of paranormal activity in the hotel, including a child’s voice saying, “Hello?” to them in the tunnels under the kitchen. Since the initial investigation the TAPS team has returned to the hotel many times and has captured consistent paranormal activity at the hotel.
Stephen King’s biggest criticism of Kubrick’s film was that he didn’t explore the supernatural connection between Jack’s behavior, Danny, and the hotel enough. In the book the hotel itself was possessed by evil which tried to take over Danny and did take over Jack. But in the movie the paranormal activity in the hotel is scary but not the reason for Jack’s mental breakdown. In the book it is Jack slowly being possessed by the house that creates the scare, but in the film it is a flaw in Jack’s genetic makeup that turns him into a killer.
Would the film have been more frightening if Kubrick had focused more on the paranormal? Probably not. Kubrick used simple plot twists and the power of suspense and imagination to create scares that were worth of the great Alfred Hitchcock. Audiences still are terrified by The Shining today and it remains one of the films that film experts think everyone should see.