ByJay Hunter, writer at
“Academia is the death of cinema. It is the very opposite of passion. Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates.” - Werner Herzog
Jay Hunter

36 years ago, Stanley Kubrick released a horror behemoth into cinemas. Audiences everywhere visited the long halls of the Overlook Hotel to witness the fabric of Jack Torrence’s mind unravel. A true cinematic masterpiece was forever being etched unknowingly into their subconscious. Although a very different experience to that of the Stephen King’s classic novel, The Shining (1980) has become an enduring tale of horror, one that still graces cinema screens worldwide every Halloween. But why do we connect with the movie so much?

'The Shining' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'The Shining' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

Kubrick was at the peak of his powers at this point, having made classics in nearly every genre he had ventured into. With Spartacus, A Clockwork Orange and 2001: Spacey Odyssey all under his belt, it was now horror’s turn for a Kubric-cadabra. Drawing inspiration from 1970s auteurs such as Polanski and Friedkin, Kubrick cast his sights on up-and-coming horror author, .

Like many legendary films, didn’t receive much admiration upon initial release. The film was famously denounced by King (possibly through retaliation as Kubrick ignored his original screenplay) and the wider audience putting it down as "just another ghost film." Kubrick has since become a highly regarded director, some argue the best ever. Sadly, this was not the opinion shared by critics of the 1980s in being shunned by the Academy and instead nominated in the "Worst Director" category at the Razzies (since won by Bill Condon for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 and Michael Patrick King for Sex and the City 2). This was all despite a respectable box office return of $44 million from a $19 million budget.

Despite this travesty, The Shining is now considered one of scariest, if not THE scariest movie of all time. Although there seems to be a collision of reasons as to why. Ask anybody now why The Shining is the most terrifying movie of all time, they most likely will not be able to give you a solid answer. "It just has this feel," "There's something about it," "It’s just…urgh." This is where Kubrick’s genius and attack to the nervous system comes to into play, rejecting a lot of the typical conventions of the haunted-house. There are no dark corners, no gargoyles, no creaking doors. For all intents and purposes, the Overlook Hotel is a wholesome family resort. Instead, we are served a plethora of anxiety, unease, bizarre imagery, an ambience you can almost smell (and a bottle of bourbon).

This devilish concoction is mainly down to the cinematic trickery of Kubrick’s direction and Rob Walker’s role of production design, resulting in a hotel/environment that spatially makes no sense (see below):

The truth is that Kubrick’s Shining is a meticulous work of art, from the cinematography, to the multitude of takes and the food products in the background situated down to the millimeter. Now it's a well-known fact that Kubrick butted heads with Shelly Duval, resulting in the actress losing her hair from stress and had many disagreements with lead performer Jack Nicholson due to constant retakes and script changes. You could argue this was perhaps a calculated move from the master puppeteer, showing a more natural evolution of madness throughout the extraordinarily long 12-month shoot.

As is common in most geniuses, their is a hint of madness. Unconventionally, Kubrick was still cutting scenes from the movie, even as it played in cinemas. The original cinematic release was 146 minutes long, then 144, and finally by its European release a more manageable 119.

A Lasting Legacy

'The Shining' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'The Shining' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

It was not until the home video release that The Shining found its audience. Today, we considerate it not only horror gold, but also one of the movie greats in its own right, being ranked No. 1 on nearly every "Top 10 scariest" chart you can find. Lauded by such cinematic figureheads as Martin Scorsese, who described it as "essentially unclassifiable, endlessly provocative and profoundly disturbing," Rodger Ebert placed the film in his Great Movie Reviews list and appeared in the BFI’s Top 10 List of All Time. In a 2013 study, found it was scientifically the scariest movie of all time (see below):

On average, audiences pulse rate increased by nearly 30 percent (more than any other movie)
On average, audiences pulse rate increased by nearly 30 percent (more than any other movie)

Now ask me why we connect to The Shining? It’s simple. It is a cinematic vapor, a horrific smoke cloud that one simply cannot grasp on a conscious level. It was created by one of the greatest authors of all time and adapted by one of the greatest directors of all tim — a slow burn psychological torture chamber that attacks you on a deeper level, an exquisitely executed movie masterpiece.

What is your favorite moment from The Shining?


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