The only part of this Stephen King adaptation I’d seen previously was the snippets of the most famous scenes in Twister. Oh, and countless parodies of that infamous send-up of Johnny Carson’s introduction. Not being a fan of horror in general, I’m not surprised I never got around to this one, but I decided to give it a try based on its reputation alone (92% on Rotten Tomatoes).
Though horror often has a stigma as a B-movie genre, frequently relying on clichés, cardboard characters, and unnecessary violence, The Shining is a film that truly deserves its iconic status and high rankings among the top scary films. While I’m not a fan of Stanley Kubrick and consider 2001 vastly overrated, I have to admit he’s quite the skillful filmmaker. The direction and cinematography are exceptional, full of those long tracking shots that leave viewers like me enraptured by the fluidity of the camerawork. The film was one of the first to fully utilize the new Steadicam, which allowed the camera to follow the characters as they stroll, creep, or flee through expansive rooms and twisting corridors. Not only is it admirable for its style, but it also heightens the tension (along with the unnervingly dissonant score) as the viewer rounds corner after corner, preparing for some inevitable surprise that may or may not come.
Equally impressive is the performance from the ever brilliant Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, the kind of sanity-sapping role at which Nicholson excels, though he looked at least a little unhinged even from the beginning when he was supposed to seem normal. (It’s those devilish eyebrows!) I do wonder, though, what it was exactly that triggered his maniac descent when he seemed fine for an entire month; perhaps it was merely the constant sole presence of his wife (a perfectly hysterical Shelley Duvall), whom he evidently resented on some level even beforehand. The young Danny Lloyd also gives a memorably creepy performance as son Danny Torrance, who possesses some form of ESP (referred to as “shining”) and shares a body with the ambiguous Tony, who could be anything from a split personality to an unexplained possession. While Lloyd’s scenes are highly effective, I can’t help but feel concern when films like this employ such young child actors for potentially unsettling roles, though Lloyd supposedly never realized he was filming a horror movie. Also, sharing another film with Nicholson is Scatman Crothers, the concerned cook who reminded me of that sheriff in King’s Misery in more ways than one.
While the horror genre would not be taken seriously by the Academy until Silence of the Lambs in 1991, The Shining had the potential to break that barrier first, boasting enough quality filmmaking to deserve Oscar nominations or wins for at least Best Actor, Editing, and Cinematography. Alas, it was not to be, since The Shining’s popularity was slow in coming, and it was actually nominated that year for Razzies rather than Oscars. It was criticized for its slow pace and significant differences from King’s novel, but the main flaws for me were the language and a wholly unnecessary nude scene thrown in to solidify its R rating. Despite this, the film fits the mold of the few horror films I like in focusing on restrained horror and disturbing atmosphere rather than continual gore. The Shining is one of the best examples of a psychological horror, full of taut ambience, a little inexplicable weirdness, and an enigmatic ending that has kept critics and fans debating ever since about ghosts, time travel, and psychosis. Even so, it’s not one I’d watch often and certainly not at night.
Best line: (the obvious; Jack Torrance, as he axes through a door) “Heeere’s Johnny!”Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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