LiveWire Young Film Critic Jay Crosbie looks at what makes The Shining one of the most chilling horror films of all time
31 years ago on a bright, warm summer’s day, cinema became victim to one of the most iconic yet terrifying experiences it has or perhaps ever will encounter. The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is a film adaptation of the Stephen King novel which has stood like a monolith, dominating over the horror genre since its release. Even after all the time that has passed since its original theatrical run it’s hard to find a film that balances such malicious shock tactics with the feeling of pure dread and isolation without succumbing to the natural bias of relying purely on cheap shocks.
The Shining follows Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a writer who takes a job as a caretaker in a large empty hotel, with a vested interest in using the silence of the hotel as an aid to help him write. During the harsh winter storms Jack, his wife Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) become trapped in the hotel and Jack soon begins to succumb to the underlying supernatural aura within its dreaded walls.
I remember watching The Shining as part of a Halloween marathon with my friends; we watched the obvious classics and some of the less classic modern ‘gornos’. But nothing got the same reaction that The Shining did. Knuckles turned white, nails dug into people’s (mainly my) arms and eyes were winced. There’s something about the claustrophobic Overlook Hotel that holds in the atmosphere of doom with such impressive strength that not a single ounce of tension is left unused. Every sound is greeted with the curling of toes and every chilling image greeted with a gormless look of terror. It’s a film like The Shining that makes you question why half the contemporary horror films that make it into cinemas even get a green light in the first place.
However, none of this tension would have mattered if it hadn’t have been for an iconic central performance by the great Jack Nicholson. Only Nicholson has ever truly terrified audiences with a look, a facial movement and those two iconic words. The real horror of The Shining is the human antagonist and the way he so quietly gives way to the evil around him. More terrifying than Freddie, Jason and Leatherface combined, the Jack and Danny Torrance chase scene will remain among one of cinema’s most chilling sequences.
Saying something is a staple of pop culture is a phrase so commonly thrown around these days that one could say it has lost its meaning, but Kubrick’s masterpiece is a true horror and an essential part of popular culture. A classic that radiates a sense pure dread which can be felt just as vividly today, as it was all those years ago. The Shining is a nail-biting experience that everyone should experience – and remember: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy…
The Shining screen at Cornerhouse on Sun 22 & Wed 25 January as part of Matinee Classics