FrightFest 2014: ‘The Shining’ review


Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece The Shining (1980) is one of those rare films that has found itself submerged into the public consciousness across several generations. Continually parodied in popular culture, from The Simpsons to Family Guy, even those yet to have seen Jack Nicholson’s maniacal lead performance as Jack Torrance may well feel like they know the film backwards. This Film4 FrightFest 2014 appearance of Kubrick’s classic – the reworked US theatrical cut of the film which is shorter than other incarnations – couldn’t have come at a much more pertinent time to examine just why this blood-curdling tale remains one of the best horror films ever made.

From the now iconic opening panoramic shot, tracing a Volkswagen Beetle as it winds along the road towards Overlook Hotel, there is an immediate sense of unbalance and disorientation – whisperings of the horror that is to come. The aforementioned car contains Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), his wife Wendy (the suitable kooky-looking Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd), all of whom will be residing in the out-of-season premises where Jack is to be winter caretaker (whilst hopefully finding time to finish writing his novel). Danny, however, possess a rare talent – ‘the Shining’, a psychic gift that allows him to look into the future and the past, as well as communicating telepathically with those around him. Slowly but surely, Danny discovers the macabre history of the hotel.

Whilst The Shining is packed with moments of visual horror, which range from rivers of blood gushing out from behind elevator doors to a spooky siren that transforms into a decaying ghoul, it is in the way that Kubrick captures this most menacing of hotels – a character in itself – that provides the true terror. Ominous high angle shots that trail Danny as he rides his tricycle through the hotel, rapidly moving from left to right, create an air of chaos, these first person perspectives drawing us further into the fear and anxiety felt by Danny towards both the hotel and later his father. This spacial disorientation, however, is not found just in Kubrick’s cunning camera work; it’s also in the film’s themes, which show the inversion and destruction of a family unit.

Jack, who should be a loving, caring, protective father, is quite the opposite and becomes a homicidal psychopath driven mad by both his own frustration and the looming evil that haunts the halls of Overlook. This shift from devoted daddy to deranged killer is expertly captured by a live-wire Nicholson, who terrifies in everything he does from his iconic, playful line – “Here’s Johnny” – to the penetrating glaze of his black, obsidian eyes. Even after 32 years, Kubrick’s cult classic The Shining still has the power to shock, scare and amaze in what is a masterpiece of not just the horror genre, but of cinema itself. For those yet to take a visit to Overlook, make sure you book yourselves in for the (fright) night of your life.

Film4 FrightFest 2014 takes place from 21-25 August. For more of our FrightFest coverage, simply follow this link.

Joe Walsh