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WRITTEN REVIEW: The Shining - The Enduring Craftsmanship of Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick’s highly renowned adaptation of the Master of Horror himself Stephen King’s famous psychological and supernatural 1977 novel The Shining is one of the most recognized and most terrifying horror films of all time, and rightly so. Because of Kubrick’s genius techniques with his camera, the movements and the shots and angles of this masterpiece makes this film what it is today: the most artistic horror film ever made. The 1980 film stars Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, a former high school teacher who is suffering from alcoholism and writer’s block. Once he takes the job as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, his son Danny develops a gift similar to extrasensory perception called “shining”, which gives him the ability to see things in his mind that have happened in the past or will happen in the future. Danny thinks this is his imaginary friend, “Tony,” talking to him. Meanwhile, Jack is told of an incident that has happened at the Overlook the last time someone had taken care of the hotel. Jack is told that the last caretaker developed what they thought was cabin fever, and murdered his wife and two daughters with an axe. Over time, Jack sees ghosts in the hotel that tell him to kill his own family. The rest of the film is a sort of cat-and-mouse chase between Jack and his wife and son, but it turns out to be way worse than it sounds. (Believe me here.)

The Shining is a very horrifying film due to its interesting use of camera shots and angles. Kubrick’s film uses many different techniques to make the viewer feel uneasy and even a bit claustrophobic. In the scene where Danny is riding his tricycle around the halls of the hotel, he comes across these two girls standing on the other side of one of the hallways coaxing him to play with them. Then, for a split second, Danny sees these two girls dead in the hallway, chopped up with the axe mentioned earlier, blood splattered all over the walls and in puddles on the floor. This is one of many scary scenes in the film that sits in the viewer’s head for days afterwards. This scene is significant because the viewer never sees these girls up close in a shot; they are always shown at a distance. This sparks extreme fear as well as interest in the viewers. I’ll come back to this scene later. Another example of these scenes is the infamous scene in which Jack chops down the bathroom door with that infamous axe. First, we see Jack chopping the door down, the camera moving with the swinging of the axe. Then, we see a close-up of Jack’s face in the hole in the door he just made and memorably screams “Here’s Johnny!” (ughhhhhh!) This scene means horror for the viewer, and Wendy, who has locked herself in the now-doorless bathroom. In another scene, Wendy has locked Jack in the pantry and he is speaking to her through the locked door. This scene is interesting because the camera is placed underneath Jack, making him look even more sinister in a low-angle shot.

In addition to The Shining’s camera angles and shots, the camera movements also heighten the film’s overpowering feeling of isolation and claustrophobia. Coming back to the scene in which Danny is riding his tricycle around the halls is also a great example of this because the camera follows every single move Danny makes with the tricycle until he comes to the two girls at the end of the hallway. This particular scene was done with a relatively new invention called the Steadicam, which allowed a camera to be attached to it so that it can move smoothly with what it was filming without shaking, even on uneven surfaces, which in this case was Danny’s tricycle riding on carpet, then hardwood floors, then carpets again, etc., while the wheels on the floor are extremely loud when Danny rides over the floor, but is then nearly silent when he rides over the carpets. Kubrick positioned the camera low to the ground to “follow” the tricycle so that the camera moved smoothly while giving the viewer the impression that we are behind Danny. The camera swings around corners with the tricycle, making the scene feel more “closed in.” The few final scenes of The Shining in which Jack is chasing Danny through the hedge maze until he freezes to death were also done with a Steadicam apparatus, so the camera could move across mounds of snow and gravel. This scene is also an interesting one because the Steadicam was used again to spark a claustrophobic feeling in the viewer. It should be noted here that The Shining was one of a handful of the first films to use the Steadicam, and the inventor, Garrett Brown, has stated that the abilities of the contraption have been perfected effectively due to its involvement with the film, and Kubrick personally helped modify it. (Pretty sweet if you ask me!)

With Stanley Kubrick’s genius camera angles, shots, and movements in mind, The Shining is often listed as one of the scariest movies of all time, and it should be. I had the privilege to see the film on the big screen a while ago as a special event celebrating the work of Stanley Kubrick, along with three of his other films, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and Full Metal Jacket. The film, even though I have seen it many times, made me feel extremely uneasy and even a little dizzy due to the overwhelming feelings of isolation and claustrophobia Kubrick incorporated into the film, and these feelings were heightened simply by seeing the film on the big screen. In my opinion, The Shining is a must-see film for everyone. Setting my opinions aside, Stephen King hated Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his psychological horror novel. He felt that many of the main points of the novel, such as alcoholism, were left out. Furthermore, the film is slightly different than the novel in the respect that the hedge maze was really hedge animals coming to life, the number of the haunted hotel room was originally Room 217 instead of 237, among other slight changes. There has been another adaptation of Stephen King’s novel that was a TV miniseries starring Steven Weber that is more faithful to the novel, which is also very well done. But Kubrick’s masterpiece has every element that a horror film needs to become a classic: paranoia, insanity, fear of the unknown, and the ability to continue to scare people for years to come.

Reviewer | Literature & Film Student | Bringer of the Strange & Unusual

Horror has been her passion throughout her whole life, and film is her one true love. Her favorite movies include Zulawski's Possession, Donnie Darko, and Begotten; her favorite book is the classic Dracula. You can catch her with her nose in a book or comic with Bauhaus blasting through her earbuds and a nice cold can of Monster in her hand. Tumblr: xxrhiannongorehoundxx.