Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of a Stephen King Novel has, in the thirty two years since its initial release become a bona fide classic in the horror movie/psychological thriller genre. This is despite it being initially rubbished at the time by both the critics and King himself, both of whom have since re-appraised the film and their original misgivings now lauding it as a seminal work and superior prototype of many substandard works which followed in its suspenseful and spooky wake. This new edition features twenty eight minutes of previously unseen-in Britain at least- footage and is due to be released on October 31st to coincide with the spook fest Halloween.
Featuring a stand out performance by Jack Nicholson-probably his last truly great role as after this he just borrowed various facets of his character for any subsequent interpretations- who at the time had the franchise on disturbed, crazy man performances following his recent success in ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’. His turn as Jack Torrance relies on unsettling the audience from the off and the signs of an inherent madness are apparent even from the interview scene where he applies for the role of caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, which closes down during the winter season due to the secluded nature of its geography preventing anyone from reaching the location when the weather gets particularly bad.
The portents of doom are there from the very opening sequence as the camera pans in over a vast expanse eventually closing in on the hotel where the subsequent drama is about to unfold. Despite its spaciousness the Overlook is simultaneously claustrophobic due to being so far removed from civilization and at Jack’s interview he is informed that a previous caretaker-Charles ( alternatively Delbert, later in the film) Grady got ‘cabin fever’ and ran amok, eventually brutally slaying his family and storing their bodies in an empty room before blowing his brains out. Despite his protestations that no such thing will happen to him Nicholson’s eyes tell a different story and we are immediately aware that something bad is going to unravel.
Moving into the hotel with his wife Wendy –Shelley Duvall, who takes gormless to a whole new level- and his son Danny-Danny Lloyd- who is in possession of a telepathic gift which he communicates through an invisible friend named Tony, Jack plans on writing a novel in his free time. Danny’s supernatural gift however is shared by the hotel’s head chef Dick Hallorann- Scatman Crothers- who in a private conversation with Danny forges a bond and refers to this ability to communicate without talking as ‘shining’.
Once alone in the hotel the family embark on a normal family routine but very quickly things begin to deteriorate due to Jack’s frustrations at not being able to arrive at anything substantial in his literary endeavours. This manifests itself in his inward retreat into himself and a markedly noticeable externally aggressive and hostile reaction to Wendy and Danny. What follows is the deterioration of a human psyche as Jack battles with what is real and what is imagined. It is never clear whether his visions are the product of an encroaching madness or whether the hotel is powered by supernatural demons.
Eventually though an encounter with Delbert (Charles) Grady in the Golden Ballroom which is populated by glamorous spirits attending a ghostly ball he is instructed to ‘correct’ his wife and child. He is also told that Danny is attempting to communicate with Hallorann telepathically to enlist his help in their plight and that this must be curtailed at all costs.
Armed with this information Jack then embarks on a spree of violence on his wife and child culminating in one of cinema’s most famous scenes wherein he hacks away at a locked bathroom door with an axe only to break through with the immortal line ‘Here’s Johnny!’. This line is so entrenched in cinematic history that although it is still as chilling its over-familiarity also imbues it with comedic value whilst Nicholson’s delivery of it lies somewhere between the two. The climax of the film then takes place outside in the snow covered hotel maze and anyone who has seen the film before knows that it doesn’t end well for everyone involved.
The extra twenty eight minutes of footage in this updated version of the film will be immediately apparent to devotees of the film and do nothing to detract from its power whilst adding something to some of the many loose ends in the narrative. The missing scenes mainly involve action which happens outside of the confines of the hotel but this does not diminish from the sense of isolated claustrophobia. It also does not make the film feel overextended and it is still as concise and well formed as previously never losing its intensity throughout.
It is however a pleasure to see a film which has been devalued by DVD and repeated television screenings on a full sized cinema screen where the vast expanse of the set and the space surrounding the hotel are apparent and contribute greatly to the chilly atmosphere. It is worth seeing for this reason alone but there are so many other reasons for making this an invaluable cinema outing.
The new version of ‘The Shining is released at cinemas nationwide on October 31st.