When I’m asked about my favorite movie, there are actually two that come to mind. One of these is The Shining, a film by Stanley Kubrick based (loosely) on a novel by Stephen King. I first saw The Shining with my friend Curtis right after finals our sophomore year of high school.
It was one of those movies that are so culturally ingrained, I thought I’d seen all the best parts already. Who hasn’t seen the still of Jack Nicholson sticking his head through the door he just smashed through with an axe? To my great surprise, The Shining is full of secrets. Like Psycho, The Shining is really, really scary even if you know the key parts. Also like Psycho, The Shining is an unconventional horror story, where many of the scares come after you’ve seen the film.
Jack Torrance, the man charged with taking care of the Overlook hotel with his wife Wendy and their son Danny, is a struggling writer. For him, there isn’t much of a leap from trying to write a novel to trying to kill your family. The main question of the movie is, does Jack imagine all the horrific scenes, or is the hotel itself possessed? There is only one incident that supports the “evil hotel” theory; the rest can be explained by insanity.
And that’s what I like about The Shining: no matter how many times you try to formulate a theory, there’s always something that debunks it. To me, horror is best when it doesn’t quite make sense. You can’t follow a logical path.
It is sort of strange that one of my favorite movies has such strong ties to two places that I’ve lived: Colorado and Oregon. I never set out to live near The Shining. I want to say right now that I am not, nor will I ever be, as crazy as Jack Torrance. Ask my wife or any of my friends: I’m a peaceful guy. Think of it this way: neither the author of the book nor the director of the movie were bad people. So it goes with me. Okay, there’s my disclaimer.
The book was written by a guy my parents went to college with: Stephen King. You may have heard of him. He’s written a couple bestsellers. As the story behind the story goes, Stephen King was staying at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado and trying unsuccessfully to write a book about an evil rollercoaster. One day he looked around and realized, why not make it an evil hotel?
All the elements for a spooky setting were there. Estes Park is a wonderful little town; it backs right up against Rocky Mountain National Park. Here is the view King had from the front of the Stanley.
And here is what the Stanley looks like from the front.
Although not as isolated as the Overlook, the Stanley itself is quite creepy.
The blood-red decorating scheme, the antique furnishings, the dark, dark nights: once King had the setting, I bet the story fell right into place. Well, I’m sure it took him a while to write it, but geez, the guy must write like 100 pages a day or something. He makes writing hugely successful novels look like picking up the mail.
An indisputable law of nature: every Stephen King book gets made into a movie. The interesting detail is who bought the rights to this particular novel: Stanley Kubrick, director of such non-horror movies as Spartacus, Dr. Strangelove, Lolita, and Barry Lyndon. I wasn’t there, but I imagine nobody expected a conventional slasher flick.
And unconventional is what we got! Kubrick undercuts horror cliches at almost every turn. There is never a pop-out moment, when Jack surprises Wendy (and the audience). There are incredibly long tracking shots, relatively few special effects, and lots of dialog. I haven’t counted, but I bet there is more dialog in The Shining than in every single Friday the 13th movie combined.
The hotel Kubrick used is called the Timberline Lodge, located near the peak of Mount Hood in Oregon. The Timberline fulfilled the requirements of the Overlook from the book: it is fairly isolated, about an hour from the nearest sizable town and so close to the roof of Oregon you can hike there in the summer. Also, due to its altitude, there is snow on the ground almost all year. The Timberline boasts year-round skiing, which sounded impressive until I went at the beginning of September one year and saw the comically small amount of “snow” on the ground (it had been packed into ice during the course of the summer).
Though today the Timberline has lost a lot of that isolated quality it had back in 1980, I could still see the draw of using as an exterior.
There was a TV movie of The Shining made about ten years ago. For some reason beyond the comprehension of us mortals, Stephen King hated Kubrick’s The Shining. Is it possible to find nothing wrong with one terrible adaptation after another, but to detest one of the best adaptations of your work ever made? For Stephen King it is. King wrote the screenplay for the TV movie, and they even filmed it at the Stanley. Unfortunately, it is bad. The best part about watching it was that, when you turn on the DVD commentary, you can hear some of Stephen King’s stories about writing the book. I won’t say any more about it than that.
It has been a pleasure to be able to visit the locations of The Shining. It makes watching the movie even more of a visceral experience. I’d love to visit the location of my other favorite movie, but I don’t think the island of Waponi Woo actually exists.