25 Favorite Films: The Shining (1980)

While I am not ranking these twenty five films in any order I must admit we have (sort of) reached the end. The Shining is my all-time favorite film for a variety of reasons. A good reason for it is that this is one of the few horror films that perfectly encapsulates the tone of dread. Listen to what is the opening credits for the film:


Immediately you know nothing but bad news is going to happen with a score like that. Throughout the film a lot of unnerving music is playing in the background as things go on. Whether it is an old lady scaring Jack out of a bathroom, Wendy running down the halls with a knife, or even in a sequence of Danny riding his bike down the hallways; you always hear something in the background. Sound design plays a huge role with this film and what makes such an iconic scene like the bike ride work is how we hear every impact the big wheel is hitting on each kind of floor (hardwood, carpet, etc). I’m the type of person who doesn’t scare easily and because I have seen this film way too many times nothing ‘jumps’ at me anymore. But it is still hard not to be completely terrified whenever those little twin girls pop up.

For the most part though I love this film because of Jack Nicholson. He delivers one of the craziest performances in film history and it is mostly by the faces he makes. I mean, look at some of these:

I mean come on everybody. Even for a master Director like Stanley Kubrick, he must have realized Nicholson was going way over the top. Even more so than George C. Scott in his previous film Dr. Strangelove. In the long run though it honestly works for Nicholson because he does go from normal to insane realistically enough. Scenes like him talking to Danny in his room is still terrifying to me because you are never quite sure what Jack’s angle is. He is slowly, but surely, getting prepared to murder his whole family but him trying to hold it all together fails and because of that we get his amazing body acting.

One of my all time favorite scenes in a film comes in here as well. It takes place towards the end where Jack seemingly joins a fancy, ballroom party. He suddenly gets alcohol spilled all over himself by a butler who then takes him into the bathroom to clean up. Suddenly the butler reveals he is Delbert Grady, the previous caretaker who murdered his family, and things get a little weird:

What I love about this scene is how Nicholson decides to play this. His character knows something is up and realizes he is talking to a ghost. He becomes way too cocky when he confronts Grady on this and is thrown for a loop when Grady tells him how Danny has special abilities. The ghost of Grady is easily able to influence Jack and helps push him to the third act of the film. It is a tense scene overall as you are not quite sure if Jack is actually experiencing this or is just talking to himself (the dialogue sort of leans towards the latter if you pay attention). I also love the music choice as it reminds me of the final scene of Kubrick’s other film 2001: A Space Odyssey. You can’t tell what is being sung and it has an echo to it which gives it a more unearthly quality. It is a perfect scene from the acting (don’t forget about Philip Stone as Grady!), to the sound design, to the fantastic production design of the red bathroom.

There is so much I could say about my all time favorite film. But I will say I do not have any crazy conspiracy theories like in the documentary Room 237. Whether this is all in Jack’s head or if there is some deeper meaning to the picture misses the point. This is a horror film from 1980 that is still effective at giving us scares and setting up a perfect tone of dread. Even though Nicholson has done so much work and won awards for much “better” pictures I still find this to be my favorite performance of his. Stephen King might not love this adaptation of one of his famous works but I cannot get enough of it. If this is not in your rotation come Halloween season I don’t know what else to say but: Put it in there now!

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