Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror movie The Shining is one of the greatest films of all time. It boasts numerous iconic moments, from the two girls in the hallway to the infamous “Here’s Johnny” scene, and cultivates an eery atmosphere that permeates the droves who watch and rewatch the film year after year. Well-known for its slow pace, The Shining is a film that manages to be utterly terrifying without taking advantage of cheap jumpscares or other cliché gimmicks. Instead, it plays on the fear of being alone, of not knowing what is around the corner, on the darkness that lives inside each of us. In doing so, it has long transcended its immediate reception as a cult hit, becoming widely regarded as one of horror’s seminal masterpieces and one of the most influential movies ever made.
The film follows Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and their son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Jack has taken a job as the winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel, where he plans to work on his writing. The Shining tracks the family’s collective descent into madness as the hotel’s evils take hold of them. It is a film about family, heritage, responsibility, and the destructive capabilities of man.
Director Stanley Kubrick’s attention to detail was unrivalled – each and every shot, every item on each shelf, and every single word that made it into the final cut of The Shining was absolutely intentional. As a result, his one and only certifiable horror has endless value in that it can be watched over and over again with each revisitation uncovering new meanings and hidden nuggets of information. The film is so densely packed with meaning and filmmaking intent that its shoot ran for 34 weeks longer than it was supposed to (51 weeks instead of the originally planned 17). The overrun delayed the production of Steven Spielberg’s adventure movie Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), which was waiting to film on the same lot at Elstree Studios.
The Shining is a film that is so carefully constructed that it has formed its own lore and, consequently, a wide range of conspiracy theories. A documentary was even made about them, aptly named Room 237 (2012). Some think that Kubrick was trying to tell us that he directed the faked moon landings, others believe that the film is a retelling of the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. The rumours surrounding these readings have been given credence by the issues present during the film’s elongated production, especially those regarding Kubrick’s apparently excessive number of takes and his reported mistreatment of lead actress Shelley Duvall. Just as the lore of what is in the film lives on, so does the lore surrounding the making of it.
In this Movie List from The Film Magazine, we are evaluating all that The Shining is. We will be considering the conspiracy theories and assessing the rumours, but most importantly we will be judging the artistry of the film itself, counting down the ten most horrifying, stomach-churning and iconic moments. These are the 10 Best The Shining Moments.
Follow @thefilmagazine on X (Twitter).
10. Mr Halloran Gets Killed
At number ten on this list is a moment that arrives towards the end of the film, after the hotel has descended into chaos.
The hotel’s head chef, Dick Halloran, has received some disturbing images of the hotel through his ability to ‘shine’ – a type of telepathic communication. After a few failed attempts to contact the hotel through their radio system, Mr Halloran gets onto a plane and begins to make his way to the Overlook.
It is made very clear earlier in the film that it wouldn’t be easy to travel to or from the hotel once the snow arrives, as the roads do not get cleared and they would need to use the snowcat to traverse them. As we watch Jack become more and more of a threat in the hotel itself, and thus understand that Danny’s plight is becoming increasingly difficult, scenes of Mr Halloran are interspersed. He is our beacon of hope, the only remaining saviour for Danny and his mother, and the pacing of his arrival plays cleverly against Jack’s inevitable “here’s johnny” moment.
As Mr Halloran enters the hotel, the camera follows, keeping a safe distance from the vulnerable man as he wanders further into the dragon’s den. This moment is so laced with tension that every echo of Halloran’s voice send a shiver down the spine as we silently pray for him to rescue Wendy and Danny. All of this hope is swiftly cut down with a beastly yell and the swing of an axe, driven straight into Halloran’s chest. This moment is horrifying – it is the only murder we see on screen in The Shining and it comes so suddenly. After we have picked our jaws up from off the floor, our attention is turned fully to Jack, his hunched frame rising slowly into frame. There is nothing standing between Jack and his family now.
Due to the poor critical reception of The Shining at the time of its release, Kubrick cut around 19 minutes of footage from the 144-minute run-time. In doing so, he removed many of the scenes tracking Mr Halloran on his journey to the Overlook Hotel, effectively taking away the juxtaposition between his long journey and swift death. It is this juxtaposition that makes this moment one of the best in The Shining. For this reason, the longer cut (widely referred to as the ‘US version’) is a more complete and suspenseful experience.
9. Danny’s First Vision – The Blood
“Tony, why don’t you want to go to the hotel?”
This is the first visually distressing moment in the film, and the first warning of things to come. In this moment, Danny is in the bathroom of his house and he is talking to Tony about going to the hotel. That’s when the blood comes…
Danny describes Tony as the little boy who lives in his mouth, but Wendy tells the doctor and Mr Halloran that Tony is Danny’s imaginary friend. Danny is talking to Tony in the mirror, wiggling his finger and changing his voice whenever Tony is replying (an acting choice that was made completely independently by actor Danny Lloyd). In the scene, he is asking Tony why he doesn’t want to go to the hotel. After a few tries asking, Danny’s eyes widen and the now-iconic image of the hotel elevators appears on the screen, gallons of blood slowly gushing forth from the door.
There has been barely anything more than a polite conversation presented thus far in The Shining, so it is particularly striking for the first piece of visual horror to come quite literally crashing in as a wave of blood.
This moment acts as the opening of the floodgates, as the introduction to the onslaught of horror that will occur at the Overlook Hotel. From this point in the film, we are marching towards something terrible, and Danny is the only character who is aware of this. This is a moment that shapes the rest of the film, introducing a sense of intrigue and dread, calling us towards the hotel whilst also informing us that terrible things await.
The bloodied elevator shot took 3 takes to record, which is a low number compared to some of the other scenes which reportedly took over 100 takes. However, these 3 takes actually took a year to complete, due to the mammoth task of cleaning and resetting the blood. Kubrick was apparently unhappy with the first two shots, complaining that they didn’t look enough like blood. Ahead of release, Kubrick had to bend the truth and explain that the blood was rusty water so that he could bypass the rule that blood was not to be shown in trailers.
Recommended for you: The Shining (1980) Review