Heeere’s Johnny! The Shining – widely acknowledged as one of the scariest films ever made- was released on the 23rd of May, 1980. If you’ve somehow avoided this film, or references to this film, for the entirety of its thirty-six year existence, then I am officially impressed. Sad, but impressed. The Shining, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name (though vastly different, much to the initial displeasure of Mr. King), was directed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick and features Jack Nicholson in an absolutely terrifying, unforgettable role as writer/recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance. For those who aren’t yet acquainted (if you even exist), I implore you to end this depressing streak and watch the film immediately. If you are familiar with the film however (which is much more likely), put your reading glasses on and come and play with us.
The Shining stars Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Danny Lloyd as a family who spend the winter living in isolation at The Overlook Hotel. Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, a writer and recovering alcoholic, who takes a job as the off-season caretaker of the hotel. His young son, Danny (Lloyd), possesses a psychic ability that allows him to see into the past and future – also allowing him to see the ghosts that haunt the hotel. After settling in, the Torrance’s become trapped by a snowstorm, during which Jack becomes manipulated by the ghosts of the hotel and descends into madness, ultimately attempting to murder his wife and son.
As a horror fan, it hurts me to admit that I didn’t always love The Shining. When I was young, the film never really appealed to me. The horror is masterfully subtle and psychological – something that Baby Curt just didn’t appreciate. I continued watching through the years, however, and I can honestly say that I am reformed. Upon aging (as so many people do), I began to understand The Shining. Once I learned to appreciate the film for what it is, it worked itself up the list of my favorite horror films, resting within my top ten at the moment. The Shining is undoubtedly a masterpiece that should be appreciated by everyone, and here’s the biggest reason why.
Jack. Fucking. Nicholson.
Seldom has anyone portrayed sheer, unadulterated madness to the same effect as Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Even before becoming influenced by spirits, Nicholson’s Torrance seems on the verge of an outburst. Clearly unstable, the unsettling nature of his performance is enhanced tenfold once the family is settled in at the hotel. I cannot properly express how gleeful I become while watching his performance. Perhaps it says a lot about me, but I like asshole characters. I like characters who don’t give the slightest fuck about anything to the point that they become cocky about it. Jack Torrance is that character. Much of the credit for this can be given to Kubrick and Diane Johnson for the script, but perhaps even more credit should be given to Nicholson for his delivery in arguably the greatest horror performance of all time. There are a couple of sequences of dialogue that accurately sum up who Jack Torrance is as a person. One of them stems from Wendy Torrance (Duvall) as she attempts to speak with Jack while he’s writing:
Jack Torrance: Wendy, let me explain something to you. Whenever you come in here and interrupt me, you’re breaking my concentration. You’re distracting me. And it will then take me time to get back to where I was. You understand?
Wendy Torrance: Yeah.
Jack Torrance: Now, we’re going to make a new rule. When you come in here and you hear me typing [types] or whether you *don’t* hear me typing, or whatever the *fuck* you hear me doing; when I’m in here, it means that I am working, *that* means don’t come in. Now, do you think you can handle that?
Wendy Torrance: Yeah.
Jack Torrance: Good. Now why don’t you start right now and get the fuck out of here?
The second instance – after Jack Torrance loses his shit– is far and away my favorite scene in The Shining, and just might be my favorite exchange of dialogue ever spoken in a horror film.
Wendy Torrance: Well, I’m very confused, and I just need time to think things over!
Jack Torrance: You’ve had your whole fucking life to think things over, what good’s a few minutes more gonna do you now?
Wendy Torrance: Please! Don’t hurt me!
Jack Torrance: I’m not gonna hurt you.
Wendy Torrance: Stay away from me!
Jack Torrance: Wendy? Darling? Light, of my life. I’m not gonna hurt ya. You didn’t let me finish my sentence. I said, I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just going to bash your brains in!
Wendy Torrance: [gasps]
Jack Torrance: [laughs] Gonna bash ’em right the fuck in!
As I mentioned earlier, it would impress me very much if you’ve not only avoided the film for thirty-six years, but also avoided references to the film. The Shining is prominent within pop culture, particularly in films, music, and television shows. Images and scenes that are often referenced include:
The Grady twins in the hallway
The word “Redrum”
And “Heeere’s Johnny!”
References to The Shining can be found far and wide within shows such as Supernatural, The Simpsons, and even Gilmore Girls (Yes, Gilmore Girls) – with The Simpsons including an entire parody segment dedicated to The Shining in the episode “Treehouse of Horror V.” One of my personal favorite examples of homage for The Shining can be found in the music video for “The Kill (Bury Me)” by rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars, which you can find here. You’re welcome.
There’s no denying The Shining‘s impact within pop culture and the world of horror. The film holds up well and is better with each viewing, giving viewers a terrifyingly tense exercise in psychological horror that features a powerhouse performance by Jack Nicholson. Whether you’ve loved it forever, had it grow on you, or hate it all-together, The Shining should be admired for its ambition. If you haven’t watched in a while, there’s no better time than now to revisit it. Remember, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.