Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Stephen King’s The Shining


Film: Stephen King’s The Shining (1997)

Director: Mick Garris

Starring: Rebecca De Mornay, Steven Weber

Written by: Stephen King


I’ve made it no secret that I really dislike Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining.  By the time I watched it all its horror moments had become cliché, but after reading Stephen King’s much better source material I’ve come to hate it pretty thoroughly.  What was supposed to be a story about a family trying to keep itself together and a father trying to overcome alcoholism and pull his life together became in Kubrick’s hands an artsy horror shitshow featuring Jack Nicholson as Wolfman Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall as a mousy, goggle-eyed fashion atrocity.  If Nicholson’s Joker and Duvall’s Olive Oyl were swapped in for their characters in The Shining, no one would be the wiser.  Sure, it’s fun to watch Nicholson go nuts and abuse his family, but he’s not exactly my go-to actor for sympathetic characters, which was what his role should have been.

I’m not the only one who thought that Kubrick crapped all over Stephen King’s book.  King himself had a lot of hate for the film.  Years later, this culminated in his creation of a better, fuller miniseries version.  The miniseries form, usually about three or four times as long as a feature film, has usually been better suited for adapting King’s better-known books, and this version of The Shining maintains that trend.

Still, casting, not length, makes this version superior.  The decidedly not wolfish Steven Weber makes for a great Jack Torrance, and watching him descend from flawed but well-meaning dad to grinning, bloody monster (appropriately enough, he’d have made an awesome Joker) is more gripping than Nicholson playing Nicholson.  Rebecca De Mornay plays Wendy Torrance as she was written: a young, good-looking mother whose default setting wasn’t as her husband’s emotional punching bag.  Their psychic son is still played by a creepy kid, in this case a chubby, bowl-cutted kid who seems incapable of closing his mouth (I ended up referring to him as Cheeks).  Still, I’ll take this kid over the shaggy creep from the original who talked through his finger and had all the acting chops of a stroke victim.

I also really liked the horror elements in this version.  In addition to actually explaining why the Overlook Hotel was a hellish purgatory (instead of Kubrick’s waving his dick around and cramming random spooky shots together), the ghosts in the place are both restrained and horrifying when allowed to break loose.  The rotting chick in the forbidden room is actually kind of terrifying, as opposed to the old hag who tricks Nicholson into making out with her and laughing at him afterwards (it was pretty funny).  The head ghoul is an awesome shade of Dracula who owns any scene he’s in and is genuinely menacing.  I’m also really glad that the evil hedge animals made the cut, instead of being replaced by a lame hedge maze in which Nicholson gets tricked (again!) and freezes to death.  Oh yeah, the ending is a little better, too, which is to say that it actually has one (even if it is pretty sappy).

Suck it, Kubrick.



  1. I think you should watch Room 237. It’s on Netflix. I think you’ll change your mind. Kubrick transcends horror. It isn’t about that.

  2. yep yep and yes. kept hearing many dismissive comments about this version, but maybe it’s nothing more than mainstream reaction, will have to check it out.

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