Retro Review: The Shining (1980)


Considering the recent release of Doctor Sleep, the sequel to the 1980 film The Shining, I figured this was as good as time as any to cross this classic horror off of my list.

First off, a quick reminder of my self -imposed rules…

  1. Should be a first time viewing.
  2. More than 5 years since original release.
  3. Must watch in full.

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd

Awards: Razzie Award nominations for Worst Actress and Worst Director. Saturn Award nomination for Best Horror.

Danny Lloyd in the 1980 film 'The Shining'.

Jack Torrence gets a job as the out-of-season caretaker for the Overlook Hotel. Seeing this as the perfect opportunity to knuckle down and work on his novel in peace and quiet, Jack moves his family up into the mountains. However, it is not long before the isolation gets to Jack and the cabin fever sets in, or is there something more sinister at play?

Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining' (1980)

So I am pretty certain that I am going to disappoint many of you right now but this is the least favourite of my ‘Retro Reviews’ so far (yes, even considering Return of the Living Dead). To say I was disappointed is a bit of an understatement, in fact, I’ll even go so far as to say that I was bored stiff, this film really challenged by commitment to rule #3.

As with anything though, there were some positives, although for me they were few and far between. First off, the cinematography and shot selection were incredibly clever, especially the aerial shot of the maze and the iconic bloody elevator scene. The use of colour was also cleverly handled, adding an extra element to some scenes which may not have delivered much otherwise.

Still from the 1980 movie 'The Shining'

Credit should also go to Jack Nicholson, who delivered a powerful and captivating performance, although, for me, even that got a little tedious towards the end. I don’t think it helped much that my brain kept distracting me by connecting the similarities between Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker and Jim Carrey’s, Ace Ventura (yes, really).

I’ve also read many positive things about Shelly Duvall’s performance as Wendy Torrence but, my God, I found her to be incredibly annoying, with one of the most irritating cries in the history of cinema. You will probably think I’m over-reacting but every time she cried I wanted to reach into the TV and slap her. I did admire her eventual strength and tenacity but not enough to wipe out the damage done by her tears.

Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrence in the 1980 film, 'The Shining'.

Considering the film’s title, the actual ‘Shining’ element didn’t seem to have that big of a part to play, unless of course you are the chef, Halloran (Scatman Crothers). This also seemed to be the case with young Danny’s finger friend, Tony, who seemed quite prominent early on only to later on seem almost non-existent.

For me, Kubrick tried too hard with all the different supernatural elements, and didn’t really explain any of them that well. However, it’s important to note that I haven’t read the novel so am not entirely sure whether the blame should be apportioned to Kubrick or King.

Finally, I have to talk about the iconic line – “Here’s Johnny”, and the utterly confusing twist ending.

Here's Johnny! - A still from the 1980 movie 'The Shining'

First off, the main character’s name is Jack so where the F did Johnny come from? What is it supposed to mean?

I read that it was ad-libbed by Nicholson and taken from the Johnny Carson show but, for me, it’s inclusion makes no sense in the grand scheme of things and The Shining didn’t strike me as the type of film that goes in for gratuitous easter eggs.

Secondly, where did that ending come from? Personally, I love a good twist ending but usually there are little clues throughout the film that lead up to the big reveal, and wind up adding an extra element to a second viewing (David Fincher and Christopher Nolan are my favourites for this), however there was nothing, that I could see, throughout the entirety of the film that was in any way, shape or form indicative of the ending, and there is no way I’m sitting through a second viewing to see if there’s anything I’ve missed. If any of you guys can shed some light then I will be very grateful – answers on a postcard please (or in the comments will do 🙂 )

Maybe I am grossly uneducated and uninitiated in the minutiae of movies, all the little nuances that make a film great, and that is fundamentally why I received this film so poorly but at least I can now say that I’ve seen it and move on to the next film.

Until next time… x

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Ian says:

    Great review. I know the ending is up for interpretation but I think it’s that Jack has always been in the Overlook Hotel as the caretaker. There’s other theories such as Jack is in hell and reliving over and over again his final month’s in the hotel. But yeah it’s a great twist ending and leaves it open to great conversation and confusion too

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kirsty T says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed my review, I’m always a bit anxious when I write a negative review, especially on such a classic film.

      The theories are interesting, I might have to read up in a few, it might improve my impression 😂

      Thank you for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Keith says:

    I don’t think you’re uneducated or uninitiated. I actually like “The Shining” quite a bit but don’t hold it in a super high regard as many do. That said, I’m a big fan of its sequel “Doctor Sleep” it was a blast.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kirsty T says:

      I’ve since read that Stephen King doesn’t like the adaptation so I feel a little happier about not liking it lol!
      I’m hoping to watch Doctor Sleep soon, I’ve read your review so am pretty hopeful about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Keith says:

        King really didn’t like it at all. The Shining was a really personal story for King and Kubrick went a different route. Doctor Sleep does a great job bringing together King and Kubrick’s visions.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Kirsty T says:

        I’ll definitely have to check it out then.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Brittani says:

    You’re not uneducated. The Shining is an acquired taste, IMO. I realized now after watching Doctor Sleep how much Jack Nicholson really overshadowed everything else about the film, including the actual shining.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kirsty T says:

      I’ve heard a lot of good things about Doctor Sleep, I need to get out of my cinema slump and check it out.
      Thank you for reading.


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