At first, the idea of the great Kubrick directing a movie based on a work by Stephen King seemed like a dream come true.
The two men were the absolute best at their crafts. Kubrick hired two of the best actors in the world—Nicholson and Duvall—to play the parent that moves into a secluded hotel as house-sitters for the winter.
Naturally the hotel turns out to be haunted and Nicholson goes totally insane, gets an axe and tries to hack up his family.
It' almost a masterpiece. King hated the film, feeling it betrayed his original work, but fans liked Nicholson's over-the-top performance, the eerie score by Wendy Carlos (who was named "Walter" before his sex change operation), and the very scary sequences featuring a pair of twin girl ghosts who had been hacked to pieces by one of the hotel's previous winter managers. King even produced his own version of the story in the late 1990s for TV.
Yet the remake didn't match the '80 version, which stacks up as a classic and an example of the big-budget terror that was possible after the success of "The Exorcist" There's the usual haunted house fare in this flick: an ocean of blood streaming out of an elevator, a party featuring an army of spirits and, of course, a dad going completely insane. It's done with more style and substance by Kubrick.
But, in the end, "The Shining" is a classic but no masterpiece. It's too conscious of itself, too pretentious. Ultimately, the best horror films are aware that they're really B-movies, no matter how fat their budgets are.
Roman Polanski seemed to know this when he crafted "Rosemary's Baby," arguably the greatest terror flick of all time. Despite having the best actors and flawless direction, it still had a dark sense of humor. Polanski knew it was schlock, no matter how good a filmmaker he was.
It's this black comic sense that is lacking from "The Shining," preventing it from being a horror classic in the same league as "Rosemary," "Halloween" or "The Exorcist."
One would expect better from Kubrick. His film simply wasn't totally original. A great movie, yes, but its haunted house conventions had been used time and time again in countless movies.