Both cold and creepy, Stanley Kubrick's 1980 adaptation of Stephen King's novel has been hailed as one of the best horror films of all time. Many memorable scenes have bled into popular culture, such as Jack's "Here's Johnny!", the twins "Come play with us Danny", and the blood-soaked elevators. It's well documented that Kubrick added and dropped several elements of the novel when adapting it. The big thing he added was theatricality to a novel that fell flat at times. Unfortunately, what Kubrick gave to the film doesn't make up for the vital things he dropped, such as actual horror, good characters, and a compelling story.
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) has hit a rough patch in what seemed like a perfect life. He's been fired from his job as a professor, he's struggling with alcoholism, and now must take a job as an off-season caretaker for the Overlook Hotel, which will be buried in snow during the treacherous winter. Along with him is his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Once there, the Torrance family is given a tour of the grand hotel and all its trappings. The hotel looks as if its a palace, but inside it feels like a madhouse as hallways run on forever and rooms are cursed by the guests that died within them. Jack doesn't seem to mind the warnings nature is giving him since all he wants to do is have some time to himself and try to start writing the story he's been dreaming about. There's also something about Danny that makes him feel different than everyone else. He can see things no one else can, such as future and past events, many of which hold the key to what exactly is going on inside the Overlook Hotel.
The first thing that becomes apparent when watching the film is how slowly paced everything is. Kubrick takes his time in setting the mood and building the tension. Production wise, everything is done perfectly to tee up the horror, but the story and main characters fall flat when needed. Most importantly, the film really isn't that scary. Just like the novel, the film has some good creepy moments, but they never ascend into true horror. The suspense is always there, but it never is acted upon as the climax holds back when it should let loose.
The characters themselves feel like they are horror film characters right from the beginning. Instead of watching Jack go mad throughout the film, we already get a sense that he is already quite insane. All we're left to do is wait for him to completely snap, which isn't very exciting to watch.
Kubrick is a genius director and goes all out when it comes to combining all the aspects of the film into one package. His eye for great scenery and camera angles is apparent as each shot is carefully calculated and done at just the right time to maximize the desired effect. In particular, the tracking shot of Danny rounding the hotel on his Big Wheel leaves us in suspense as we watch helplessly as he rounds corners that hide sinister things.
The music in this film is also produced and used very well. Strings are violently plucked and stroked to create a sound that is piercing to the ears and frightening to the soul.
While only boasting three main actors, the trio does a good job at making each character their own. Jack Nicholson gives a downright creepy and maddening performance as Jack. It looks as if this performance inspired Nicholson's portrayal of the Joker in Batman. He injects each scene with insanity and does his best to breathe humanity into a literal and metaphorical cold film. Shelley Duvall does a nice job as Wendy, a character that is both helpless and emotionally distraught. She's always reliable to give a good scared face, which is the only thing she does throughout. Danny Lloyd gives probably one of the best performances for a child actor. He has to act with the Nicholson's inhumane character and spirits that are out to get him. He's very good at reacting and acts just like every kid would in a haunted hotel, scared and curious by the unknown.
The closest thing I could compare this film to is Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. Both directors are masters of production and really know how to use them to create a world of their own. But when the time comes for the story to take center stage, both come up short and leave the viewer disappointed. Films can have all the bells and whistles to make them marvelous to look at, but a film that can't tell a good story is just like a good looking car that can't drive.