Review of The Shining (Novel, Movie, Mini-series)

The time “to shine” has arrived! I’ve been promising this review for quite a while now. Finally it has come. …Heeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!


** Warning: there are spoilers lurking about! They are hiding everywhere. You may encounter a seemingly innocent sentence and then suddenly, out of nowhere – BOO! One will grab you. You have been warned. **


ShiningnovelThe Book

Let me begin was a story refresher. The Shining is about a five year old boy named Danny Torrance that has special powers which the book calls “The Shining”. He has precognition and extra sensory perception to name a few. His father, Jack Torrance, is an unemployed writer. Formerly a school teacher, he lost his teaching when he pummeled one of his students for taking a knife to his car tires. Jack has anger issues. He is an alcoholic as well. After a heavy night of drinking, he witnesses Danny making a mess out of his papers on his desk. He breaks his arm when pulling him away from the desk. Many of Jack’s issues stem from the abuse he had suffered from his father. Nevertheless, his wife Wendy stays by his side, on the condition that gives up the booze and cleans up his act. Jack complies. Not only does he give up drinking, but he lands himself a job as a caretaker for the swanky yet empty Overlook Hotel for the winter when the Hotel shuts down.. It is up high in the Colorado Mountains. He and his family move in. Soon they will be snowbound. The Overlook Hotel is haunted. It too shines, just like Danny. Jack and Danny will unintentionally awaken the Hotel’s ghosts. Danny does so on account of his ability to shine and Jack on account of his unstable personality; ghosts just love to munch down on disturbed psyches.

In the “spirit” of the book (and the film) (and the television mini-series), I think it’s time to call forth some ghosts as well. These will be the ghosts of reviews past.

Several months ago, I wrote about house divided, brother against sister, and family tensions with the end result being the physical destruction of their house. This occurs in The Fall of The House of Usher.   A few weeks later, I presented a house that preys on the psychic abilities of a fragile young woman. You can learn more about this story by visiting Hill House at The Haunting of Hill House/The Haunting: Book Vs. Movie. Months later I introduced a family that rented a big old house for the summer. The wife/mother fell in love with it, so much so that longed to be a part of it. And the house was more than willing to possess her! This is what happens in Burnt Offerings. Then, only about a week or two ago, I informed you of a certain masquerade party. But this party was not all fun and games, was it? In fact it was quite deadly. You can revisit The Masque of Red Death anytime you wish.

Now, how was that trip down the haunting memory lane? It is a nice collection of “ghosts” if I do say so myself. But why resuscitate them at this time? Just for the hell of it? No. I called upon them for a reason. And the reason is: all of these stories influenced Stephen King when it came to writing The Shining.  From Wikipedia:

The Shining was also heavily influenced by Shirley Jackson‘s The Haunting of Hill House,[15]Edgar Allan Poe‘s The Masque of the Red Death and The Fall of the House of Usher,[13] and Robert Marasco‘s Burnt Offerings.[10] The story has been often compared to Guy de Maupassant‘s story “The Inn”.[16]

(I have not yet read “The Inn” Maybe it’s time to do so.)

I do believe the descriptions as I have written them point to the themes that King borrowed. Just like with The Fall of the House of Usher, The Shining is an account of a dysfunctional family that resides in a building that meets its destruction at the story’s end. As with The Haunting of Hill House, The Overlook Hotel feeds off of the psychic abilities of one of its inhabitants. In the first story, Hill House claims a vulnerable young woman named Elenaor Vance. Not only does the story hint that the house comes into power on account of her special abilities, but the house takes advantage of her emotional instability as well. In The Shining, the Overlook Hotel uses five-year-old Danny Torrance as a battery; siphoning power from his psychic nature in order to bring on a haunting. However, the unstable one of the family is his father, Jack Torrance. As an alcoholic with anger issues, the Hotel takes advantage of his personal demons as it slowly possesses him. Jack ends up being a willing servant of the Hotel; a Hotel that conjures up alcohol, gets him drunk and pressures him to kill his family – all under the guise of caring for The Hotel. Likewise with The_Shining_by_Stephen_King_Covermother in Burnt Offerings that looks after the house obsessively; a mother who gives in to the possessive demands of the house. Finally, the ghosts of The Overlook reenact a hedonistic masquerade party that took place on the property decades beforehand. At midnight on the night of their ghostly appearance, tragedy will be waiting in the same way that Death ready to pounce in The Masque of Red Death.

Yes, Stephen King borrowed from many sources. But this is not a criticism. The final product which he assembled from the various themes was indeed a masterpiece. He is like a chef that uses only the finest ingredients to concoct his stew. One does not bitch that the chef stole from the line cooks that prepped the meat, potatoes and carrots. Rather, one enjoys all the makings of this tasty treat.

I must confess. I like The Shining more than the books that influenced it. But don’t get me wrong – I love all of the preceding works. It’s just that King’s work has that extra “shine” that lures me to his story over the others. It might be the depth of the characters. Maybe it’s because all the story elements fall perfectly into place. Perhaps it’s the trip itself; the scenic drive across the story arc that makes for the best reading experience. Or maybe I just happen to have a special gene that predisposes my taste buds for the flavor of “The King!” I don’t know.

In addition to the aforementioned haunted house literature, there were other factors that influenced King’s “shining” ideas. Real life experience was one such factor. The story goes that King and his family were staying at mountain top hotel. They were the only guests! The hotel was going to shut down for the winter the very next day. It was an empty, spooky experience to be the only occupants in such a grand sized place. At night, he was plagued with nightmares. He dreamed of the corridor’s firehouse. It turned into a snake and chased his three year old son. Drawing on this experience, King began to formulate the ideas that would eventually become The Shining.

Located in Estes Park, Colorado, the name of the Hotel that inspired King’s story is named The Stanley Hotel attracts visitors to this day. Writing workshops are held there annually. (See also my blog post about Scott Nicholson’s Creative Spirit. It is a horror story about a artistic retreat and I refer to The Stanly Hotel. Supposedly, the Hotel has a haunted history in real life. They sponsor ghost tours. However, I cannot find any stories of such hauntings that take place before The Shining was published. Are these tours merely publicity stunts? I wouldn’t know.


The_Shining-movie_poster-03The Movie

Now, what about the movie starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall? Stephen King is not a fan. Not one bit. In a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, he complains that the portrayal of Wendy Torrance (played by Shelley Duvall) was nothing short than an exercise in misogyny.

“Wendy Torrance is just presented as this sort of screaming dishrag”

On Jack Torrance (played by Nicholson), he notes that the character was sort of crazy from the onset, contrary to the Jack Torrance of the book.

“In the book, there’s an actual arc where you see this guy, Jack Torrance, trying to be good, and little by little he moves over to this place where he’s crazy. And as far as I was concerned, when I saw the movie, Jack was crazy from the first scene.”

To these ends I agree. Shelley Duvall is annoying in her fragility. Jack Nicholson does seem crazy from the very beginning. One of the first scenes shows Jack interviewing for the position of the Hotel caretaker. During the interview, he smiles and laughs in a way that only Jack Nicholson can. It’s what he does. He’s creepy no matter what. To quote Mad Magazine, “Jack Nicholson doesn’t mean to make horror films. His romantic comedies just turn out that way.” Nevertheless, if I were the Interviewer (Mr. Ullman), I would steer clear of this man.

In general, Stephen King finds fault with the overall lack of character development. mentions a quote he gave to BBC.

“We’re looking at the people, but they’re like ants on an anthill, aren’t they doing interesting things, these little insects”

I too have the same impression. But I must say, this “ants on an anthill” perspective is both the weakness as well as the strength of the film. Yes you read that right. Let me explain. What viewers lose in terms of character development they gain in atmosphere.   The film has fostered an air of detachment. Quite often, viewers are far away from the happenings, only to slowly zoom in with the camera as it creeps upon scene after scene.   This helps to create a larger-than-life environment; The Overlook Hotel is so much larger than life that it includes death in its equation as well. The brilliance of Stanley Kubrick is evident in the jagged angles of his aerial shots of the mountain road that lead to the hotel. From a corridor on the other side of the room, we see the characters walk the length of a corridor further away in the eye the camera; another trick of atmospheric cinematography to create a feeling that is the opposite of intimacy. It is one of remoteness; of being led into a situation that is beyond anyone’s control. One of the film’s famous scenes is of little Danny Torrance riding his big wheel through the lounges and down the corridors. When he rides across the tile floor, the rumbling of his plastic tires is heard echoing against the corners of these chambers, wherever they might be. Every now and then he rides across carpeting. The noise stops – for a few seconds. These are somewhat unsettling seconds, for we know the echoing rumbling will return. And it does. The vastness of the Hotel is juxtaposed with one if the “ants” that resides on its premises – one if its little toys on wheels.

Let me be clear, the book is definitely better than the film. If I was Stephen King and some filmmaker changed key parts to my story, or flattened out my characters, I might be upset at the final result as well. But since this is not my book, I can enjoy Kurbick’s vision of King’s novel, and enjoy it I do. Of course I’m not alone. It seems to make every top ten list of haunted house films (For example, Time and MovieWeb).Kubrick does not fully explore the depth of the characters. It is obvious that his favorite character is the Overlook Hotel itself. But he certainly raises the hotel to frightening heights.


Book Vs. The Movie

Here is a list of some of the differences between the film and the book.

Jack Torrance

  •  Book – A writer and school teach who struggles with alcoholism and anger issues. His shamed history includes beating up a student, breaking his son’s arm and almost getting into a deadly car accident with his friend at the wheel. Takes job at the overlook to build up his resume and write a play. His character constantly struggles to curb his anger and do the right thing.
  •  Film – Jack’s history is downplayed. He seems quite unbalanced from the very beginning



  • Book – Little Danny’s imaginary friend. Tony is the one who “reveals things” to the boy, i.e. the past, the future, the thoughts of his parents. Turns out that Tony is a product of the boy’s deepest caverns of the subconscious
  •  Film – Mostly the same, except toward the end, Tony seems to take possession of Danny. This doesn’t happen in the book.


Mr. Ullman

  • Book – The manager of the Overlook. He can’t stand Jack Torrance. He does not want him as the caretaker but his hands are tied. The board of directors (one of which is Jack’s friend) has guaranteed Jack the job. He treats Jack condescendingly. Later in the story, Jack unearths scandal on the hotel. As revenge, Jack phones Ullman and threatens to write a book on all the wrong doings that have occurred at the Overlook.
  •  Film – The manager takes a liking to Jack from the very start. Even with his rather unsettling posture in the interview. Go figure!


The History of The Overlook Hotel

  •  Book – There is a lot of history presented in the book. A former caretaker named Grady killed his family then himself. In room 217 (237 in the film), an older woman kills herself. Going back further in years, a mob execution takes place in the presidential suite. The hotel had changed hands often, operating as dummy corporations under the helm of the shady Horace M Derwent. He held a masquerade back in 1945 to celebrate a grand reopening of the hotel. Later in the story, the masquerade returns to life, with every occupant that has died on the premises over the years. The book goes on to describe the party as  “a long and nightmarish masquerade party went on here and had gone on for years”  and “The parties that were all one went on and on, populated by generations of guests”
  •  Film – Very little history. The Grady tragedy is mentioned. Also, the film has it that the Hotel was build over an Indian burial ground. This is not so in the book. Here’s something to note: the two twin daughters of Mr. Grady, their ghosts appear to Danny, inviting him to play in with them forever and ever. This doesn’t occur in the book.


The Boiler

  •  Book – One of Jack’s duties as the caretaker is to depressurize the boiler in the basement. “It creeps” is what the caretaker of the regular season tells Jack. This boiler is what ends up being Jack’s, and the Hotel’s undoing. The Overlooks blows up with Jack inside. His family escapes safely.
  •  Film – This plot is left out of the film. Jack meets his demise freezing to death in a ShiningMovieFrozenJackmaze of hedges. Too bad this was left out; it was also symbolic of Jack’s sanity.

Dick Halloran

  •  Book – Cook at the Hotel, meets with family before all employees vacate the premises for the winter. Shares the gift of “The Shining” with Danny. Tells Danny to call him telepathically if anything goes awry during their stay. In the end, Danny calls him and Dick comes and rescues them
  •  Film – Much the same. More description of his character in the book. However, in the film, he dies. Jack axes him to death. Halloran is played by Scatman Crothers  This is the second time Jack Nicholson bests poor Crothers. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nicholson gets him fired as the night watchman at the insane asylum. But I guess that’s better then dying.


  • Book – The hedges are cut so that they resemble animals; horses, tigers, lions. They come to life at various points. A lion ends up chasing Halloran’s snow mobile.
  •  Film – Instead of hedge animals, there is a maze of hedges. Jack chases Danny in there. Danny finds his way out ant escapes but Jack doesn’t.


Also of note, Jack does not write “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy” over and over again obsessively in the book, nor does he say “Heeeere’s Johnny!” He does not chase his family with an axe. Rather, he uses a mallet. And those creepy twins – the little girl ghosts – they are not in the book.

ShiningMovieTwins             The_Shining_by_Stephen_King_Jack_Coming_up_the_Stairs











The Television Mini-series.


ShiningTV2I knew a guy, big Marvel comics fan, and whenever you asked him about a recent marvel superhero movie, he would say something to the tune of “I liked it! It stuck to the original story of the comics” or “I didn’t like it, it strayed from the original story”. To him, the quality of a film adapted from previous material seems to be solely based upon how well it regurgitates the plot of its predecessor. How well a story re-translates itself from book to film doesn’t seem to be an important factor in his analysis. I mean, if a film based on a book totally sucks, but it sticks to the original story, then by his standards the film isn’t allowed to suck.

Let’s apply his standards to The Shining movie and to The Shining television mini-series.The movie sucked because it strayed heavily from the original plot and the mini-series was fucking awesome because it, for the most part, told the story as per the book. Okay, let us be done with this application, shall we? Because it is this application that sucks. It is this guy’s standards that blows chunks.

The movie strays heavily from the original plot. It is not as good the book but it is still a good film. The television mini-series, on the other hand, closely resembles the book. Does this make it good? No, but it is not terrible either. Well not all of it is terrible.


Here’s what is terrible – the acting. It was typical made-for-TV acting. The man and woman who play Jack and Wendy Torrance seem better suited for a shampoo commercial. The boy that plays Danny has too many lines. He talks way too much and actually makes me cry out for little Jake Lloyd from Star Wars The Phantom Menace.

Elliot Gould plays Ullman and he does so robotically. Seriously, listen to him when he speaks – he sounds like a low-toned Speak n Spell.

Nevertheless, the series has its enjoyable moments. It is scary and it does give viewers more background information than the film.   But I still prefer the film. In fact, sometimes ShiningTVthe series tries to imitate the film. When Jack smashes his way into the bathroom, in the book he says nothing. In the film he says “Heeeeeere’s Johnny!” Which will the series choose to emulate, the book, which it had been kept true to all along, or the movie? For some reason, it chose the movie, but instead of the calling out to The Tonight Show host of the 60’s and 70s, Jack says “booo!” followed by “here come’s papa bear!” Corny! The series should have had him remain silent.


The Shining, as a whole, is a magnificent piece of work. Beginning with King to be retold by Kubrick, it is a story that invokes one of my favorites haunted house themes – a house that is an entity in and of itself – a house that is more than the sum of its ghosts. I love the Shining and may it shine on forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and…..




Review of The Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories

MAmmothThe “tome” that is the subject of this review should sit on the shelf above the fireplace. It should lure the eyes of visitors to its spine and provoke them to call out “What is that?” Then its owner can proudly say, “It’s an anthology of haunted house stories. It is The Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories.”

The best platform for this anthology is the old-fashioned hard cover book (if that option exists.) It is not a book that needs to be read cover to cover. But it should always be on display in the den or reading room, no Mammoth2more than a few steps away from the easy chair. That way, whoever just happens to be sitting there before the lit fireplace with a snifter of Brandy will have this anthology at his/her beck and call.

Grab the book and pick a story, any story that you think is to your liking. Then read and enjoy.

I did none of those things. I bought it through my Kindle app. I read it from beginning to end, forcing myself to complete the stories I didn’t enjoy. Our house is not set up with a “reading room” or den. Mostly I read this from my bed before going to sleep. We have no fireplace and we have no Brandy. But oh how I prefer my original albeit fictitious scenario!

Despite not having the proper environment for this anthology, I enjoyed it much. Okay, so I didn’t like every story. The components of any given anthology will not satisfy the reader 100% of the time. That’s just the way it goes.

Compiled by British author and anthologist Peter Haining (2 April 1940 – 19 November 2007), The Mammoth Book of Haunted Houses is a collection of short stories and novellas from primarily British authors, many of which stem from the gothic tradition. It includes stories by famous authors such as Bram Stoker, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, and Stephen King. Some of the stories are personal favorites of horror legends of film, such as Boris Karloff Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Clive Barker.

Haining himself claimed to have lived in a haunted house, so perhaps there was a certain level of personal significance attached to this project. He certainly had a fun and interesting way of introducing each story. Each tale begins with a page that is meant to resemble log entries in a real-estate transaction book, if such a thing exists. These intros look something like this:


Address: The country, city and sometimes neighborhood where the story takes place are mentioned here.

Property: Structural details are taken from the story and summarized here,

Viewing Date: Year the story was published

Agent: Biographical detail of the author. Sometimes this section contains other details such as a mentioning of famous people who admire the story.

The book is divided into seven sections – seven varying categories of haunted house tales.

Each section is comprised of stories that relate to the specified category. The seven categories are:

Haunted Places: Stories Of Fact And Fiction

Avenging Spirits: Tales Of Dangerous Elementals

Shadowy Corners: Accounts Of Restless Spirits

Phantom Lovers: Sex And The Supernatural

Little Terrors: Ghosts And Children

Psychic Phenomena: Signs From The Other Side

Houses Of Horror: Terror Visions Of The Stars

Finally, there is an appendix of full-length haunted house novels alphabetized by the authors’ last name. From Anson, Jay (The Amityville Horror) to Young, Francis Brett (Cold Harbour) with many greats in between, it provides a paragraph synopsis of each list entry.

All in all, there are forty-two stories in this anthology. (To see a complete list of all the stories, go here!)  I’ll briefly summarize three that I found to be quite enjoyable.


The Haunted and the Haunters          –         Edward Bulwer-Lytton

First is the first. That is, it’s the first story in this collection. Written in 1859 in the gothic tradition, it is a tale about a fellow who has a strong desire to spend a night in a haunted house. He gets his wish and experiences all sorts of phenomena. Walking footprints, furniture and doors moving and opening on their own accord, phantoms of light, dark shadowy substances that invoke a sense of dread, swarming ghostly larvae that the author describes as “…chasing each other, devouring each other” “shapes without symmetry” “movements without order.” The protagonist develops an interesting theory regarding the source of these manifestations.

Edward Bulwer lyttonHere are some interesting bits of trivia concerning that author. Edward Bulwer-Lytton sat in the British parliament and was the Secretary of State for the colonies. He coined the popular quip “The pen is mightier than the sword” and the famous opening line staple, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Watching Me, Watching You         –    Fay Weldon

I am not familiar with Fay Weldon. According to Wikipedia, she is an “English author, FayWeldonessayist and playwright, whose work has been associated with feminism.” Her work often “portrays contemporary women who find themselves trapped in oppressive situations caused by the patriarchal structure of British society.”

From what I gather, Waldon is not associated with the horror or paranormal genre. However, she has given the genre a rather unique and stylistic contribution with Watching Me, Watching You.

 The ghost of this story is not the traditional apparition. It may not even be literal. It is the ghost that haunts all houses. It is the ghost of sorrow, of longing, of regret. And yet, doors open, knickknacks fall from shelves, and presences are felt. The same ghost haunts two different women, one is the ex-wife of a struggling writer, and one is his current wife. The ghost leaps from one woman’s shoulder to the other. Later, the ghost is able to teleport from house to house. Sometimes it remains in a house but goes to sleep for long periods of time. Other times it causes disturbances, only to be expelled from the premises, thrown out of a window inside a sigh. Finally, the ghost learns to travel outside of time, only to reappear at different crossroads of their lives.

 Watching Me, Watching You is beautifully written. I recommend it highly.

 The Boogeyman       –     Stephen King

stephenkingFirst published in Cavalier magazine in 1973, it was later part of his King’s collection Nightshift. This is an excellent piece. Its allure is due to King’s greatest skill set – character development. The protagonist, Billings, consults with a psychiatrist and tells him the sad and rather strange tale of how all three of his children were murdered by the Boogeyman. Billings displays all the essentials of a multi-dimensional character. What makes this an even greater feat is that King accomplishes this in such a small amount of space. Billings comes alive with all the shortcomings that come with being a human – prejudices, psychoses, and ignorance. All this is subtly and effectively captured in his mannerisms and speech patterns. Hell, remove the boogeyman and leave this tale as a case study of Billings and it would still be a masterpiece.



The Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories deserves to be sold in a classic-bound edition. This edition should sit proudly on my shelf among my other hardcovers of classic design, including Dante’s Divine Comedy and H.P. Lovecraft’s The Complete Fiction. But I’m not even sure it exists in hardcover. Sadly the book is not on display in my living room. It hides within my e-reader like a shy ghost that’s too frightened to come out from behind the wall and haunt the house.   I have a feeling that the ghosts of these tales will haunt me unless and until I purchase a hard copy. I need to do this. Soon.