Monday, November 23, 2015

The Shining Review

The film version of this book is widely considered one of the best horror films ever made.  While it initially was a bit of a box office and critical failure (Shelley Duvall - the single best performance in the movie - got a Razzie nomination for her troubles), critics slowly came around, and now it is a go-to for comparisons in style and tone.

And the movie is wildly overrated.

When I say Duvall is the single best performance (and it is a great performance, in my opinion), one could argue that I am damning with faint praise.  Almost every other performance ranges from terrible to occasionally adequate.  A few scenes do manage to be creepy (the twins flashing between 'Come play with us' and their dead bodies is unnerving), but overall the film is now overpraised.  The slow 'build' is barely there (Nicholson acts like he is ready to murder his family from the beginning, so not much to climb from) and the pace doesn't so much as build tension as it tests the patience of the viewers.

Now, this might seem a long-winded way of saying the book is so much better, but the book is so much better.  This book is terrifying, with King growing into his trademark imagery and character work to create a living hotel - not a creepy place but a malevolent being.  Jack Torrance is not an unhinged maniac like in the film, but a likeable man easily possessed by the hotel due to his own failings and inner demons.  Really, the relationships between all of the family makes the inevitable breakdown of the unit all the more terrible and frightening.

And the scares scattered throughout work much better in the imagination.  The movie only really got the woman in room 237 217 correct (side note: the hotel where the movie was filmed asked that a new room number be created lest guests refuse the room after the movie came out).  They cut out some of the better scares: the dead wasp nest that comes to life, the topiary animals, the playground... I could go on and on.

Oh, the topiary animals.  Without spoiling it for those that haven't read the book already, the sequences where Jack and Danny separately interact with them are some of the most frightening moments in the book.

The family unit is extremely well written also.  Wendy, Jack, and Danny are all fully realized characters, with very human flaws and motivations.  The decision Wendy and Danny make to stay is such a pivotal moment in the book , and it works so well because of King's early work exploring the characters' love for Jack while also examining the motivations of the characters themselves.  The rich detail into each one's personality serves the narrative well.

King had written an excellent book in Salem's Lot, and somehow managed to improve in every way possible going into his third novel.  A masterpiece in writing.

Pages:  683
Movie?:  The overrated 1980 film discussed in the review, a miniseries in 1997.  The miniseries won 2 Emmys and was nominated for one other.
Dark Tower?:  Unless Doctor Sleep ties it in, this book is free of the Dark Tower
Child Deaths?:  While the prior caretaker is referenced as murdering his family, no children actually die during the book.
Penis Talk?:  Yes, though nothing of note about it.
Grade:  A+

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