41 years ago today, The Shining was released in theaters. From generating countless memes to paving the way for a full-on Stephen Kingaissance, the horror genre evolved at the Overlook Hotel.
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In the last five years there has been a Stephen Kingaissance in Hollywood, with horror movie blockbusters like It, It: Chapter Two, Pet Sematary and Doctor Sleep all releasing since 2017. We’ve had dozens and dozens of film adaptations of the King’s work, but it had to start somewhere. Carrie got the ball rolling in 1976 as his first film adaptation, but in 1980 The Shining elevated King to new heights; and the horror genre as well.
Stanley Kubrik’s film is one of the most recognizable horror films ever made. From Danny riding around on his bike, to Jack splintering the bathroom door, to the “white man’s burden” with Lloyd the bartender, almost everyone can point out The Shining by just a scene or quick reference. While critics and fans alike have praised the film, perhaps the most important way The Shining has left its mark on society is by memes. From haunting images of the twins staring into our souls to the iconic Jack Nicholson face in the snow-covered maze, the film has lived on in the pop culture zeitgeist.
The Shining also changed the way horror films can captivate audiences. Prior to 1980, we had seen films like Alien, The Exorcist and the Hitchcock movies make up the horror genre. The Shining was able to break away and do it’s own unique thing in scaring audiences; confusing you into fearful submission.
Most horror films prior to 1980 featured a central evil force that the protagonists had to overcome. There was a clear threat, and you understood what it was and what was motivating all the players involved. The Shining flipped that on its head. Why is the Overlook Hotel haunted? What’s the deal with Jack being in that painting in the end? Does the carpet represent Native American themes? These are all questions that have been tackled over the past four decades, and answers are still scarce. Watching the film we know that the Overlook needs a caretaker, and we can assume that the past few haven’t fared so well. We know Jack is starting to lose it, and after miserably failing to write his book he tries to kill his whole family. Jack is the clear threat in this film, with the hotel being the central antagonist. But why? What is the significance of Lloyd the Bartender and the “white man’s burden”? Or the food locker, or the carpets? The one symbol that pulls the film together is the maze; which is symbolic of the plot itself.
When you hit play you are essentially entering a maze that you are highly motivated to find your way out. You want to find all the twists and turns that point to escaping the maze and understanding the subplots of the film that pull everything together. And Jack freezing in the maze is symbolic of us, not being able to decipher a damn thing.
While Carrie may have been the first Stephen King book to get a film adaptation, The Shining changed the horror genre forever, and paved the way for one of the best film runs an author has ever been on. 41 years later and we are still celebrating The Shining as an incredible feat in horror movie-making, and will most certainly remain culturally significant 41 years from now.