Horror Movies for Feminists: The Shining (1980)

Synopsis: A frustrated writer becomes winter caretaker at the wintry, isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado, hoping to cure his writer’s block. He settles in along with his wife and son, who is plagued by psychic premonitions. As his writing dwindles and the boy’s visions become more disturbing, the writer discovers the hotel’s dark secrets and begins to unravel into a homicidal maniac hell-bent on terrorizing his own family.

Why feminists will watch: Directed by Stanley Kubrick, the cinematography and sense of place are iconic. Books and movies have been crafted to revisit the many layers of storytelling in and around this movie, suggesting that it might be a metaphor for native genocide and/or the Holocaust. However King has said the original novel was largely autobiographical and the haunted hotel an extended metaphor for his own alcoholism and domestic violence. Over time, the haunted house trope has evolved to express the confusion and terror experienced in dysfunctional families.

King is on record saying he hates this movie adaptation of his novel, but the movie is more than worthwhile on its own, and comparisons between the movie and the novel will keep you inspired for a long while. It also has a very excellent trailer.

Is it gory? Surprisingly, not really. This movie barely has a body count.

Is it problematic? Oh, absolutely yes. King and Kubrick are both deeply racist and sexist storytellers in general. King frequently relied on the “Indian burial ground” and “magical negro” as storytelling tropes over his career (see also: Pet Sematary, The Green Mile), and both are used here. Meanwhile Kubrick famously put his movie casts and crews through the ringer, and in this movie his ire was saved for Shelley Duvall, whose horror and hysteria on-screen was in part the result of completely unsympathetic treatment by the director. King’s criticism of Kubrick’s adaptation was in fact that it reduced Wendy Torrence to “a screaming dish rag.” Fans argue that Kubrick’s genius was using these strategic tactics to get the perfect shot, but was it ethical to thrash Duvall’s mental health to get a good performance?

All that said, there is a reason this movie is so iconic. The setting, the music, the cinematography, the suspense, the isolation, the very real and deeply identifiable danger of family violence, all add up to a compelling experience that will stay with you – and you will be reminded of it in every hotel you visit thereafter.

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