Much like Alfred Hitchcock with Psycho (1960), Stanley Kubrick sought, with The Shining (1980), to conduct an experiment in cinematic fear. While neither of the films can be reduced to it, this experimental dimension, in both cases, resulted in a landmark of the horror genre and film history, that was also commercially viable, and, in the years since, has become a modern classic. If only from a strictly pragmatic perspective, such recipe for success must necessarily have appealed to, when it didn’t cause outright admiration, Kubrick’s peers—who would not hesitate to try and replicate the successful formula, or pay homage to it. Kubrick himself had no qualms to beg, borrow and steal left and right when creating his cinematic palimpsest: The Shining contains in itself far more allusions to earlier films and cultural icons than are apparent upon first viewing—ranging from Victor Sjöström’s Phantom Carriage (1921), Hitchcock’s Psycho of course, but also Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Diane Arbus’s photographs, to Johnny Carson’s famous opening line and Richard Donner’s The Omen (1976).1 In turn, Kubrick’s film has been quoted and referenced over and over again, in horror and auteur films alike. Later, once it fully accomplished its penetration of the popular culture from which it had borrowed so heavily, it found itself quoted in spoofs and cartoons.2 What follows will restrict itself to looking at ways in which Kubrick’s “masterpiece of modern horror” has been channeled in a variety of films. This in turn casts a new light not only on the film’s direct influence, but also more subterranean resonances and broader relevance as well, as a text of its time, and one that may be characterized, indeed, as “shining” – seeing traces of the past but also projecting forward into the future of what was still, at the time of the film’s release, a nascent socioeconomic system and ideology.
Among the first generation of Kubrickian admirers to have quoted The Shining in their high profile genre films, we find John Carpenter, Ridley Scott, and James Cameron. While they have also referenced other Kubrick films (Barry Lyndon (1975) in Scott’s The Duellists (1977), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986) or in Carpenter’s Dark Star (1974), to name but a few), The Shining is the only film that we find referenced across all three men’s oeuvres. Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) is of course a horror film set in an isolated, wintry environment, whose sense of dread is centered on deceptive appearances, and the scene in which Childs (Keith David) demolishes a door with an axe directly echoes Jack Torrance’s rampage through the doors of the janitorial quarters of the Overlook Hotel.
Scott’s initial theatrical version of Blade Runner (1982) ends with shots of a mountainous landscape, as Deckard (Harrison Ford) and Rachael (Sean Young) elope into the idyllic, misty expanse of the American wilderness. These were taken straight out of the rushes of The Shining’s opening, which Kubrick had sent to Scott at his behest, after Warner Bros. demanded a semblance of a happy ending to the film.3 Scott also cast Joe Turkel, who had played in three of Kubrick’s films (The Killing , Paths of Glory , and most famously as Lloyd the barman in The Shining), for the part of Tyrell, the God-like inventor who ends up being murdered by his artificial human creation (Rutger Hauer) in Blade Runner. Deckard’s apartment number, #9732, is also a clear nod to room 237. Elsewhere I have suggested that the frozen Jack in the maze at the end of The Shining is also a playful nod to a scene of (far less compellingly) frozen Napoleonian soldiers in The Duellists. Considering Kubrick’s life-long fascination with Napoleon, it is likely that the nod was very deliberate—as though to say: this is how you freeze a character in time.
James Cameron—a keen and outspoken admirer of Kubrick4—injected numerous nods to The Shining in Aliens, which was shot concurrently with Full Metal Jacket (1987) in England: from the deleted scenes now available in the extended cut (a child riding a trike on the human colony base, and Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) smoking a cigarette in a pose strongly evocative of Wendy’s during the doctor’s visit to the Boulder apartment), to the gripping thrills the film procures by way of gothic and horror touches. Kubrick’s unforgettable work with music is also reprised in the form of pastiche, in postmodern fashion, in James Horner’s score over the film’s opening titles and its rumbling, ominous chords, reminiscent of those heard in Krzysztof Penderecki’s “The Awakening of Jacob”, so memorably associated with Kubrick’s film (including in the scene where Wendy stirs Jack from his nightmare and the room 237 sequence). More so than Carpenter or Scott, Cameron’s engagement with Kubrick’s legacy bypasses thematic or stylistic quotes. Pointedly, Cameron’s treatment of cinematic time derives from an understanding of the medium’s affinity with all things time-based, starting of course with suspense. He also understands the usefulness of incorporating condensed/intensified psychological time in key scenes. This, however, Cameron conveys through the most hackneyed technique used to suggest the mind’s working under the effect of adrenaline rush, namely, slow motion. This happens at a crucial moment in Aliens when, upon being revived from her decades-long sleep in the pod, Ripley panics and screams, as an alien starts to make its way through her abdomen in what turns out to be a nightmare scene. This, I argue, is a subtle and layered quote of The Shining (1980) and its heightened sense of suspense and dread, more precisely of Wendy Torrance’s own horrified face as Jack’s axe bursts through the bathroom door.
While Kubrick himself applied a deliberately slow, unease-inducing pace to the film, he refrained from using any slow motion in said scene, and he famously toyed with time elsewhere, from the déjà vu experienced by Jack early on to the encounter with ghosts from a 1920s ball to the infamous vision (in slow motion) of blood gushing forth from the hotel’s elevator doors. The film lists a series of temporal indicators in intertitles (“Closing Day,” “Wednesday,” “4 pm,” etc.) only to more clearly make the passing of time inscrutable and uncanny, leading to a kind of questioning or relativizing of the way it is usually experienced. While both Kubrick and Cameron, as producers and entrepreneurs, kept the adage “time is money” close to heart (hence the prevalence, nowadays, of diegetic time-based concerns, or time travel, in big budget films), Cameron halts before the threshold of film art, only using time effects for suspense and entertainment purposes, whereas Kubrick works with cinematic time as philosophical material proper.
Even further removed still from any deeper philosophical concerns, the list of lesser filmmakers to have quoted The Shining in horror films could not possibly be assessed in full here without turning this article into something as tedious as a drab shopping list. But much like Psycho, of which it is a next-of-kin in the domain of experiments in fear and shock, The Shining has as its simplest teachings its legendary jump scares (Jack’s murder of Hallorann) and the dread of the reveal (Wendy discovering the manuscript; the old hag reflected in the bathroom’s mirror). The most mediocre epigones—of which of course there is a sad multitude—content themselves in recreating these tricks, these “mechanical” moments. Suffice it to point to replays of the bathroom scene in the TV miniseries It (Tommy Lee Wallace, 1990), in which a character, thinking that he is kissing his paramour, realizes in the mirror that he is holding Pennywise the clown in his arms (“kiss me, fat boy!”), or the metonymic revelation of a character’s madness by way of discovering their ‘manuscript’, as in Secret Window (David Koepp, 2004).
The trope of the uncanny, preternaturally gifted (but not possessed) child is also one that inspired many post-The Shining films.5 One could point to the child protagonists in The Sixth Sense (M Night Shyamalan, 1999) or the remake the The Ring (Gore Verbinski, 2002), with its uncanny or creepy children endowed with the gift of foresight.6 The figure of the obsessive writer who jeopardizes his family’s well-being is another such type or stock-figure, reprised perhaps most famously in Sinister (Scott Derrickson, 2012). There, the references to The Shining operate like a blueprint to misguide the viewer and thwart their expectations. The obsessive writer character (Ethan Hawke) discovers reels of super-8 films just like Jack Nicholson does the ‘scrapbook,’7 whose history of evil will possess him and drive him to insanity (or, rather, release the insanity and violence that was always in him, but suppressed by society). We suspect from the get-go in Sinister that the protagonist will become a dangerous, murderous maniac, only to find out that it is in fact his daughter who turns out to be the assassin, possessed or seduced by the boogeyman-like antagonist, who literally lives inside reels of super-8 snuff films, from where he lures, like a Pied Piper of Hamelin, the children who mysteriously vanish after all their families have been slaughtered, thereby “making them famous.” While the theme of the house haunted by horrible events is another direct and very self-conscious reference to The Shining, what the filmmaker touches upon in Sinister, without delving deeper into it, has to do with the ghosts or images crossing the threshold between pure image (the super-8 projection) and diegetic material reality, and the ability to intervene and interact with the physical world. This idea of the autonomization of the image goes deeper than what most horror fare can usually tease out of The Shining’s many layers, and while Sinister is a flawed film, it is at least arresting in this respect.
Equally flawed yet worthy of our attention is Vox Lux (Brady Corbet, 2018), a film about the rise to stardom of a young singer-songwriter. The Faustian pact at the heart of Kubrick’s film—and the price to pay in order to accede to celebrity or worthy caretaker status—is predicated on an act of gruesome violence (a school shooting), intriguingly rehearsing the Grady murders and the history of violence of the Overlook Hotel, then investigating the ancillary correlation between horror and fame. Whether Corbet did this deliberately or not, and although he dedicates it to the memory of Jonathan Demme, his film is first and foremost rife with Kubrickian echoes.8 not least in the opening aerial tracking shots over cars, and the way the first meeting with the studio representative is framed exactly like the interview with Stuart Ullman in The Shining.
And what can one say about the direct borrowings of the Overlook Hotel’s interior (but without the original actors) in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One (2018) and, of course, the infamous Doctor Sleep (2019),9 but that they at once summon that great theoretical idea (namely, the ghostly and haunting quality of the image) and a warranted feeling of disquiet, or even nausea in the viewer, before such an arresting mixture of an unpleasant violation and fetishization of the (devitalized or taxidermized) image? What all these examples demonstrate, at any rate, is that, much like the ghosts populating the Overlook Hotel, the images of The Shining have acquired a strange autonomy, and they travel from film to film, irreducible still to the textures of those homage, rip-offs, parodies or pastiche.
As has become increasingly evident over time, The Shining is much more than a simple horror film (or even than the “ultimate experiment” in fear). It is a dark comedy, a family drama, and an early instantiation of what Thomas Elsaesser called the ‘mind game’ film. It is thus logically also referenced in films that are only tangentially horror films (or aren’t horror films at all), including ones by established auteurs: Lars Von Trier features textual and formal echoes of the film in his oeuvre, from Breaking the Waves’s (1995) day cards to Antichrist’s (2009) horror set in a secluded locale on the edge of the wilderness. The ghastly predicament of the confined couple in Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012) likewise carries distant echoes of The Shining. Peter Weir’s The Truman Show (1998), a film showing how a society of information and surveillance becomes its own absurd nightmare, directly and indirectly quotes The Shining: Marlon (Noah Emmerich), the “best friend,” looking for Truman (Jim Carrey), asks, in Jack Torrance fashion “come out, come out, wherever you are”; Christoph (Ed Harris), the sinister, God-like, all-seeing perfectionist, scrutinizing every movement of his “child,” is a rendition of Kubrick’s obsession with control (rigging his house with cameras, etc.), and a concern present in the uncanny gaze which pervades the Overlook Hotel. Perhaps this explains why one of the most famous deep fake videos in circulation has Jim Carrey’s face pasted onto Jack Nicholson’s body, as both men’s devilish grins and histrionic dispositions echo one another. Likewise, the claustrophobic, nightmarish worlds of Jack Torrance and Truman Burbank seem to be mirroring images of one another—both visionary and strange investigations of the Baudrillardian simulacrum.
The Shining, indebted as it is to the fairy-tale but also inscribed in a very concrete material environment of late 1970s America, is undeniably a deeply strange, weird film—queer, even, in its twisted sensuousness and hints at non-normative sexuality and incest. It is unsurprising then to find Kubrickian echoes, also, in Wild at Heart (David Lynch, 1990), a film that freely blends entire chunks of American film history, fairy tale and grisly news items, oneirism and brutal realism, child rape and incest. Echoing Kubrick’s film, Lynch also injects his work with oblique textual references, nods, and echoes: in one scene, Marietta Fortune (Diane Ladd) plasters her face with red lipstick to an ominous, rumbling tune, alluding to The Shining’s “REDRUM” scene, and also channeling the demented vibe of the film’s last act. As for Bobby Peru’s (Willem Dafoe) seduction of Lula (Laura Dern) in a seedy motel room, it obliquely evokes the encounter and “seduction” of Delbert Grady and Jack Torrance, two characters from two different realms—the sort of interpenetration which Lynch’s cinema has made its “dread and mutter.” Summoning more than motifs, indeed channeling and re-appropriating Kubrick’s spirit in terms of tone and atmosphere, as Rick Warner illustrates, Lynch borrows “a suspenseful atmosphere of dread,” different in essence from Hitchcockian suspense, directly from Kubrick.10
The ‘new new Hollywood’ of David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Quentin Tarantino, is also rife with references to The Shining. Moonrise Kingdom’s (2012) framing, zooms and camera movements (but also hip yet uncanny children, and intimations of, again, near-incestuous or forbidden sexuality) echo those seen in the Overlook Hotel, while The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) freely blends Lubitsch, Hitchcock and, yes, Kubrick.11 Fincher’s trademark obsessive low to the ground tracking shots, meanwhile, are straight out of Danny’s trike rides and Garrett Brown’s steadicam movements. Quentin Tarantino, so notorious for quoting from cinema high and low (but mostly low) in his films, remains seldom associated with Kubrick, with whom he nonetheless shares a keenness on blending the comedic and the horrific. However, there are at least two inescapable references to The Shining in his oeuvre. One occurs in Pulp Fiction (1994): after Butch (Bruce Willis) has entered his apartment to retrieve his gold watch, he happens upon Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and shoots him. He then pushes the bloodstained bathroom door, in a direct reference to Jack Nicholson’s hand opening the door to the bathroom of room 237, revealing the naked woman in the bathtub.
In Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019), shots of Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) driving and listening to a radio program echoes the scene of Hallorann driving through the snowstorm, to a near-identical radio jingle. And while The Shining owes more than its fair share to the success of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Tarantino’s film of course features Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and is inspired directly by the Manson Family murders, whose blood-inscription on the site of the La Bianca murders of “Healter Skelter” evokes that of ‘Redrum’ in Kubrick’s film. What The Shining and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood have in common, then, is a deep rapport with history, and in particular with the Holocaust, which is inscribed cryptically but deeply in the texture of both films.12
But surely it is Paul Thomas Anderson who is keenest on overtly and reverently channeling Kubrick: if, as Pansy Duncan argues, The Shining, like an unending well of interpretation, is also a film also about the petro-cultural crisis, then indeed “oil is murder!”, the gore of Kubrick’s film becoming a commentary on the economic angst of the 1970s—in other words, blood can be equated with oil in Kubrick.13 Anderson replays this analogy literally in There Will Be Blood (2007), a film, of course, about oil and the murderous greed it generates. To underscore his allegiance, Anderson uses a Penderecki-mimicking soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood in the same film. In both Anderson’s and Kubrick’s films, the use of music is a factor of aesthetic pleasure as well as of irony, producing a rich, double discourse. As for Daniel Day-Lewis, he delivers a most Nicholsonian/Torrancean excessive and histrionic performance as Daniel Plainview, playing a murderous, alcoholic and limping regressive toxic male figure. Although less explicitly indebted to The Shining, Anderson’s masterpiece, Phantom Thread (2017), still bears the stamp of Kubrick’s film. Upon seeing Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis, again) at the hotel at which she works, Alma (Vicky Krieps) seems out of sorts: she stumbles and bumps into a table, causing a small ruckus. Reynolds notices her and she blushes. It is as though they sense the powerful chemistry between them from across the room. But what is happening here is also a seductive layering of temporalities, something like The Shining’s déjà vu, although of a less sinister kind (Reynolds does not, like Jack Torrance, think he is home, nor does he end up doomed to be frozen in the Overlook Hotel maze, or in murderous madness like Daniel Plainview). Reconnecting with the time-based concerns in James Cameron’s films, but in a subtler, more refined way, the memorable and uncanny slow cross-dissolves prefiguring the encounter between Reynolds and Alma constitute something of a visual echo of The Shining, not only marking a transition between different spaces and times but also suggesting the working of the brain, and the relativity of chronological, Newtonian time.
British, Continental European and international auteurs of note have also channeled the spirit of the Overlook Hotel: Jonathan Glazer qualifies perhaps as the master’s most devout epigone, having moved from the world of commercials and music videos into the cutting edge, art-house feature film scene, injecting most of his productions with a dose of obscure Kubrickian imagery. In his sophomore feature Birth (2004) alone, Glazer references 2001, Barry Lyndon, and of course The Shining : the very Nicholsonian performance and features of Danny Huston, the uncanny boy with a quasi-erotic rapport with the adult woman played by Nicole Kidman (including a bathtub scene with incestuous overtones!), the wintry Central Park images, or the doorman throwing a ball against the wall for no apparent reason. The director also cast two actors who had worked with Kubrick—Kidman and Arliss Howard—as brother and sister. “I’ve picked [Kubrick’.]s pockets, really,” Glazer freely admits. “People politely say ‘homage,’ but I probably stole his wallet.”14
The enfant terrible of the Greek “weird wave,” Yorgos Lanthimos, was hailed by the mainstream global media as channeling Kubrick when The Favourite (2018) drew attention to its costumes, décor, cinematography, and narrative of an upstart’s ambitions to power, all very reminiscent of Barry Lyndon and thus “post-Kubrickian.” Yet Lanthimos had been peppering his films with unambiguous quotations from The Shining for a while: think of the two sisters from Dogtooth (Kynodonthas, 2009) posing in a similar way to the Grady twins ghosts’; the monochrome, silhouetted, black and white poster for The Lobster (2015), which evokes The Shining’s black and yellow designs by Saul Bass; the strange hotel and its denizens in that same film, or, most pointedly, the use of steadicam tracking shots through hallways in The Killing of the Sacred Deer (2017), whose mix of family drama, dark comedy, and horror film also echo Kubrick’s film. Even the 18th century-set The Favourite boasts slow cross-dissolves similar to those that rendered space and time ambiguous and uncanny in The Shining. Elsewhere, we can point to a French thriller quoting the aerial, overhead shot of a car ride, With a Friend Like Harry… (Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien, Dominik Moll, 2000), or Bong Joon-Ho’s straightforward and heavy-handed quotation of The Shining’s soundtrack in his Snowpiercer (2013).15
As Fredric Jameson16 elucidated, The Shining was one of several major films of the 1970s wherein the function of the Hollywood auteur was renegotiated and redefined, in a complex and stimulating reinvention of genre. The many filmmakers mentioned here carry on, above all, this legacy of late capitalism (and its cultural logic, postmodernism). As a product or function of its socio-economic environment, classic Hollywood genre films (the western, the musical, the comedy) were a reflection of a rationalized, specialized, Fordist modeled-economy. With late capitalism and a shift from the production line to more fluid professional profiles (alternating service and management), so did film genres evolve as well. Mixtures of genre (e.g. the horror and quasi slapstick comedy in The Shining, but also hints to what Jameson calls the nostalgia film, in the sequences resurrecting the roaring twenties—flapper dresses, tuxedoes and champagne glasses) reflect this, as the geopolitical context of the 1970s called for both alarm and anxiety, and wickedly dark humor (to remain sane in the insanity, no doubt). That genre films, like all commercial cinema, articulate and express the concerns, discourses, and anxieties of an era, is evident. That they may become, as in the case of Kubrick’s, repositories for scores of interpretations, is a symptom of both the times and his films’ layered and complex nature, accounting for, and a product of, the political and economic unconscious that they carry in them: The Shining takes due note of this and foretells what is to come, containing at once the longing for and mourning of the heyday of Fordist capitalism, and announcing what would succeed it. It is thus unsurprising that the filmmakers who today most readily acknowledge Kubrick’s legacy are auteurs whose films are characterized by a degraded, melancholy, or ironic humanism, and practitioners of generic interplay and hybridity (to the list above, I would add Alexander Payne, the Coen Brothers, and Jordan Peele): their works reflect the influence of an age of neoliberalism and global capitalism eminently characterized by fluidity, mobility, flexibility, keen on proven formulas but ever refining and modifying them. Kubrick’s films, and The Shining first and foremost—in its generic interplay, but also congeniality with the replay culture of video technology—beyond mere pastiche or post-classical gesture, anticipated and announced all this: the great tide of terror and seduction that swept across America and the world.
- For more details about the intertextual dimension of The Shining, see Geoffrey Cocks’ piece in this dossier, http://sensesofcinema.com/2020/the-shining-at-40/family-and-history-through-film-references. ↩
- Examples range from Jennifer Shiman’s Kubrick’s The Shining in 30 Seconds (and re-enacted by Bunnies), The Simpsons, Family Guy, and even a recent Mountain Dew commercial. ↩
- They were later removed from the director’s cut release, alongside Ford’s neo-noir voice-over narration. See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3l1iUUq_fE . ↩
- See Hugues, David. 2000. The Complete Kubrick. Virgin Books: Virgin Complete Directors. ↩
- See Balanzategui’s article in this dossier, http://sensesofcinema.com/2020/the-shining-at-40/uncanny-children-nostalgia-in-doctor-sleep. ↩
- The Ring is slavishly rehearsing a score of horror film references, including Psycho and The Shining, of course – see the overhead shot of the ride to the cabin, or the ‘day cards’ counting down the seven fateful days of the film. ↩
- See Ian Christopher’s article in this dossier, http://sensesofcinema.com/2020/the-shining-at-40/the-shining-prop-puzzles-in-the-scrapbook. ↩
- As Conner Reed notes: “Lol Crawley’s camerawork feels focus-grouped to elicit Stanley Kubrick comparisons.” – Reed, Conner. 2019. “Vox Lux and the Price of Greatness.” Little White Lies. https://lwlies.com/articles/vox-lux-the-price-of-greatness-natalie-portman-brady-corbet. ↩
- Ready Player One and Doctor Sleep resort to 4K footage from The Shining, which they doctors digitally in a variety of ways (including to ‘age’ it), and had parts of the original set reconstructed for certain scenes. ↩
- Rick Warner, ‘Kubrickian Dread: Echoes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining in Works by Jonathan Glazer, Paul Thomas Anderson, and David Lynch’ in After Kubrick, a Filmmaker’s Legacy, Jeremi Szaniawski, ed. New York, London : Bloomsbury, 2020. ↩
- See the amusing video mashup ‘The Grand Overlook Hotel’ here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nsi06PG7w_0. ↩
- Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015) also performs an engagement with the Native American genocide without ever featuring a Native American character, exactly like The Shining does, and both directors have had an ambiguous fascination for African American characters and the plight of minorities in America. ↩
- Pansy Duncan, ‘Fade to Crude: Petro-Horror and Kubrick’s The Shining’ in After Kubrick, a Filmmaker’s Legacy, Jeremi Szaniawski, ed. New York, London : Bloomsbury, 2020. ↩
- Glazer quoted in Jack Giroux. 2014. “Jonathan Glazer On ‘Under the Skin,’ Kubrick’s Influence and How the Easiest Part of It Was Getting. . .”, Film School Rejects, April 4, 2014. https://filmschoolrejects.com/jonathan-glazer-on-under-the-skin-kubrick-s-influence-and-how-the-easiest-part-of-it-was-getting-c7a3383e78e3. ↩
- See Gengaro in this dossier, http://sensesofcinema.com/2020/the-shining-at-40/reappraising-the-score-of-the-shining. ↩
- Fredric Jameson. 1992. “Historicism in The Shining”, in Signatures of the Visible, London: Routledge. ↩