In honor of the 30th Anniversary of ‘The Shining’, I think it’s important to take a look at some aspects of the history of the movie that made Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic so great, while also taking a look at the impact it has on fans today (you’ve got to check out the moon landing conspiracy; more on that later). Part of what makes Stanley Kubrick’s movie version of ‘The Shining’ so fascinating (despite what author of ‘The Shining’ Stephen King may think) is what we learn of the history of the Overlook Hotel through bits and pieces of the few other human beings we meet there; the shocking scenes played out by the dead; and that iconic photograph that has haunted horror movie fans all these years. So, without further ado, let’s travel back in time to the lonesome but massive Overlook Hotel, a tortured titan whose halls transcend time and never forget the misdeeds that happened there.
The Real Overlook Hotel
In the movie, Stanley Kubrick uses a shot of the Timberline Lodge in Oregon at the beginning of the ‘The Shining’ (here’s a bit of trivia: look closely at the bottom of the screen, and you’ll be able to see the shadow of the helicopter filming the hotel, something that perfectionist Stanley Kubrick either missed or left in on purpose). Interestingly enough, you’ll also notice that there is no hedge maze to be seen; it has been replaced by a parking lot (the Timberline Lodge hotel didn’t have a hedge maze). I’ve always thought that it’s a shame that this seems to be just a goof and not a reference to the hotel’s haunting ability to flash back to different eras of time; Stanley Kubrick could have put this subtle scene in to show audiences that Jack and his family had traveled back to an era when the parking lot was a hedge maze. But before I get too lost with that idea, let’s take a look at the history of the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write ‘The Shining’.
We wouldn’t be celebrating the 30th anniversary of ‘The Shining’ without the real hotel that inspired Stephen King to write his novel. The haunted hotel that ‘The Shining’ is based on is actually the Stanley Hotel, a massive resort located in Estes Park, Colorado. It was built in the early 1900’s by Freelan O. Stanley, the inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile, and the sprawling, scenic grounds became a popular vacationing spot for the elite, seeing the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and the Emperor and Empress of Japan walking its halls. Some guests believe that the hotel is haunted by Freelan O. Stanley himself, as his ghost refuses to leave his beloved billiard room (and the bar) behind. Some guests also have reported hearing piano music when no one is near the instrument (Freelan’s wife used to entertain guests on the instrument), and others have reported hearing children playing in the hallways when none are present (at least, none that can be seen by us; perhaps those terrifying twins Danny encountered on his Big Wheel were the real deal). The hotel has even been visited by paranormal investigators like the crew of the SyFy Channel’s ‘Ghost Hunters’, who could not explain activity in the ballroom and also witnessed a table jumping two feet in the air. Unfortunately, no one has captured anything too definitive (like a river of blood or guys dressed in animal costumes doing unspeakable things).
Stanley Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel History
The history of the Stanley hotel is interesting, but it’s nothing compared to the colorful past Stanley Kubrick gave the Overlook Hotel. Illustrious guests, including various celebrities and Presidents, once roamed the halls in its heyday, although it’s hard to imagine this with the hotel being so empty, sullen, and silent throughout the whole film. The Overlook Hotel was built on an Indian burial ground, and perhaps this cursed the hotel and its residents, including a caretaker that killed his whole family and himself. And then we see yet another dark chapter in the hotel’s history unfold.
The Torrance family witness the hotel’s dark history firsthand, as Danny Torrance meets the two girls murdered by their father. He and father Jack also meet the terrifying ghost in the famously haunted room 237, a spirit that first appears as a seductive young woman before transforming into a frightening old woman in front of Jack’s very eyes. We never learn her back story in the film version of ‘The Shining’ ( but here’s an interesting bit of trivia: ‘The Shining’ is the only movie that the actresses that played the young and old versions of the ghost ever starred in).
We also meet some a man in a dog costume and his friends partaking in some debauchery and Lloyd the bartender, an easygoing guy who serves Jack a drink from a bar that’s supposed to be empty. He seems like the friendly type that’s always there to listen to your troubles and exudes a great deal of elegance and class, but you just feel in your gut that he’s the evil soul of the seemingly alive hotel, the master of both the living and the dead in it.
The History of the Making of ‘The Shining’: Tales of Terror Involving Stanley Kubrick’s Insistence on Perfection
The history of the making of ‘The Shining’ is almost just an interesting as the history of the Overlook and Stanley hotels, thanks to Stanley Kubrick’s insistence on getting every shot just right. Steadicam operator Garrett Brown stated that it took 148 times to get the shot of Danny learning what shining is just right, which would be a Guinness world record (the shot where Wendy is backing up the stairs took 127 shots and was recorded in the record book). The scene where Wendy is running up the staircase was shot 35 times, which meant actress Shelley Duvall basically ran up the steps of the Empire State Building. Other iconic scenes that took take after take are the shots involving Danny’s ball and Jack tearing down the door with the axe.
One small difference from the movie and the book is that room number 217 is changed to 237 in the film at the insistence of the owners of the Timberline Lodge, who feared that no one would want to stay in the room after seeing the movie (although I have a feeling it would have the opposite effect). And another interesting bit of trivia about the use of the Timberline: the same footage of the drive to the hotel can be seen in the tacked-on happy ending to ‘Blade Runner’ (a cool connection between two of my favorite thought-provoking movies, although I definitely hate that ending).
And some more tidbits of trivia:
That iconic photo capturing a shocking moment in history where we see that Jack has somehow managed to time travel is actually a real photo with his face airbrushed in.
The best adlib moments of ‘The Shining’ include Danny moving his finger when Tony is talking to him and Jack Nicholson’s ‘Here’s Johnny!” line, something that Brit Stanley Kubrick didn’t get right away.
Crew members often really got lost in the hedge maze (although the version constructed was nowhere near as large as it appeared in the movie).
Stanley Kubrick had to lie and say that the river of blood in the movie was supposed to be rusty water for the scene to be used for the movie’s trailer (which was composed only of this shot).
‘The Shining’: Past Meets Future in the Form of the Moon Landing
Many great movies have the power to create great myths, urban legends, and conspiracy theories, and ‘The Shining’ is responsible for one of the most bizarre. Conspiracy theorist Jay Wiedner explores this on his website under a section entitled ‘The Secrets of The Shining’. Here he alleges that ‘The Shining’ is actually Stanley Kubrick’s way of fessing up to a deep, dark secret: that he staged the moon landing. It’s definitely an overly thought out conspiracy theory that alleges that the reason Stanley Kubrick changed Stephen King’s story so much was because he wanted to make it his own, loading the film with subtle references meant to be a confession to the skilled observer that he staged the moon landing. Basically he points out subtle bits of symbolism in the film that boil down to this: the Overlook hotel is America (built on the graves of Native Americans); the coming Winter is the Cold War; and Jack and Danny are two different versions of Stanley Kubrick himself. In one scene Danny does wear an Apollo 11 sweater, but some of the symbolism pointed out on the website as proof that Stanley Kubrick staged the moon landing is a bit over-the-top (if you want a fascinating read, check it out here). So why point this conspiracy theory out? Well, to me it’s proof that ‘The Shining’ has become not just a truly great movie, but something engrained in our culture. When people start spinning stories about movies and giving them a mythology of their own, it shows that they have transcended just being entertainment as we yearn to find meaning in the moving picture that captivates us to the point of needing it to be something more.
May We All Shine On
So in honor of the 30th anniversary of ‘The Shining’, don’t just enjoy the movie for it’s disturbing horror movie elements; let yourself get caught up in the mystical magic of the movie’s history. To me this is a big part of what makes ‘The Shining’ so special, and I will always contend that Stephen King is crazy for not appreciating Stanley Kubrick turning his little horror story into a cinematic work of art.