The story of a haunted Oregon hotel, a boy with terrifying visions and a family man turning homicidal on his family during a snowstorm, The Shining may be the scariest film of all time.
It’s also a film that’s been dissected endlessly over the years. So densely packed with themes and motifs is the film, a Stanley Kubrick masterpiece, that it’s become a treasure trove of trivia and fan theories.
As Warner Bros preps to make Doctor Sleep, a Shining sequel adapted from King’s sequel novel of the same name, there’s no better time to explore Kubrick’s original and its behind-the-scenes goings on.
Here are ten things you never knew about The Shining.
1. Danny Lloyd didn’t know he was making a horror movie
Danny Lloyd, arguably the true lead of The Shining, was just six-years-old when he shot the film. Lloyd was hired by the famously exacting Kubrick because he proved in auditions to be a preternaturally professional actor, not that that stopped Kubrick from being uncharacteristically protective of him when they got to set.
Kubrick, who tormented Shelley Duvall and Scatman Crothers during shooting with his perfectionism, was so concerned about Lloyd that he convinced the young actor the film he was shooting was a drama, not a horror, so as not to traumatise him.
2. Cheese sandwiches helped Jack Nicholson get in the mindset of Jack Torrance
By the time he came around to shooting The Shining, Jack Nicholson was coming off a string of masterful performances and an Oscar win for his turn in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Still, Stanley Kubrick thought he had the technique to make Nicholson a better actor for his movie.
In order to foster a sense of real disgust and anger within Nicholson, playing homicidal (and possibly possessed) patriarch Jack Torrance in the film, Kubrick had Nicholson fed nothing but cheese sandwiches – which Nicholson loathes – for two whole weeks.
3. The tennis ball scene was Nicholson’s idea
Stanley Kubrick planned his films to within an inch of their life, and only ever did things his way. It’s often said that only two actors were ever allowed to improvise in a Kubrick film: Peter Sellers, star of Lolita and Dr. Strangelove, and R Lee Ermey, of Full Metal Jacket. But maybe we should add another name to the list.
On top of his “Here’s Johnny!” line, the scene in which Jack Torrance throws a tennis ball around the cavernous Overlook Hotel – a scene which Shining fans will know is far more ominous than it sounds – was all Jack Nicholson’s invention. The script simply read: ‘Jack is not working’, so Nicholson fleshed it out accordingly.
4. …and Danny Lloyd came up with Danny’s finger wagging for Tony
Of the many creepy characters in The Shining, one of the spookiest is one we never actually see. ‘Tony’, possibly a figment of Danny’s imagination, a kind of imaginary friend, or a demon spirit that occasionally takes possession of Danny, is represented only by Danny wagging his finger whenever Tony ‘appears’.
This, like Nicholson’s tennis ball, was never in the original script. The idea that Tony would be represented by Danny’s wagging finger came about because Danny Lloyd spontaneously started moving his finger around whenever he was playing Tony during his audition.
5. The film is a semi-homage to Eraserhead
Kubrick had an eclectic taste in films – one of his favourites, if you can believe it, was 1992 Woody Harrelson/Wesley Snipes comedy White Men Can’t Jump – which included some classic horrors. One particularly close to his heart was David Lynch’s deeply unsettling debut Eraserhead.
Kubrick admired Eraserhead so much that he used it as inspiration for The Shining. Kubrick would screen it for his cast and crew to give them an idea of the tone he was going for on his own horror film.
6. Some interesting casting choices were considered for Jack Torrance
Before he decided on Jack Nicholson, Kubrick mulled over who should play his lead in The Shining with an…interesting set of choices. These included Harrison Ford, who at the time would have been known for playing a lovable rogue in Star Wars, and Robin Williams, then known best as goofball extraterrestrial Mork in sitcom Mork & Mindy.
The most obvious candidate of those Kubrick initially considered was Robert De Niro. However, after seeing Taxi Driver, a film in which De Niro slowly loses his mind and erupts into violence on the streets of New York, Kubrick was somehow convinced not to cast him, thinking he didn’t seem psychotic enough in the film.
7. The architecture of the Overlook makes no sense
A film that attracts obsessives looking for deeper meaning, The Shining has been the focus of eagle-eyed viewers analysing its architectural rigour. Turns out the film has what fans call ‘impossible architecture’, with the layout of the Overlook contradicting itself from scene to scene.
This could have something to do with the fact that the film was shot mostly on a soundstage in England, and not in an actual hotel, with the exterior shots filmed in Oregon. Whether intentional or not, the architectural impossibilities leave the viewer with a subconscious sense of unease – something that fans of the film believe was deliberate on Kubrick’s part.
8. Kubrick’s secretary spent weeks typing nothing but ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’
Well-known for taking his time to prep and shoot his ambitious cinematic undertakings – Kubrick spent nine days preparing The Shining’s blood-drenched elevator shot alone – probably no single scene of the director’s has required as much time as the ‘All work and no play…’ scene.
For the scene, in which Wendy Torrance discovers husband Jack has been typing nothing but ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ on that typewriter of his the whole time, Kubrick had his secretary type up sheets and sheets of nothing but that line. Kubrick’s wife Vivian said this took weeks, if not months.
9. Kubrick rejected 300 designs for the movie poster
It wasn’t just the cast and filming crew who fell victim to Kubrick’s demanding behaviour. Legendary Hollywood graphic designer Saul Bass, a man who’d worked extensively with the not exactly imprecise Alfred Hitchcock prior to meeting Kubrick, went to great lengths to produce just a single poster for The Shining that Kubrick liked.
Reportedly, Bass went through some 300 designs before he and Kubrick finally settled on the film’s haunting one-sheet. Bass’ rejected designs for the film, with ruthless notes by Kubrick scribbled on them, can be found online.
10. The film was nominated for two Razzies
You now know it as a great horror movie – perhaps the greatest horror movie – but on release, The Shining wasn’t much liked at all. Some critics enjoyed it, but many others were perplexed, finding the film cold and wondering what a titan of cinema like Kubrick was doing slumming it in a genre like horror.
Such was the critical opinion of the time, The Shining was nominated for two Golden Raspberry ‘awards’, handed out annually to the worst films of the year. Duvall was nominated for Worst Actress, Kubrick for Worst Director.