Many fans of Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining were disappointed by a major change to the ending when the book was adapted to film by famed director Stanley Kubrick. Dick Hallorann, the heroic figure who originally saved Wendy Torrance and her son Danny from certain death, was now the sole murder victim in the 1980 movie.
Even Scatman Crothers, the actor who played Hallorann, was puzzled by this choice, saying, “It really doesn’t make any sense.” But director Kubrick explained that he wanted to bring more horror to the plot, and instil a real sense of terror in his audience, in ways the novel could not.
From the very beginning, Stanley Kubrick was concerned about adapting the Stephen King novel The Shining for the big screen. “To be honest, the end of the book seemed a bit hackneyed to me and not very interesting,” the director has noted. In the original text, Dick Hallorann – a chef who possesses the magical ability known as the Shining – fights his way into the Overlook Hotel and manages to single-handedly save Wendy and Danny from the possessed and murderous antagonist Jack Torrance.
Kubrick wanted to add more suspense and horror to the tale. “I think there’s more horror in the film than there is in the book,” he later reflected. “People have said that. In the book, for instance, nobody gets killed [except Jack].” However, at first Kubrick was uncertain about how to amend the ending. In fact, when he first hired Scatman Crothers – who was known as much for his singing career as his acting – to play Dick Hallorann, he brought him to film in London and introduced him to the team with the words, “My man’s the hero of the movie.”
According to The Shining producer Diane Johnson, “Kubrick really thought somebody should get killed – because it was a horror movie,” she has remembered. “So we weighed the dramatic possibilities of killing off various characters and did different treatments.” They even toyed with the idea of killing off little Danny, before deciding it was “too terrible to do.”
Another option was to have Wendy kill Jack in self-defence before Hallorann arrives to rescue them. At that point, Hallorann, too, would become possessed by the hotel’s evil spirit and attack the mother and son.
“We always had the powers of the hotel in mind,” Johnson elaborated. “So the hotel would have been warping Hallorann’s mind for quite a long time. It was an attractive idea that Hallorann is good [throughout the film], then he gets there and is possessed by the hotel into a monster surrogate for Jack.”
Ultimately, they decided that Hallorann himself should die. Crothers, who had long loved the novel, was baffled by this decision.
“I think a lot of people are disappointed because my character, Dick Hallorann, gets killed,” he would later comment. “Hallorann takes all those chances—he flies to Colorado, rents the Sno-Cat—and then, out of nowhere, he gets killed, and he has the shining.”
“It really doesn’t make any sense, unless you want to compare, the character to Jesus Christ,” he added. “I think it especially bothers people who read Stephen King’s novel, because in the book Hallorann saves the kid and his mother… I like the film. I just wish that they had kept the original ending.”
Kubrick himself later shone a light on this controversial change. “I wanted an ending which the audience could not anticipate,” he explained. “In the film, they think Hallorann is going to save Wendy and Danny. When he is killed they fear the worst. Surely, they fear, there is no way now for Wendy and Danny to escape.”
Kubrick also addressed the apparent loophole – pointed out by Crothers as well as many fans – that Hallorann should have foreseen his own death. “If Danny had perfect ESP, there could be no story,” Kubrick argued. “He would anticipate everything, warn everybody and solve every problem. So his perception of the paranormal must be imperfect and fragmentary. This also happens to be consistent with most of the reports of telepathic experiences. The same applies to Hallorann.”
“One of the ironies in the story is that you have people who can see the past and the future and have telepathic contact, but the telephone and the short-wave radio don’t work, and the snowbound mountain roads are impassable,” he added. “Failure of communication is a theme which runs through a number of my films.”
Although Hallorann isn’t remembered as the movie’s hero, he does make Danny and Wendy’s survival possible. When he perishes, they are able to flee on the snowcat he brought to Overlook.
It has long been noted that black characters are often the first to die in horror movies. One survey of 1,000 films from the genre – which included 1,500 Black characters – found that they have a 45% death rate – far higher than their white counterparts. The self-sacrificing or soon-to-be-killed Black character has become so common a trope in horror movies that it’s even reflected in critical book titles, such as The Black Guy Dies First.
When critics argued that Hallorann’s fate was a racist trope, treating his character as disposable, Crothers disagreed emphatically. He also responded to comments about Kubrick’s choice of artwork in his character’s bedroom: giant posters of nude and semi-nude Black women.
“Why do they think [the movie is] prejudiced—because I got part?” he responded. “I don’t know why Stanley put those paintings in Halloran’s bedroom. Perhaps the critics are just reading into something that really isn’t there.”