Matthew R. Davies
Welsh Bookworm, Horror-Nerd, Musician, Freelancer and Aspiring Writer of the Macabre
The Beginnings of a Horror Masterpiece
Thirty-nine years have elapsed since Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 psychological horror masterpiece The Shining first terrified audiences with its atmospheric storytelling, petrifying score and harrowing performances from Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. Loosely adapted from horror maestro Stephen King’s bestselling 1977 novel of the same name, The Shining has in both book and movie format, clawed its way into the hearts and minds of all who have dared tread the garishly carpeted corridors of the Overlook Hotel.
Although the film did not receive the critical praise it has enjoyed in recent years upon release, appreciation for Kubrick’s picture has snowballed and it has stood out as a staple watch for any fan of the genre. The Shining is rightly included in various listicles and publications detailing the supposed ‘top horror films of all time.’ Kubrick himself is considered one of cinema’s greatest directors and employs an auteur approach to his filmmaking that infamously, proved a strain on Shelley Duvall.
Stop Swingin' the Bat!
The wonderfully tense scene where Jack advances on Wendy on the staircase while she swings a baseball bat precariously at his head (give me the bat Marge!), was shot an astronomical one hundred and twenty-seven times (a Guinness world record to this day).
The seventy-year-old actor Scatman Crothers was reduced to tears after Kubrick insisted on re-shooting a wordless scene involving Dick Hallorann, a sweat-inducing sixty times. Crothers was further subjected to the perfectionism of Kubrick while shooting the memorable pantry scene with the young Danny. Although slightly less than the record-holder, this particular section was filmed one hundred and forty-eight times. No big deal, right? No wonder Danny Lloyd never acted again (becoming a school teacher in later life).
However, the blood, sweat and tears were undoubtedly justified as The Shining proved to be one of the most terrifying and quietly restrained films of its generation.
The Shining Official Merchandise
If you're a fan of The Shining movie, the novel or both, then be sure to check out the Official Collection of The Shining Merchandise at RetroStyler.com.
The Shining Overlook Hotel Doormat
Welcome to the Overlook Hotel - Warn your guest to enter at their own risk!
Men's The Shining RedRum Murder Tee
"RedRum, Redrum!!" - A subtle nod to that classic movie moment.
The Auteur and the Artist
Kubrick’s oeuvre boasts a whole host of classic movies, all of which are sources of academic study in modern times. These include, but are not limited to: Paths of Glory, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Spartacus, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut.
Kubrick’s choice to direct a horror film was perhaps realised by a personal interest in matters of the paranormal and ESP. Although he himself claimed that his desire to film King’s tale of suspense came immediately after receiving the manuscript from John Calley, of Warner Brothers. Intrigued by King’s portrayal of psychological torment in balance with the supernatural imaginings of the Overlook Hotel, Kubrick was inspired and wholeheartedly impressed by the quality of the storytelling. King’s first novel Carrie was adapted by Brian De Palma and released in 1976 to widespread critical acclaim (achieving two Oscar nominations, best actress for Sissy Spacek and best supporting actress for Piper Laurie).
The success of Carrie skyrocketed King’s popularity and began what would be, a life-long affiliation with the silver screen. The Shining was his third novel and the second to receive the Hollywood treatment. King had been liberated from the brink of poverty by Carrie, his original manuscript having been thrown in the bin after a fit of writer’s angst (it was fortunately, rescued by King’s wife Tabitha). King felt that he was not qualified to write about the female journey, but thankfully, Tabitha convinced him to complete the manuscript. Without this intervention, King may not have broken into stardom and we would not have received the wonderfully spooky and imaginative body of work that we have today.
Modern Adaptations of Stephen King's Novels
Over the past five decades, King’s novels and short stories have spawned countless movie and television adaptations, some successful and some that are perhaps, best left unmentioned. It has been claimed that King’s early foray into cinema during the 1970s and 1980s was profoundly influential on his rapid literary success. Some even arguing that it provided him with the much-needed exposure that so often evades the grasp of emerging writers.
King’s popularity hasn’t waned in recent years, with a fresh wave of big and small screen adaptations arriving in increasing ferocity. In 2017 alone, film fans were treated to the lacklustre The Dark Tower, the hugely successful It: Chapter One and the intriguingly dark Netflix hosted Gerald’s Game and 1922. Meanwhile T.V. boasted a compelling version of Mr Mercedes, an uninspired re-adaptation of The Mist and a year later from Hulu, the absorbing multiverse of Castle Rock.
This Stephen King renaissance (Stephenaissance?) continues into 2019 with the moderately successful Pet Semetary, the upcoming It: Chapter Two, In the Tall Grass and a surprise sequel to The Shining. Now, colour us intrigued…
Who is Doctor Sleep?
Vastly different from its predecessor, Doctor Sleep was written in 2013 and follows the now fully-grown drifter, Danny Torrance as he furiously battles with his rage and worsening alcoholism (both of which, are evidently hereditary gifts from his father Jack Torrance). Danny seeks refuge in New Hampshire, where he gains employment in a hospice and works on his drinking issues with regular A.A. meetings.
Being newly sober, his psychic abilities (his ‘shine’ so to speak) begin to manifest once again so attempting to turn over a new leaf, he employs his skills in his care of terminal patients within the hospice. With the help of a rather astute cat (named Azzie), Danny becomes ‘Doctor Sleep’, a comforter to the dying as they shift from this mortal coil to whatever land resides within the outer reaches of King’s Macroverse.
As his shine develops, Danny comes into contact with a young girl named Abra Stone (who also possesses the ability) through telepathic communication. Now, here comes the horrifying part...Abra has been having visions. Very real visions of the torture of a young boy, by the hands of a group of mysterious nomads known as ‘The True Knot.’ This group travels America, seeking out children with the shine to vampirically feed on their psychic ‘steam’ in hopes of sustaining themselves. The catch? This psychic aura may only be released if the victim is dying...and painfully. Now the True Knot are after Abra...
Casting, Creative Difference and Speculations
But this is where we must stop, as this writer believes that this is an acceptable amount of plot detail to reveal before delving into spoiler territory. As you can see from the description, this is a very dark story. One that is perhaps more of a straight-up horror (in the traditional sense) than the psychological stresses of King and Kubrick’s originals. Psychic vampires and kitty cats aside, the trailer for Dr Sleep recently hit our screens and has revealed that Danny Torrance will be played by none other than Ewan McGregor.
Of course, many of you will remember McGregor from his role as Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels (one of its few saving graces) but McGregor is an accomplished actor with a variety of credits under his belt. In particular, his standout performances as Renton in Trainspotting and T2 Trainspotting were strikingly memorable (The Worst Toilet in Scotland anyone?).
Other cast members joining the Doctor Sleep project include: Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Zahn McClarnon and Carl Lumbly playing Dick Hallorann. Dick Hallorann you say? Yes, that’s right. If you haven’t already guessed, The Shining film is very different to the original novel. So much in fact, that King was famously an outspoken opposer to Kubrick’s changes. In fact, he initially hated the film so much that he spearheaded and wrote a teleplay for a television re-adaptation that aired in 1997 (which thankfully, included the creepily sentient topiary animals from the book). The three-part miniseries retains a more truthful retelling of the novel, but it ended up being critically shunned. King actually presented a screenplay to Kubrick for his film, but the auteur ignored him. So, the animosity between the two spirited artists is quite difficult to judge.
Having re-read the novel this year, this writer is in agreement with King that Kubrick did essentially strip the work to its bare bones, and has (to an extent) unfairly redacted what were essentially fundamental themes…family conflict and alcoholism. King’s own personal struggles with drinking have been well publicised and are presented in the novel as a kind of exercise in literary therapy.
King has remarked on the 1980 film, that it had, ‘no sense of emotional investment in the family whatsoever…no sense of…involvement in the family dynamic at all.’ This is all well and good, but it’s hard to deny the mastery of Kubrick’s cinematic prowess and the haunting imagery of the film. An elevator pouring with blood, all work and no play, the hedge maze, the frightening Grady sisters’ impromptu appearance in the corridor and ‘herreeeee’s Jonny!’ All of these features were in fact, not in the book.
Now, this presents a problem for the 2019 adaptation of Doctor Sleep, as judging by the trailer and the comments by director Mike Flannagan (Oculus, Hush) this new film intends to follow the Kubrick film closely. In the teaser trailer, hints of Doctor Sleep’s plot are interweaved with gorgeously remastered shots from Kubrick’s The Shining. We have our first glimpses of Danny, Abra and The True Knot while McGregor ambles about his deteriorating apartment, staring at messages on his wall that are somehow reminiscent of the killer’s messages portrayed in Mr. Mercedes (although we are treated to the iconic REDRUM, the originally lipstick-smeared script of the young Danny in The Shining).
It will be interesting to see how closely Flannagan sticks to the plot of the two novels, considering this new film has the stamp of approval from King himself. So how does this endorsement translate to Doctor Sleep when it is clearly portraying scenes and imagery from a film that King has rejected for decades? The trailer even resonates with what can only be described as an incredibly Kubrick-eqsue score, echoing both The Shining and A Clockwork Orange. We suppose that only time may tell...
The Official Doctor Sleep 2019 Trailer
Despite these reservations, the trailer is exciting. It is dark and foreboding, with what appears to be an excellent (albeit relatively unknown) group of actors. Director Mike Flanagan is no stranger to Stephen King, having directed the delightfully disturbing Gerald’s Game for Netflix. It would appear that Doctor Sleep is in good hands.
When asked about the difficult relationship between the source material and the Kubrick film, Flanagan states that it ‘…exists very much in the same cinematic universe that Kubrick established in his adaptation of The Shining.’ He also claimed that ‘reconciling those three, at times very different, sources has been kind of the most challenging and thrilling part of this creatively for us.’
So, it would appear that the new film is attempting to perform a delicate balancing act between all three sources which undoubtedly, will be no mean feat. However, if successful, Flanagan will have undertaken a very difficult task indeed; pleasing both movie fans and book fans simultaneously.
Doctor Sleep: The Novel and the Screenplay
Being both a King novel and a sequel to an established horror classic, Doctor Sleep was bound for commercial success no matter the quality of the writing. King devotees eagerly lapped up the book and surprisingly, it gained critical success; an always difficult hurdle for any sequel, be it literature or cinema. It even won the prestigious Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel in 2013.
Flanagan has re-written a script originally penned by Akiva Goldsman, the seasoned Hollywood writer of such titles as: A Beautiful Mind, Batman Forever, I am Legend, the Da Vinci Code and recently, King’s The Dark Tower. Goldsman is an Oscar winning writer that has unfortunately, a number of Razzie award nominations plaguing his career. Take what you will from this information, but it does make for a somewhat disheartening read. Nevertheless, Flanagan’s reputation for producing quality horror pictures is encouraging.
Being the mastermind behind the incredibly popular Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House, Flanagan has certainly proved himself a champion of the genre. Hill House is based upon the Shirley Jackson novel of the same name. The book is a renowned Gothic masterpiece that is deeply admired by King, who was an advocate of Flanagan’s adaptation. Therefore, it is clear that King has faith in Flanagan’s abilities when it comes to his own properties.
The Box Office and Potential King Fatigue
This writer remains quietly optimistic about the upcoming Doctor Sleep adaptation. With Flanagan at the helm and King observing from the shadows, it seems unlikely that the film is doomed to failure.
Sensibly, the powers-that-be have staggered the openings for Doctor Sleep and It: Chapter Two so as not to have the two properties competing at the box office. As more and more of these adaptations grace our screens, it would be prudent to ask, if we are yet suffering from King fatigue? The record-breaking sales figures evidently prove otherwise, and I for one have only this to say...keep ‘em comin’.
Doctor Sleep hits U.K cinemas on the 31st October and America/Canada on November 8th.