Overlooking all the social cliques, there were two types of kids in my elementary school: those with cable and those without. I don’t know what your thoughts are when it comes to kids and exposure to violent movies. My parents were blase about what I watched on television once I reached the age of about eight. They remained blissfully unaware of what my eyeballs viewed on HBO and Showtime in the family room while they were upstairs, preoccupied with serious adult matters like chores, bills and trying to keep the cat from jumping on the kitchen counter.
Unbridled access to both cable TV and a video store down the street operated by a hippie more interested in making money than serving as a censor meant I got to rent all sorts of movies I was, probably, too young to see. He didn’t flinch when I brought boxes to the counter for movies like Stand By Me, Poltergeist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Animal House, Predator, Die Hard and the like. Given the fact that he could barely bother to look up from his magazine while taking my allowance, for all he knew I was a 50 year-old midget. The only time I remember him raising an eyebrow was when I attempted to rent a copy of Three Men and a Baby one Saturday afternoon. “Aren’t you a little young for this,” he asked, overlooking the clearly marked PG rating on the box.
This much exposure to the radioactive rays of ’80s Hollywood helped turn me a jaded, world-weary cynic by the time I entered the fifth grade. I was the kid with an unquenchable appetite for Stephen King who brought Life in Hell collections to class only to have them confiscated by the teacher (who read them during her lunch break and later admitted they were hilarious, if “too mature,” for pre-adolescents). I was the kid who recounted the plot lines of action flicks like Total Recall to other kids on the playground (“a lady with three boobs?!!! No way!”). I was also the kid with a friend who’s dad told him to stay away from me because I once brought along a copy of Lethal Weapon 2 to a sleep-over.
Despite all this exposure to ultra-violence and “adult themes,” only two films really got to me back then: The Shining and Poltergeist. The latter left me with a decade-long fear of clowns and clown-related products (what kind of sadist gives a child a three-foot tall clown doll, anyway?) but The Shining burrowed into my brain like a mole. Maybe it was the fact that some of the films’ exteriors were filmed at Timberline Lodge, a ski resort an hour or so drive from my childhood home. Or maybe it was because the film’s protagonist was a kid himself. Whatever the case, the film unsettled me in all sorts of ways that, decades later, are still tough to shake.
Unlike a million other movies I saw in the ’80s, I can actually remember the first time I saw The Shining. It would have been sometime in January or February of 1988. It was a random weeknight and my family pulled into a Pietros Pizza on SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway after making our usual trek to Kienow’s, a long gone chain of supermarkets, for groceries. The restaurant had a large room in the back typically reserved for birthday parties and for screenings of Portland Trailblazers games but on a Thursday night, right around closing, we were the only people in the place. One of Pietros’ teenaged employees had left the TV projector on KPTV, a local station that, in the ’80s, ran movies every Monday – Friday at 8 o’clock after reruns of Cheers.
That night they were airing The Shining and I immediately recognized Timberline Lodge during the opening sequence. I was quickly entranced by the movie’s incredibly bizarre vibe. There was Jack Nicholson’s barely restrained role as a frustrated novelist one little elbow push away from madness and Shelley Duvall’s thankless performance as his long-suffering wife. I also couldn’t wrap my head around the simple fact that the high walls and endless corridors of the film’s Overlook Hotel could never actually fit inside the cramped confines of the actual Timberline Lodge up on Mt. Hood.
The movie plays like a half-remembered nightmare you wake up from in a cold sweat. To date, I haven’t seen anything else that quite captures that The Shining‘s difficult to describe eeriness. Some of David Lynch’s stuff comes close but it’s not as…tangible, for lack of a better word. The film is reminiscent of Twin Peak‘s Black Lodge but real enough to leave you with the sneaking suspicion that, at this very moment, the film’s events are playing out, somewhere on the globe, in a snowbound hotel.
Now this version of The Shining was edited for broadcast television so there were no horrific nude ghosts in Room 217 or that twisted shot involving two men that has puzzled audiences for decades (if you’ve seen the movie, you know the one I’m talking about). Despite that, KPTV had no problem airing little Danny’s unedited encounter with the Grady twins in the hall.
“Come play with us, Danny. For ever and ever and ever…”
Jesus Christ! Blood-soaked tots in matching dresses. Ghosts with bad intent plowing crazy people full of illusory drink! Fathers with heads full of hate and bitterness, chasing their sons through the snow with an axe! “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”~ What an absolutely terrible thing for a eight year old to watch.
Needless to say, I was totally glued to the screen.
My parents, who must have mistaken my fascination with this peculiar “horror movie” with an ability to properly process and “handle it,” rushed me home during a commercial break so I could see the ending before bedtime. A lot of the movie soared over my head. I remember being completely baffled by much of what The Shining‘s events. Did Danny actually have a little boy living in his mouth? How did the Overlook’s ghosts release Jack from the pantry? And what was up with the framed photo at the end? How did he get in the there if it was taken way back in the 1920s?
I devoured Stephen King’s novel sometime later and it’s a much different take on the story than what director Stanley Kubrick put together with Nicholson and crew. I’m not surprised that there’s a cult that has sprung up around the movie. There’s now a documentary devoted to examining the nuances and metaphors of the film. The Shining has inspired a million parodies and tributes ranging from commercials and sketches on The Simpsons to The Overlook Hotel, a Tumblr devoted to “Ephemera Related to Stanley Kubrick’s Masterpiece of Modern Horror.”
Recently, The EYE, a sleek, new film museum in Amsterdam, hosted an exhibit devoted to the filmography of Kubrick. Needless to say, I was most eager to see what the curators had cobbled together for The Shining. In addition to the twins’ dresses and several ax props from the film, there was also the “party photo” from its iconic final shot. But I was most fascinated by a typewriter sitting on a pedestal.
Was it? Could it be? The actual typewriter that Jack Nicholson pounded on while spitting venom at Shelley Duvall? The one sitting next to all those stacks of paper when her character discovers that her husband has completely gone of his rocker? It wasn’t sitting behind glass and, aside from a small sign that said “DON’T TOUCH,” there was nothing suggesting that it was anything other than the prop from the film.
The typewriter was worn and beaten. I was suddenly overcome with the desire to put my hands on it and type out the words “All work and no play…” you know the rest. I settled for just hitting the “A” key and darting off before a security guard would notice what I was doing.
The next day, I sent this snapshot over to “The Caretaker,” who operates The Overlook Hotel site. Sometime later, he sent me back this email:
Very much looking forward to seeing that show when it arrives in Los Angeles.
Unfortunately, that typewriter is not the original used in the movie — it’s the same model, but the the whereabouts of the original used in the film are unknown. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t in a case!”
The Overlook Hotel
Bugger. Oh, well.
I’ll conclude this rambling tale comes with an interesting coda. As I learned after receiving this email, “The Caretaker” is a nom de plume of Lee Unkrich, a longtime creative head at Pixar who directed and/or co-directed Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc and Toy Story 3. He would have been about 13 when The Shining came out in 1980 and I wonder if he snuck into a theater to see it at that impressionable, young age or if he caught it years later.