Sadistic Directing

Nearly 40 years ago, acclaimed director Stanley Kubrick promised us the “best horror-film ever to be made.” It was to be an adaptation of one of Stephen King’s best selling novel: The Shining. And after a record of 5 years to film, viewers were finally introduced to the Overlook Hotel.

Despite receiving mixed reviews from critics, fans of the book, and even King himself, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining would go on to become a cult classic and rank #3 on America’s Best Horror Films. As a standalone title, people praised the director’s attention to detail, combining a well written screenplay with new intuitive camera techniques.

The now iconic line “Here’s Johnny!” was improvised by Jack Nicholson, and almost didn’t make the cut.

But while many will simply watch the movie for what it is, and either be completely bored or engrossed, the film’s creation intrigued me more than anything that’s ever came out of Hollywood. Because whether you were on the edge of your seat thrilled or asleep, the film’s set was an actual horror movie for some of the actors. And one of them doesn’t get a happy ending.

Production began in 1975 and Kubrick had his mind set on Jack Nicholson playing the slowly descending to madness father, ‘Jack Torrence’. Despite pleads from King to recast, Kubrick know he was the right man. Even little Danny Lloyd who played Jack’s son was heavily protected by Kubrick. However it was his lead actress Shelley Duvall who played Jack’s wife ‘Wendy Torrence’, whom had the most interesting relationship with the director.

Because Kubrick was a notorious perfectionist requiring multiple takes of the same shot, and even rewriting the screenplay as the film went on, this was standard practice for his cast and crew. But one can argue that his repeated torment of Shelley was unreasonable and borderline sadistic.

Stanley Kubrick laughing on the set of ‘The Shining’ after being burned down. The set costs $2.5 million to rebuild.

Kubrick made Shelley endure 127 takes of her swinging a bat at her husband approaching with murderous intentions. The number is now infamous and in the Guinness Book of World Records. He repeatedly scolded her in front of the cast, stating she was wasting everyone’s time. And when she confronted him about the loss of her hair due to stress, Kubrick wrote her off.

Shelley’s immense stress was noticed by her fellow coworkers but no one could question or stop Kubrick. And him being an avid reader of psychology, Kubrick knew how to manipulate his cast to receive their best performances. Unfortunately for Shelley, that meant always being in the cross hairs of this real horror.

What might be even more heartbreaking is the mostly negative reception of Shelley’s acting. People were initially appalled at how “terrible” her acting was, with King calling her the most misogynistic character ever written. “She’s just there to scream and be stupid” said King in an interview. And all of this backlash would eventually take it’s toll on Shelley.

Shelley Duvall would eventually suffer a mental breakdown and disappear off the grid. It wasn’t until 2016 when she appeared on Dr. Phil’s talk show. And even decades later, she’s was visibly ill and soft-spoken. But remarkably, she thanked and forgave the director. While looking back at the job, she understood that Kubrick was simply trying to push her to do better and that the end result was worth it.

In the end, even after the immense sacrifices of the cast and crew, only one question remained: Was Stanley Kubrick mad, or a genius?

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