Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 experiment with the horror genre has gone down in history as one of the greatest horror films of all time. Starring Jack Nicholson as a writer who devolves into insanity while residing at the iconic Overlook Hotel, The Shining is a masterful examination of the human psyche and the fragmentation that modernity has imposed upon us. Over the years, its reputation and influence on popular culture has only continued to grow in stature.
While talking about The Shining, Kubrick explained: “It’s what I found so particularly clever about the way the novel was written. As the supernatural events occurred you searched for an explanation, and the most likely one seemed to be that the strange things that were happening would finally be explained as the products of Jack’s imagination.”
Adding, “It’s not until Grady, the ghost of the former caretaker who axed to death his family, slides open the bolt of the larder door, allowing Jack to escape, that you are left with no other explanation but the supernatural. The novel is by no means a serious literary work, but the plot is for the most part extremely well worked out, and for a film that is often all that really matters.”
On the 41st anniversary of the film’s release, we have curated a list of 10 films that you must watch if you are a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece The Shining.
10 films to watch if you like ‘The Shining’:
The Phantom Carriage (Victor Sjöström – 1921)
This 1921 Swedish horror film has had a massive influence on some of the best filmmakers of the 20th century, including the likes of Ingmar Bergman and Stanley Kubrick. Directed by Sjöström (who stars in it as well), The Phantom Carriage is a haunting parable about a man’s wasted life.
Based on Selma Lagerlöf’s 1912 novel, the film shares a lot of similar themes with The Shining. Kubrick drew inspiration for the famous scene where Nicholson goes wild the axe from The Phantom Carriage. Sjöström’s work was so important that Bergman claimed he saw it at least once every year.
Diabolique (Henri-Georges Clouzot – 1955)
Clouzot’s 1955 psychological thriller is undoubtedly one of the seminal works in the horror genre. An adaptation of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac’s novel, it has influenced other masterpieces like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. It tells the bizarre story of murder and a vanishing corpse.
The filmmaker once said: “You have to choose between chiaroscuro and colour. If you are going to work with the shadow and the light then you have to be very careful with the colour. In black and white, you work with the greys but if you are going to work with the colours then you have to get the light very flat. Otherwise it is too close to reality. It looks like it was carved.”
Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais – 1961)
One of the finest works from the revolutionary French New Wave, Alain Resnais’ 1961 is a beautifully odd addition to the corpus of the movement. It is an existential exploration of overarching concepts like destiny, told through the story of surreal characters who inhabit a strange luxury hotel.
Resnais commented: “I can’t see any reason why a film shouldn’t be stylised and visually beautiful. I don’t think a beautiful set is pretentious. If one were to create a sculpture he would want to make the form of the sculpture as beautiful as possible, and I don’t see how it could possibly be considered wrong to have the same approach in the creation of a film.”
Repulsion (Roman Polanski – 1965)
Roman Polanski’s brilliant 1965 horror film Repulsion stars Catherine Deneuve as a paranoid woman who is subjected to the volatile transitions between the realm of nightmares and reality. For Gilbert Taylor’s effective cinematography, Repulsion earned a BAFTA nomination.
While talking about the response that the film elicited from the viewers, Polanski revealed: “Audiences were furious because at the start they sympathised with Denevue’s character but then found themselves implicated in what she was doing.”
The Exorcist (William Friedkin – 1973)
Now predominantly known as Mark Kermode’s favourite film of all time (because he just cannot stop talking about it), The Exorcist is an adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s novel. The film is an examination of faith and religion, conceptualised within the framework of the ghastly Other.
“It was given to me by [Blatty himself,] a man I knew only slightly, but he trusted me and he loved my work. I was young; he was a little older. When he wrote this book he knew that I had a background in documentary films as well, and he wanted the story to be filmed as realistically as possible, and so did I. We did not want to make a scary horror film or a fantasy film,” Friedkin said.
Adding, “At that time as well as today, the public knows very little about exorcism, little to nothing. Everything that is known about it is sensationalised in the public, and certainly the film I made contributed to that; there is no question about it. Because people regarded it as a horror film. But I made the film as a believer.”
Eraserhead (David Lynch – 1977)
David Lynch’s 1977 masterpiece is the cinematic manifestation of his surreal nightmares. Set in an industrial wasteland, it makes a powerful case for anti-natalism by framing the anxieties of a father who cannot tolerate his child (a theme that is evident in The Shining as well).
According to Lynch, Eraserhead’s script was inspired by his time in a troubled neighbourhood in Philadelphia. “I saw so many things in Philadelphia I couldn’t believe,” Lynch said. “I saw a grown woman grab her breasts and speak like a baby, complaining her nipples hurt. This kind of thing will set you back.”
Suspiria (Dario Argento – 1977)
Suspiria features Jessica Harper as a young ballet student from America who travels to an ominous dance academy in Germany. The film is noted for its use of stellar techniques and a visual narrative that is fuelled by the outburst of colours.
“The financiers and distributors got scared and said audiences don’t want to see children murdered on screen,” Argento explained. “But I kept many elements in the film that were conceived for a cast of children: the dialogue didn’t really change, only a few parts were updated; and small elements remained to give a child’s perspective, like the door handles in the school are positioned high up. These things helped keep an atmosphere of innocence and purity.”
The Thing (John Carpenter – 1982)
One of the greatest horror sci-fi films of all time, John Carpenter‘s 1982 remake of The Thing from Another World (1951) is a remarkable depiction of pure terror. Set in the hostile territory of Antarctica, the film tells the story of an alien life form that can assimilate living organisms.
Despite being written off as a critical and commercial failure when it was first released, The Thing has evolved into a bona fide cult-classic over the years. In a 2001 interview, Carpenter reflected, “Had it worked, my career would have been very different. Very different.”
Room 237 (Rodney Ascher – 2012)
Rodney Ascher’s 2012 documentary is a tribute to the extensive fandom that has been generated by Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. It explores the weird and crazy theories about the film which have been formulated by fans over the years, owing to Kubrick’s artistic ambiguity.
Ascher said, “At the beginning, we thought that something of a comprehensive guide to all the allegorical readings of The Shining might be possible, but pretty soon we realised that this was a landscape that extended in every direction up to the horizon. So we concentrated on people whose theories had gotten the most traction or who would be conspicuous by their absence.”
Get Out (Jordan Peele – 2017)
Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out is considered by many to be the best horror film in recent years. Underlined by a horrifying commentary on very real issues like racism, the film oscillates between black comedy and terrifying moments of human depravity.
“I wanted to be Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Stanley Kubrick, David Cronenberg, Ridley Scott, James Cameron and Hitchcock,” Peele revealed. “I’d wanted to be a director since 13, and horror and the suspense thriller were the most powerful genres to me. They always scared everything out of me, but it wasn’t until then that I got mature enough to mentally separate myself, and look at these films as powerful artistry.”