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(Credit: Warner Bros)

Film

How Stanley Kubrick made the elevators bleed in 'The Shining'

Stanley Kubrick tackled a wide variety of genres as he continued his journey as a pioneering filmmaker, ranging from crime thrillers to the science fiction magnum opus that is 2001: A Space Odyssey. While many of his films have subtextual elements of horror in them, his proper treatment of the genre came in 1980 when he released The Shining.

Although it was an adaptation of Stephen King’s popular book, Kubrick managed to make the film his own by imparting his own artistic vision to the narrative as well as the general philosophical implications. King refused to accept the film as a real adaptation, but fans have continued to hail it as one of the greatest horror films ever made.

The film stars Jack Nicholson as a failed writer who decides to take his family to a secluded hotel during the winter in order to focus on his literary project. As the days progress and the climate gets harsher, he finds himself slipping further into insanity and lashes out at everything in sight. Kubrick wanted it to be a commentary on the fundamentally human nature of evil, shifting away from King’s supernatural sensibilities.

The Shining is now cited as one of the most prominent examples of Kubrick’s characteristic visual style, and even though it was dismissed by critics when it first came out, re-evaluations have solidified its status as a classic of the genre. The film has a lot of iconic moments, but one of the most surreal ones revolves around those infamous elevators.

Known as the ‘elevator of blood’ sequence, it was the scene where a river of blood gushed out from the elevators in the Overlook Hotel, making for an oddly chilling cinematic experience. While it only took three takes to film it, Kubrick and his team spent almost a year trying to come up with a perfect plan in order to get it just right.

Kubrick was annoyed with the consistency of the fake blood, which kept messing up the electronic configurations of the elevator. In addition, the fake blood kept leaking through the elevator doors, and whenever they got it wrong, the team had to spend a lot of time scrubbing the set just to make it go back to the way it was before the blood gushed out.

“We spent weeks and weeks and weeks trying to get the quality and colour of the blood as natural as it could be,” Kubrick’s assistant Leon Vitali explained in an interview while talking about the arduous process. “You didn’t want it too red. The consistency was also quite important, because we were pouring out hundreds of gallons of the stuff.

Vitali went on to add: “And then, of course, there were the mechanics of it, because if you have that much pressure inside something like an elevator, it’s going to blow if you’re not careful.” According to Vitali, Kubrick couldn’t even bear watching the scene as it happened but was elated when he saw the footage. He even managed to convince Warner Bros. to keep it in the trailer by telling them that it was meant to be rusty water instead of gory blood.