In 1980, I was twelve years old, reading the books my father brought home and stuck on a small shelf in our living room. There were never more than five or six, but all of them were big. My dad likes to read, but he reads very slowly, and he likes to enjoy books, he likes savoring them. That’s how I got my hands on Dune. My dad was reading it, taking his time. I read it in a weekend. That was one of the few things my father and I shared: reading big, heavy books.
One day, he brought home a book called The Stand by a fellow named Stephen King. It was the first edition paperback with the creepy blue cover, the picture of a half-man, half-bird staring out at you from a dark sky. I read that book over the course of a couple days and went to the library looking for more. I found ‘Salem’s Lot and loved it. I found The Dead Zone and loved it (still my favorite King book). And then I found The Shining. Of all the books King has written, that one scared me. Generally, literature doesn’t scare me, but The Shining had me up at night. And it wasn’t the ghosts. It was the thought of being locked in an old hotel with a creature that used to be my father, chasing me with a roque mallet. That’s what scared me. Now, my father never laid a hand on me, but his temper got the better of him from time to time. And as much as I loved him, I was also scared of him. And King knew exactly how to tap into that love/fear children have for their parents, especially when alcohol gets hold of them.
When I saw the trailers for the movie version, I knew I had to see it. I was a fresh convert to the Cult of King and I wanted to see my favorite writer’s images on the big screen. Back in those days, our movie theater had two screens with the concession stand in between them. The left screen was for G and PG movies and the right screen was for PG and R. My friends and I had a way to get into the R movies. We’d buy tickets for the left theater, go into the men’s bathroom on the right side of the lobby, then sneak into the right theater. It worked one hundred percent of the time. The theater owner either didn’t look or didn’t care. That’s how I saw Conan the Barbarian and Alien. And on that Saturday afternoon, I was going to see my main man Steve King’s creepy novel about ghosts, alcohol and abuse.
I was twelve. Sitting in the theater, a victim of all the dirty tricks Kubrick used in that movie. Kubrick’s manipulations are subtle and genius. One of the most brilliant was the abrupt murder of a character who lives in the book, who is key to the ending. Once that happened, I cried. I mean, I @#$%ing cried. And after that moment, when Nicholson slowly rises up into the camera’s view, that smile on his face, looking directly into the camera, I heard exactly what Kubrick wanted me to hear.
Yeah, you’ve read the book. That’s cute. Now, you have no idea what’s going to happen next.
Since then, I’ve seen it probably one hundred times since that first time, shivering in the darkness. I’ve studied the movie from beginning to end, nearly memorized it. And I know King hated the film and his fans are divided about it. I love both of them. They’re different creatures with different endings. Both were designed by masters of their craft to scare me, and both succeeded. Damn, did they both succeed.
So, when I heard King was writing a sequel to The Shining, I got excited. While I’m no longer a huge fan of his work (I love his prose, his characters, and hate-hate-hate his endings), I looked forward to what he promised: a look at Danny Torrance at 40. He promised the cycle of alcoholism and violence. And while I was suspicious of the ending, I decided to pick up the book and read it all the way to the end.
I didn’t make it.
Around page 150, I got bored. The plot hadn’t even started yet. He was jumping around between multiple characters and it seemed Dan Torrance was the least important and least interesting. I didn’t care about his gypsy vampires, I didn’t really care about the little girl with magic powers…
Okay, I have to explain something.
In The Shining, Danny’s “power” emerges in subtle ways. He can’t “push” people nor can he start fires (like Andy McGee and his daughter, Charlie). He’s just hyper sensitive to things most people don’t notice. In Doctor Sleep, the little girl (subtly called “Abra,” as in “Abracadabra,” you know) has magic powers. She’s a wizard. She has telepathy, telekinesis, astral projection, psychometry… I mean, she’s really Doctor Strange. And honestly, it turned me off. I didn’t like it.
Also, I felt that I knew what was coming. The plot was so clear: Dan Torrance gets himself clean so he can protect a magic girl from psychic gypsy vampires. And yeah, I know the tale is in the telling, and King’s plotting isn’t his strong suit, but this time, I felt I knew where it was going and didn’t see any turns or twists in the road. So, I got on Wikipedia, checked out the Plot header for the book and read what I suspected. Yeah, that’s exactly what I suspected. Okay, don’t need to read this one. I dropped the book off at my local used book store.
So, you may ask, Faithful Reader, why I went to see the movie?
Well, I like the director. I like Ewan McGregor. In fact, I thought the casting was pretty smart. I liked what the director had to say about the differences between The Shining book and movie and how his biggest challenge was reconciling the two. He wasn’t going to be entirely faithful to either of them, but make a movie that addressed both. And then I heard him say that he changed the ending and King himself approved. The last time that happened was The Mist (one of the very few very good King adaptations). All right. I’m in.
A few weeks before, Ken St. Andre and I went to Harkins Classic Movie night and we saw Kubrick’s version. Ken had never seen it before and I hadn’t seen it on the big screen since 1980. I wanted to see it on the big screen again and I wanted Ken to see it so we could watch Doctor Sleep together. The audience was full of old and young people: those who had seen it and those who had not. Kubrick’s film had its desired result. The audience did not scream. They didn’t jump. They sat in quiet horror. This isn’t Friday the 13th or Halloween. This isn’t jump scares and gross outs. It’s being that frog in the pot of water slowly heating to a boil…
Armed with that recent viewing, Mr. St. Andre and I went to see Doctor Sleep. After the credits ran, we sat quietly. Finally, Ken said, “I really liked that.” I nodded. “So did I.”
And the more I think about it, the more I like it. The director, Mike Flanagan, turned the gypsy vampires that seemed so kitch and cliché to me in the book into a startling, terrifying pack of wolves. Clever, hungry and deadly. Ewan McGregor was exactly what I wanted to see from a mid-40’s Danny Torrance. The perfect mixture of his father’s rage and his mother’s empathy. And Rebecca Ferguson transformed Rose the Hat into a creature both beautiful and terrible. And yes, even the magic girl—played by the charming Kyliegh Curran—won my heart.
Now, those who have both read and seen The Shining know there’s a huge problem. The fate of the Overlook Hotel. The director was right: that was his biggest challenge. The way he handled it impressed me as both a storyteller and a fan.
I liked this movie. I liked it a lot. If you want to see it, let me know. I’m more than willing to go again. But watch The Shining first. And, if you can do it in a weekend, read the book. Both will only amplify your enjoyment.