Why is The Shining so Scary?


This question has been cropping up on horror-related message boards since horror-related message boards began. It’s such a common question that it’s perhaps almost as popular as the questions: “How Gory is Saw?” and “Will I vomit at The Human Centipede?”

When asked this, people always go: “Oh it’s Danny riding the tricycle down the creepy hallway.” But that doesn’t really answer it; after all, I’ve seen kids riding bikes, and I’ve never been terrified (albeit, if one was riding towards me carrying an axe whilst saying “come and play with me…come and play with me…”).

The main reason why this question is difficult to answer is mainly because the film is the most unconventional, unorthodox, un-horror-movie-like horror movie ever made. After all, it’s a horror movie with barely any clichés; It’s a horror movie in the day time.

Anyway, I’m rambling, below I have listed some of the main reasons why this psychological horror gets under most people’s – especially my – skin…

1) The Music

What first whips the fear detectors is not what hits your eyes, but what hits your ear drums. The opening scene is basically a bunch of shots showing the car journey the Torrance’s take to get to the hotel. During this, the main soundtrack purrs away in the background, and we feel that something’s not quite right…and as the long, intense, cinematically-perfected shots glide on, the music stays in the background. It’s effortlessly disturbingly creepy from the beginning right throught to the end, because the music is constant.

2) The Camera

As I mentioned earlier, people always say that it’s Danny riding his tricycle that makes it scary. It’s not that. It’s the fact that the camera’s following him; what’s creepy about The Shining is the fact that it’s filmed in Kubrick’s trademark ‘detatched’ style. The camera’s watching the events unfold. The camera is the hotel watching them. The camera is the evil spirit watching them, watching Jack’s mind slowly deteriorate until he picks up an axe, batters the bathroom door down and he says the film’s most famous line.

3) You never know what could happen next…

Like most Kubrick films, it’s never straightforward and nothing is ever predictable. Events happen randomly and unexpected: snooker balls rolling down corridors, two girls randomly appearing and speaking at the same time in high-pitched voices, a naked woman kisses Jack and then turns saggy and green (as you do). It’s like the average dreams of hallucinogenic crossed with a schizophrenic. Very weird – yet, very disturbing. Which, makes it even the more genius…

4) Building tension

The film is over two hours in length and is meticulously slow-paced. Events flow on one after the other, and as I watched this film for the first time, I was (scuze the cliché) at the edge of my seat, sweating. The slow building of pace adds to the excitement, adds to the intrigue, and I became more and more engaged with the characters, and more engaged with the film, meaning that each and every shock in the film effected me deeply and profoundly.

5) It hits you where it hurts (or rather stabs with an axe)

There’s something about it that hits you right from the beginning, perhaps it’s the mystery it creates, it lodges something in the unconscious where no other horror film lodges something. Perhaps it’s the visceral, arresting images: the long hallways, the snowy maze axe-holding Jack travels across to try to find Danny. No other horror film works like this one. Halloween only works once because you know what happens next, yet with this, you just give up, and let it work on you again.

Maybe it’s the concept: the idea that a husband and father is going to kill his son and wife. You can see, I’m struggling for answers here, the thing about this film is, I can pick it apart, dissect how it works, yet the fact of the matter is that it still works no matter what. It has something that you can’t place your finger on. Or in other words, perhaps it’s so ambiguous, so mysteriously atmospheric, that it creates a disturbing feeling, because it’s so unnatural, and you never know what could be passed each corridor…

But for me anyway, what’s most frightening about The Shining, is the fact that I don’t know why I’m so terrified whilst watching it. I just am.

4 thoughts on “Why is The Shining so Scary?

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Horror Films « Radu presents: The Movie-Photo Blog

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