Blood in the Gutters, 127 Takes and the Twins Then and Now: 40 Haunting Secrets About The Shining

Stanley Kubrick's polarizing adaptation of Stephen King's still-terrifying novel was released 40 years ago and the story behind the story has been unfolding ever since

By Natalie Finn May 23, 2020 2:00 PMTags
Movie Poster, The ShiningMoviestore Collection/Shutterstock

Danny! Danny-boy!

Jack Nicholson practically growling his son's name as he succumbs to the evil forces harbored by the Overlook Hotel and sets out to slaughter his family is one of the more terrifying scenes in a movie that's basically a master class in terrifying imagery, start to finish.

Which is why, 40 years after its theatrical release, The Shining remains one of the all-time horror movies, the monster in this case being an entire building—and, of course, the demons within that just need a little nudge and a stiff drink to rear their ugly heads.

Subsequently, Stanley Kubrick's polarizing adaptation of Stephen King's haunting, so-scary-Joey-has-to-stick-it-in-the-freezer novel is also one of the most picked-over films of the 20th century, with endless analyses and theories put forth in essays, books, frame-by-frame breakdowns and films about the film, such as 2012's Room 237, which lays out nine interpretations of what, exactly, Kubrick had in mind.

Horror Movie Stars: Then and Now

But if going through all that sounds like a lot of work and no play, do not fear—we've done the sifting for you and, in honor of The Shining's 40th anniversary, have distilled the history, the lore, the myths and all the rest into 40 secrets about the making of this unforgettable film.

Also, SPOILER ALERT! This guide contains spoilers for both the book and the movie, so if you want to step away and read the novel and then watch the film first, go ahead. We'll be right here.

The Source

1. Stephen King's book, only his third at the time, was about to be published in 1977 and Warner Bros. sent Stanley Kubrick—director of films as varied as Spartacus and Lolita—a copy of the manuscript. "I thought it was one of the most ingenious and exciting stories of the genre I had read," Kubrick told biographer Michel Ciment in 1980. "It seemed to strike an extraordinary balance between the psychological and the supernatural in such a way as to lead you to think that the supernatural would eventually be explained by the psychological: 'Jack must be imagining these things because he's crazy.' This allowed you to suspend your doubt of the supernatural until you were so thoroughly into the story that you could accept it almost without noticing."

2. Kubrick hired writer and UC Berkeley literature professor Diane Johnson, who was teaching a course on the gothic novel, to collaborate with him on the screenplay. "With The Shining, the problem was to extract the essential plot and to re-invent the sections of the story that were weak," he explained to Ciment. "The characters needed to be developed a bit differently than they were in the novel." He said the book's "virtues lay almost entirely in the plot, and it didn't prove to be very much of a problem to adapt it into the screenplay form." They agreed on which scenes to keep, wrote several drafts and continued to revise the script leading up to and during filming.

Master of His Domain

3. Kubrick said he didn't feel the need to do any additional research on ESP, but he did send his art director Roy Walker to the United States to scour the country to look at hotels to play the Overlook, inside and out, and research furniture and architecture particular to the American West. All of the food containers seen in the kitchen and pantry were shipped in from the U.S.—including the Calumet Baking Powder seen in a couple of scenes that helped fuel the theory that the film was really about the slaughter of Native Americans, because Calumet uses an old-fashioned rendering of an American Indian in a tribal headdress on the package.

4. Kubrick preferred using his own store of cameras, lenses, lighting rigs and other technical equipment, as opposed to renting, and he had final cut on The Shining, ensuring that Warner Bros. couldn't futz with it before its release—before which he examined 700 prints of the finished film to look for any quality issues. Furthermore, he had the various foreign translations of the film re-translated back into English for him before they went to theaters so he could make sure nothing was being literally lost in translation.

The Real Deal

5. Kubrick settled on the Timberline Lodge, nestled on the south side of Oregon's Mount Hood, to stand in as the fictional Overlook, which is perched in the Colorado Rockies some miles (that eerily become impassable except by snow mobile once winter sets in) from the town of Sidewinder in King's book. Built between 1936 and 1938, the Timberline is now a National Historic Landmark and is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Winter Wonderland

6. A crew then meticulously reproduced the facade of Timberline Lodge at Elstree Studios on Shenley Road in England, where the production proceeded to take over four of seven sound stages, portions of the other stages, at least one warehouse, some offices and the grounds as they built the ballroom, the kitchen and massive pantry, the master staircase, the hotel rooms, the lounge where Jack sets up his typewriter, etc.

7. When blizzard season begins, for snow they used polystyrene and salt, which they purchased in 50-kilo bags from a dairy supplier. The part of the maze used for on-the-ground filming was built indoors just in case it rained, to protect the "snow."

Going Down?

8. Many film historians and cineastes have looked at Kubrick's movie—which in its most basic description is about a haunted hotel where bad things happen and counting Jack, has driven at least two caretakers crazy—as the director's treatise on genocide, particularly the Holocaust and the mass slaughter of American Indians. Hence Kubrick's Overlook being built atop an Indian burial ground (as general manager Ullman tells Jack as he shows him around, a scene not in the book)—which, as it's pointed out in Room 237, would mean that the workers would have had to dig deep into that graveyard to build an elevator shaft, and... well, Danny does see a lot of blood pouring out of those elevators.

9. In fact, they disposed of so much fake blood over the course of the shoot, the gutters of the nearby village of Borehamwood ran red.

Room to Roam

10. For the spacious great rooms and labyrinthine corridors of the Overlook, "we spent weeks going through [Roy Walker's] photographs making selections for the different rooms," Kubrick told Ciment. "Using the details in the photographs, our draughtsmen did proper working drawings. From these, small models of all the sets were built. We wanted the hotel to look authentic rather than like a traditionally spooky movie hotel."

Room 237

11. The room where horrors await Danny in the book is number 217, but according to Kubrick, Timberline management asked if they could please use a different number, as they didn't want guests to be afraid of staying in 217. So, it became 237.

The film Room 237, however, insisted that there is no 217 at the Timberline, and that 237 was near and dear to Kubrick's heart because he had helped fake the Apollo 11 moon landing on a sound stage, and the distance from the Earth to the moon is 237,000 miles. Also, Danny wears an Apollo 11 sweater, so obviously that's what 237 means.

Quite the Puzzle

12. The infamous Overlook maze, another Kubrick invention (the book's botanical terror stems from topiary animals that come to life), was constructed of pine boughs stapled to plywood—and had to be built twice, once for exterior shots in the U.S. and at the studio in England for the scenes set within the maze. True to form, crew members would get lost occasionally in its inner circles.

13. Kubrick hired the inventor of the Steadicam, Garrett Brown, to operate his award-winning creation for the film, which the director felt was essential to getting the type of shots he envisioned. "It's like a magic carpet," he explained to Ciment. "The fast, flowing camera movements in the maze would have been impossible to do without the Steadicam." And in the hotel, "In order to fully exploit this layout it was necessary to have moving camera shots without cuts, and of course the Steadicam made that much easier to do."

Like Father, Like Daughter

14. Vivian Kubrick, his youngest daughter, took a real interest in her father's trade, and she proposed making a documentary about the making of The Shining. With her dad's blessing and armed with a 16 mm. camera, Vivian did just that, and the result was the 35-minute "Making The Shining," full of raw behind-the-scenes footage and candid interviews with the cast.

Keeper of the Legacy

15. Leon Vitali, an actor in Barry Lyndon who became Kubrick's right-hand man for decades and was the subject of his own 2018 documentary, Filmworker, shot down what he viewed as the more preposterous theories, including the moon landing bit, posited by Room 237, calling them "pure gibberish." "I was falling about laughing most of the time," he told the New York Times in 2013. "There are ideas espoused in the movie that I know to be total balderdash."

Boy Wonder

16. Vitali was tasked with going to the U.S. (specifically Denver, Cincinnati and Chicago) to find the right boy to play the telepathic Danny Torrance, Vitali and his wife interviewed about 4,000 kids over the course of six months. In Chicago they discovered 4-year-old Danny Lloyd, who was ultimately cast in no small part because of his ability to concentrate. Once production got underway, Vitali was in charge of Lloyd, giving him acting tips and keeping him occupied and undisturbed by the nature of the film taking shape around him.

17. Danny's method of communicating with his imaginary friend, Tony, in which Tony "talks" when Danny moves his finger, was Lloyd's creation—he came up with it during his audition in 1977. Lloyd later recalled how it all began with an open casting call that his father heard about on the radio and entered his son in the running "as a gag." He remembered driving a few hours from their home in Peoria, Ill., to Chicago for the first of five or six auditions. He got the call that he was hired in the middle of his 5th birthday party.

The Man for the Job

18. Kubrick thought of Jack Nicholson for the role of Jack Torrance right away. "I should think that he is on almost everyone's first-choice list for any role which suits him," he told Ciment. "His work is always interesting, clearly conceived and has the X-factor, magic. Jack is particularly suited for roles which require intelligence. He is an intelligent and literate man, and these are qualities almost impossible to act. In The Shining, you believe he's a writer, failed or otherwise."

Meant to Be

19. Shelley Duvall's wide-eyed portrayal of Wendy Torrance remains one of the campier aspects of the movie, but Kubrick had a particular vision

"I think she brought an instantly believable characterization to her part," Kubrick, who said he had watched all of her work, explained his reasoning. "The novel pictures her as a much more self-reliant and attractive woman, but these qualities make you wonder why she has put up with Jack for so long. Shelley seemed to be exactly the kind of woman that would marry Jack and be stuck with him. The wonderful thing about Shelley is her eccentric quality—the way she talks, the way she moves, the way her nervous system is put together. I think that most interesting actors have physical eccentricities about them which make their performances more interesting and, if they don't, they work hard to find them."

Despite being a Cannes Film Festival Best Actress winner for Robert Altman's 3 Women (she had been in a number of Altman films by then and would also be onscreen as Olive Oyl in Popeye later in 1980), Duvall seemed seriously insecure to some observers—which was the exact opposite of the vibe emanating from the indomitable Nicholson.

"I was really in and out of ill health because the stress of the role was so great and the stress of being away from home—just uprooted and moved somewhere else—and I had just gotten out of a relationship, and so for me it was just tumultuous," Duvall told Vivian Kubrick, who had captured her father telling the actress on the set that she was "wasting everybody's time" during filming of one of the chase scenes.

A Family Film

20. Lloyd's whole family—mom, dad and older brother Mike—moved to England for what they were told would be a 17-week shoot. It lasted a year.

During that time, though, "Stanley was great," Lloyd told The Guardian in 2017. "I remember him playing ball with me, playing catch, stuff like that. He was a big guy with a beard, but I don't remember ever being scared of him or intimidated or anything." Kubrick even organized an Easter egg hunt for the kids on set. Meanwhile, the whole crew was tasked with keeping the fact that they were even making a horror movie at all quiet. Danny was kept off the set while they were shooting the scene where Dick Hallorann gets killed, and for the scene where Wendy runs through the hall clutching Danny, Duvall carried a large doll.

Lloyd didn't see the movie until he was 10 or 11, and it didn't scare him. "I think it's an entertaining movie, don't get me wrong," he said. "But I look back on it with so many memories."

It's Just a Cool Sweater

21. Danny's retro-fabulous Apollo 11 sweater wasn't a wink at the moon landing conspiracy, Vitali explains. Rather, "that was knitted by a friend of [costume designer] Milena Canonero. Stanley wanted something that looked handmade, and Milena arrived on the set one day and said, 'How about this?' It was just the sort of thing that a kid that age would have liked." Or a kid of any age—you can buy an inspired-by design online right now.

Come Play With Us, Danny

22. The ghostly Grady twins were played by 10-year-old English twin sisters Louise and Lisa Burns. Kubrick wasn't initially looking for twins, but rather an older and a younger sister, around 12 and 8 (as set forth in the book), but "I think he liked the idea of we spoke together, and we have contralto voices, and that does sound slightly weird," Lisa mused years later to interviewer Jamie Stangroom. "It does sound slightly off-kilter, and so it makes it more ghostly."

"The thing that he liked most was the fact that we both went for it together, we met him and said, 'Hello, Mr. Kubrick,' and put our hands out at the same time, said it on cue." Not that they rehearsed it; rather, they often talked in unison like that.

At the end of production, Kubrick gave them vials of fake blood labeled "Kensington Gore" as souvenirs.

Fancy Meeting You Here

23. The red-toned men's room where Jack first encounters murderous caretaker turned tuxedo-wearing ghost butler Grady was inspired by a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed hotel men's room in Arizona, one of countless locations photographed by Walker on his scouting expedition.

I'm Workin' Here!

24. Kubrick said Nicholson was totally believable as a frustrated writer, and it turns out the Oscar winner was familiar with the experience. When Jack informs Wendy that when she hears him typing that means he's working, his demeanor was informed by a time when the actor was mid-divorce and trying to crank out a screenplay he was contracted to do.

"Later on, with Stanley Kubrick, we wrote that scene together…sort of the climactic scene of my marriage because I was under such pressure to get this script out, and I was acting in Rebel Rousers, an improvisational movie with Harry Dean and Bruce Dern…. I think it's the only movie of mine I've never seen," Nicholson shared with Rolling Stone in 1986. "Really the whole period was incredible long hours of work, meeting a writing deadline and getting up and doing an acting job. Most of my divorce is written into The Trip."

25. As for the fruit of all that maddening labor, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," typed over and over again, is a proverb dating back to at least the 17th century. It's in the script and marks another iconic addition to the story that wasn't in the book.

Mechanical Device

26. The Adler typewriter that Jack ominously click-clacks away on—which Room 237 used to bolster its argument that the film is about the Holocaust because it's a German brand—was Kubrick's own typewriter. "A lot of decisions made on the set were about pragmatism: 'This looks good. It sits on the oak table pretty perfectly,'" Vitali told the New York Times. "Not to mention, it's a great typewriter. I used that typewriter for 10 years, actually."

Backward, in Tears

27. Kubrick was a notoriously exacting filmmaker who had no qualms about shooting a scene a hundred times, or insisting they do it again...and again...and...again. It took 60 takes to capture Scatman Crothers as Dick Hallorann just sitting his in his bedroom alone when he gets the telepathic SOS from Danny. And Kubrich legendarily shot 127 takes of an emotionally crushed Duvall trying to ward off Nicholson with a baseball bat, all the while backing up the stairs as Jack, by now completely unhinged, tells Wendy he's not going to hurt her, he's just going to bash her brains in.

"It was only with the greatest difficulty that Shelley was able to create and sustain for the length of the scene an authentic sense of hysteria," Kubrick coolly explained the method to his madness to Ciment. "It took her a long time to achieve this and when she did we didn't shoot the scene too many times. I think there were five takes favoring Shelley, and only the last two were really good. When I have to shoot a very large number of takes it's invariably because the actors don't know their lines, or don't know them well enough. An actor can only do one thing at a time, and when he has learned his lines only well enough to say them while he's thinking about them, he will always have trouble as soon as he has to work on the emotions of the scene or find camera marks. In a strong emotional scene, it is always best to be able to shoot in complete takes to allow the actor a continuity of emotion, and it is rare for most actors to reach their peak more than once or twice.

"There are, occasionally, scenes which benefit from extra takes, but even then, I'm not sure that the early takes aren't just glorified rehearsals with the added adrenaline of film running through the camera."

"White Man's Burden, Lloyd"

28. Talking about the scene where Jack falls off the wagon thanks to Lloyd the phantom bartender, Kubrick told Ciment that it was an exchange that similarly benefited from numerous takes.

"Jack's performance here is incredibly intricate, with sudden changes of thought and mood—all grace notes," he said. "It's a very difficult scene to do because the emotion flow is so mercurial. It demands knife-edged changes of direction and a tremendous concentration to keep things sharp and economical. In this particular scene Jack produced his best takes near the highest numbers."

Joe Turkel, who played Lloyd, said they rehearsed the scene for six weeks.

It's a Man's World

29. Describing the tough time that Duvall was obviously having, Kubrick's longtime personal assistant Emilio D'Alessandro wrote in his 2016 memoir Stanley Kubrick and Me: Thirty Years at His Side, "Jack's personality didn't exactly help to calm things down. He loved to rule the roost. He was always making vulgar remarks full of sexual innuendo. He made faces at anyone who turned their back on him and flirted with anything in a skirt. Basically, he invaded other people's space, and in particular, Shelley's."

At the same time, D'Alessandro, who had initially suggested Death Wish star Charles Bronson for the role of Jack Torrance to his boss, agreed that Nicholson was the perfect choice. "Jack realized this himself, too, and he enjoyed every minute of it," he wrote.

30. Louise Burns remembered Nicholson as being very nice, and "not strange," while Lisa added that he seemed very tired, because he was frequently flying back and forth between England and America—and would stay till late at night to see the rushes (all the raw footage shot that day). Kubrick didn't necessarily want feedback, the sisters remembered with a smile, but he seemed to like it when the actors showed an interest in the craft and stuck around.

Death by a Thousand Cuts

31. "Going through day after day of excruciating work was almost unbearable," Duvall told film critic Roger Ebert in December 1980. "Jack Nicholson's character had to be crazy and angry all the time. And in my character I had to cry 12 hours a day, all day long, the last nine months straight, five or six days a week. I was there a year and a month, and there must be something to Primal Scream therapy, because after the day was over and I'd cried for my 12 hours...After all that work, hardly anyone even criticized my performance in it, even to mention it, it seemed like. The reviews were all about Kubrick, like I wasn't there."

True Story

32. In the 2001 documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, Nicholson agreed that he and Duvall were not treated the same on set, that it was as if they had "different directors." Vivian Kubrick said in The Making of the Shining—in which you can hear Stanley saying quietly, "Don't sympathize with Shelley"—that her father purposely treated Nicholson better and let Duvall's confidence flag, to heighten the insecurities he wanted to see blossoming in Wendy Torrance.

Heeeeeere's Johnny!

33. The Tonight Show-skewering line Jack delivers as he pokes his face through the freshly hacked door has been parodied every which way—but only out of reverence, as it's still considered one of the most terrifying movie moments of all time. And it was an ad lib.

"I quit using my script," Nicholson told Vivian Kubrick, acknowledging the ever-evolving screenplay. "I just take the ones they type off each day."

What's Up, Doc

34. After The Shining, Danny Lloyd played a young G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate infamy in a 1982 TV movie and then moved on with his life, becoming a biology professor at a community college in Kentucky. He's married with four children and has been the subject of endless what-happened-to-him speculation over the years. "I once read that I had six kids and was a pig farmer," he quipped to The Guardian in 2017. "That's not entirely accurate."

He continued going on auditions until he was 13 or 14, then decided not enough was happening to keep going. "I always enjoyed it," he said. "It was exciting. But as I got a little bit older, it got kind of boring. Then I had to tell my parents that I was ready to quit. Which they were fine with. They were never stage parents. They made sure I had a normal upbringing."

"I don't do many interviews," Lloyd noted. "But when I do, I try to make it clear, The Shining was a good experience. I look back on it fondly. What happened to me was I didn't really do much else after the film. So you kind of have to lay low and live a normal life." 

Wheeling and Dealing

35. Lloyd said a crew member told him he'd send him the tricycle he so memorably pedaled through those halls on when the shoot was over. "I was waiting and waiting for it, but it never came," Lloyd told The Guardian in 2017.

But he did receive a seal of approval from Stanley Kubrick, who stayed in touch and called him around the time he graduated from high school. "He was a terrific boy," the director told Ciment. "He had instinctive taste. He was very smart, very talented and very sensible. His parents, Jim and Ann, were very sensitive to his problems and very supportive, and he had a great time. Danny always knew his lines, and despite the inevitable pampering which occurred on the set, he was always reasonable and well-behaved."

Together Forever

36. Louise and Lisa Burns also stopped acting after The Shining and went on to lead regular lives, their place in pop culture history assured.

According to a Q&A for Scream, Lisa became a criminal attorney and Louise is a scientist and teacher. 

Horror Show

37. Stephen King famously thought the movie was trash (and he was hardly alone, with critics divided on what it betrayed more, King's book or Kubrick's previous work). Brian DePalma's Carrie in 1976 and a 1979 Salem Lot miniseries both took significant liberties with their source material, but The Shining really stuck in King's craw—even after his own 1997 miniseries, which he wrote and produced, starring Steven Weber as Jack Torrance, landed with a thud.

"I think The Shining is a beautiful film and it looks terrific and as I've said before, it's like a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside it," King told Deadline in or around 2013. "In that sense, when it opened, a lot of the reviews weren't very favorable and I was one of those reviewers. I kept my mouth shut at the time, but I didn't care for it much."

"I feel the same [now]," he continued, "because the character of Jack Torrance has no arc in that movie. Absolutely no arc at all. When we first see Jack Nicholson, he's in the office of Mr. Ullman, the manager of the hotel, and you know then, he's crazy as a s--t-house rat. All he does is get crazier. In the book, he's a guy who's struggling with his sanity and finally loses it. To me, that's a tragedy. In the movie, there's no tragedy because there's no real change. The other real difference is at the end of my book the hotel blows up, and at the end of Kubrick's movie the hotel freezes. That's a difference.

"But I met Kubrick and there's no question he's a terrifically smart guy. He's made some of the movies that mean a lot to me, Dr. Strangelove, for one and Paths of Glory, for another. I think he did some terrific things but, boy, he was a really insular man. In the sense that when you met him, and when you talked to him, he was able to interact in a perfectly normal way but you never felt like he was all the way there. He was inside himself."

The Ins and Outs of the Overlook

38. Stuart Ullman is described by Jack as an "officious little prick" in the book, and the Overlook's general manager tells Jack that, if it were up to him, he wouldn't have given him the job as winter caretaker of his precious hotel. Ullman, played by Barry Nelson, is less of an antagonist in the film, Kubrick going all in on the hotel being the primary villain (or maybe Jack's just insane, you don't know right away), while the book spends time with all of the outside and internal forces that eventually grind Jack's gears into overdrive.

Ullman was supposed to play an even bigger role: A week into the movie's theatrical run, Kubrick cut a scene in which Wendy is in the hospital after she and Danny escape and Ullman is there telling her that they hadn't found her husband's body—after which the camera returns to the halls of the Overlook, eventually settling on the old black and white photograph featuring a grinning Jack that closes the film. Because there he is, in the hotel's past!

View More Photos From 40 Secrets About The Shining

King wrote in 2001 in the introduction for a new edition of the book, "My single conversation with the late Stanley Kubrick, about six months before he commenced filming his version of The Shining, suggested that it was this quality about the story that appealed to him: What, exactly, is impelling Jack Torrance toward murder in the winter-isolated rooms of the Overlook Hotel? Is it undead people or undead memories?

"Mr. Kubrick and I came to different conclusions (I always thought there were malevolent ghosts in the Overlook, driving Jack to the precipice), but perhaps those different conclusions are, in fact, the same."

But Kubrick wasn't trying to infer otherwise. In his version, The Shining is indeed a ghost story.


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He confirmed to his biographer Michel Ciment, "For the purposes of telling the story, my view is that the paranormal is genuine. Jack's mental state serves only to prepare him for the murder, and to temporarily mislead the audience."

It's choose your own adventure, King or Kubrick, on the way to Jack's demise, but the journey will scare the crap out of you all the same.