Okay, okay, maybe not THE greatest. I mean, The Exorcist and Psycho and a few others are hard to pass up, but The Shining is way up there. It is, however, by far the best Stephen King story that has been made into a movie. It's better than The Stand, better than Pet Sematary (if not quite as scary), better than Cujo, better than The Green Mile, better the Dolores Claiborne, better than Stand By Me (just barely, though), and yes, it's better than The Shawshank Redemption (shut up, it's better), I don't care WHAT the IMDb Top 250 says.
I read that, a couple of decades ago, Stanley Kubrick was sorting through novels at his home trying to find one that might make a good movie, and from the other room, his wife would hear a pounding noise every half hour or so as he threw books against the wall in frustration. Finally, she didn't hear any noise for almost two hours, and when she went to check and see if he had died in his chair or something (I tell this with all due respect, of course), she found him concentrating on a book that he had in his hand, and the book was The Shining. And thank God, too, because he went on to convert that book into one of the best horror films ever.
Stephen King can be thanked for the complexity of the story, about a man who takes his wife and son up to a remote hotel to oversee it during the extremely isolated winter as he works on his writing. Jack Nicholson can be thanked for his dead-on performance as Jack Torrance (how many movies has Jack been in where he plays a character named Jack?), as well as his flawless delivery of several now-famous lines (`Heeeeeere's Johnny!!'). Shelley Duvall can be thanked for giving a performance that allows the audience to relate to Jack's desires to kill her. Stanley Kubrick can be thanked for giving this excellent story his very recognizable touch, and whoever the casting director was can be thanked for scrounging up the creepiest twins on the planet to play the part of the murdered girls.
One of the most significant aspects of this movie, necessary for the story as a whole to have its most significant effect, is the isolation, and it's presents flawlessly. The film starts off with a lengthy scene following Jack as he drives up to the old hotel for his interview for the job of the caretaker for the winter. This is soon followed by the same thing following Jack and his family as they drive up the windy mountain road to the hotel. This time the scene is intermixed with shots of Jack, Wendy, and Danny talking in the car, in which Kubrick managed to sneak in a quick suggestion about the evils of TV, as Wendy voices her concern about talking about cannibalism in front of Danny, who says that it's okay because he's already seen it on TV (`See? It's okay, he saw it on the television.').
The hotel itself is the perfect setting for a story like this to take place, and it's bloody past is made much more frightening by the huge, echoing rooms and the long hallways. These rooms with their echoes constantly emphasize the emptiness of the hotel, but it is the hallways that really created most of the scariness of this movie, and Kubrick's traditional tracking shots give the hallways a creepy three-dimensional feel. Early in the film, there is a famous tracking shot that follows Danny in a large circle as he rides around the halls on his Big Wheel (is that what those are called?), and his relative speed (as well as the clunking made by the wheels as he goes back and forth from the hardwood floors to the throw rugs) gives the feeling of not knowing what is around the corner. And being a Stephen King story, you EXPECT something to jump out at you. I think that the best scene in the halls (as well as one of the scariest in the film) is when Danny is playing on the floor, and a ball rolls slowly up to him. He looks up and sees the long empty hallway, and because the ball is something of a child's toy, you expect that it must have been those horrendously creepy twins that rolled it to him. Anyway, you get the point. The Shining is a damn scary movie.
Besides having the rare quality of being a horror film that doesn't suck, The Shining has a very in depth story that really keeps you guessing and leaves you with a feeling that there was something that you missed. HAD Jack always been there, like Mr. Grady told him in the men's room? Was he really at that ball in 1921, or is that just someone who looks exactly like him? If he has always been the caretaker, as Mr. Grady also said, does that mean that it was HIM that went crazy and killed his wife and twin daughters, and not Mr. Grady, after all? It's one thing for a film to leave loose ends that should have been tied, that's just mediocre filmmaking. For example, The Amityville Horror, which obviously copied much of The Shining as far as its subject matter, did this. But it is entirely different when a film is presented in a way that really makes you think (as mostly all of Kubrick's movies are). One more thing that we can all thank Stanley Kubrick for, and we SHOULD thank him for, is for not throwing this book against the wall. That one toss would have been cinematic tragedy.