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Many acclaimed novels by the esteemed horror writer Stephen King have transitioned into highly successful films, including iconic titles like Misery, Carrie, and It. However, amid the praise from King’s fans and movie enthusiasts, one adaptation stands out as a noteworthy exception—the author himself disapproved of it.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation of King’s novel The Shining is widely considered a pivotal piece within the horror genre. However, King himself held a strong dislike for the final outcome and has voiced criticisms for many years. Primarily, this stemmed from Kubrick’s distinctive approach, diverging significantly from King’s initial vision.
In fact, King’s disdain for Kubrick’s adaptation was so strong that he took matters into his own hands, creating a three-episode horror miniseries based on his novel in 1997. While the 1997 rendition remained truer to King’s book, it lacked the cinematic brilliance that characterised Kubrick’s effort. King elaborated on the difference between Kubrick’s film and his book when he said: “That’s what’s wrong with [Kubrick’s] The Shining, basically…the movie has no heart; there’s no centre to the picture.”
He also explained that, unlike his book, the movie lacked any real substance and meaning: “The character of Jack Torrance has no arc in that movie. Absolutely no arc at all,” he said. “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 shit 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.”
What’s more, despite becoming an iconic scream queen in her own right, Shelley Duvall’s characterisation also didn’t quite sit right with King. In his eyes, she was merely a plot device to provide screams: “I felt that the treatment of Shelley Duvall as Wendy—I mean, talk about insulting to women. She’s basically a scream machine. There’s no sense of her involvement in the family dynamic at all.”
He added: “And Kubrick didn’t seem to have any idea that Jack Nicholson was playing the same motorcycle psycho that he played in all those biker films he did—Hells Angels on Wheels, The Wild Ride, The Rebel Rousers, and Easy Rider. The guy is crazy. So where is the tragedy if the guy shows up for his job interview and he’s already bonkers? No, I hated what Kubrick did with that.”
Many horror enthusiasts applaud Duvall’s portrayal of Wendy, recognising her remarkable performance, especially considering the intense challenges she faced on the film’s set. Nonetheless, King contends that her character lacked depth, particularly in comparison to the source material, where she was depicted as a more central figure within the family dynamic.