Why does Stephen King hate the original movie of ‘The Shining’ but love ‘Doctor Sleep’?

The celebrated author has said that everything he disliked about Stanley Kubrick's iconic horror has been "redeemed" in 'Doctor Sleep'

Think of The Shining and your pop culture-saturated mind will no doubt vividly recall any or all of the following moments from Stanley Kubrick’s classic film: Jack Nicholson’s remarkably manic performance as Jack Torrance, those creepy twins, REDЯUM, those soaring shots of the ominous drive up to the Overlook Hotel, “Heeeere’s Johnny!“, room 237, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.

Famously adapted from Stephen King’s 1977 novel, The Shining is an intense filmic experience that stays with you, and its huge influence on horror and modern cinema at large remains firmly in place nearly 40 years on from its release.

Doctor Sleep, the big-screen adaptation of King’s 2013 novel sequel to The Shining, hit cinemas last week, and you can be quite sure that writer/director Mike Flanagan will have been acutely aware of the intense pressure which comes with handling this story and the inevitable comparisons that will be made with Kubrick’s beloved 1980 film.


However well Doctor Sleep performs both critically and commercially over the next few weeks, Flanagan will at least be able to take comfort in the knowledge that King has already given the thumbs-up to this latest big screen-adaptation of his work — something that, quite amazingly, Kubrick never quite received from the celebrated author.

“A Cadillac with no engine in it”

The above has been King’s burn of choice over the years when asked to give his concise take on Kubrick’s The Shining. In 2006, King told the Paris Review that he found the late director’s adaptation to be “too cold”.

“Kubrick knew what he wanted to do with the story, and he hired the novelist Diane Johnson to write a draft of the screenplay based on what he wanted to emphasise,” King recalled. “Then he redid it himself. I was really disappointed.” In a back-handed compliment, King then added that while Kubrick’s film was “certainly beautiful to look at,” it had been stripped of “its primary purpose, which is to tell a story”.

Speaking to the BBC in 2013, King elaborated on his dissatisfaction with Kubrick’s “cold” approach to the source material. “I’m not a cold guy. I think one of the things people relate to in my books is this warmth, there’s a reaching out and saying to the reader, ‘I want you to be a part of this.’

“With Kubrick’s The Shining I felt that it was very cold, very, ‘We’re looking at these people, but they’re like ants in an anthill, aren’t they doing interesting things, these little insects.’”


Shining references
Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance hacks his way through the bathroom door in ‘The Shining’. Credit: Alamy

Kubrick’s decision to ditch King’s original ending — where Jack Torrance manages to momentarily break free of the control the hotel has on him to warn his young son Danny to escape with his mother, before he is then killed by an explosion caused by the Overlook’s faulty boiler — particularly irked the author, describing it as “the basic difference that tells you all you need to know” when comparing the novel and the film. In Kubrick’s version, Jack freezes to death after unsuccessfully chasing Danny through the hedge maze and the Overlook stays standing, boiler problems notwithstanding. Sounds pretty cold to us.

The Torrance family: a weak matriarch, a psycho biker dad

“[There was] no sense of emotional investment in the family whatsoever on [Kubrick’s] part,” King declared in that aforementioned Paris Review interview, before going on to single out his issues with Shelley Duvall’s 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 later went a step further in his criticism by declaring in that BBC interview that Kubrick’s characterisation of Wendy in The Shining created “one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film.”

King told the BBC that Kubrick’s characterisation of Wendy in The Shining created “one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film.”

He wasn’t much more complimentary of Kubrick’s casting and directing of Jack Nicholson, either. “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 [Jack Torrance] shows up for his job interview and he’s already bonkers?

“No, I hated what Kubrick did with that.”

One key aspect of King’s criticism of Jack having “absolutely no arc at all” in Kubrick’s movie lay in his disappointment with the director’s decision to not award greater significance to Jack’s alcoholism in his overall descent into madness at the Overlook. King’s own battle with alcoholism at the time of writing The Shining served as a major inspiration for this flaw in the novel’s central character, and the fact that this detail was largely overlooked in the 1980 movie version hurt the author.

A King and Kubrick personality clash

“I met Kubrick and there’s no question he’s a terrifically smart guy,” King told Deadline in an interview which was published in 2016. “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,” the author added. “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.”

King even had the chance to right the perceived wrongs of Kubrick’s 1980 film when a TV miniseries of The Shining was commissioned in 1997, and he set about guiding the project by both writing and producing the series. However, while the TV version earned acclaim upon its arrival (something that The Shining didn’t enjoy in 1980), it hasn’t aged well in the way Kubrick’s version has over the years.

Doctor Sleep – King’s redemption for Kubrick via director Mike Flanagan?

In a interview conducted this week with EW, King revealed that when he read Doctor Sleep director Mike Flanagan’s script for the new movie he said to himself: “Everything that I ever disliked about the Kubrick version of The Shining is redeemed for me here.” Flanagan told the outlet that after he showed King his film, the author told him: “Having watched this film it actually warms my feelings up towards the Kubrick film.”

The author told the director: “Having watched this film it actually warms my feelings up towards the Kubrick film”

“The whole goal from the beginning was to inch those two back together in any way, to reconcile that gulf of distance between the Kubrick Shining and the King Shining,” Flanagan said. “If there was ever a way to do that, even a little, that was what I wanted as a fan.”

The final word, then, goes to King. “I don’t want to get into a big argument about how great the Shining film is that Kubrick did or my feelings about it. All I can say is, Mike took my material, he created a terrific story, people who have seen this movie flip for it, and I flipped for it, too.

“He managed to take my novel of Doctor Sleep, the sequel, and somehow weld it seamlessly to the Kubrick version of The Shining, the movie. So, yeah, I liked it a lot.”

Doctor Sleep is in cinemas now.

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