If you look at any list claiming to rank the best horror movies of all time, there’s a good chance that you’ll see director Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic The Shining either at or near the top of that list 37 years after it hit theaters. The film is still considered a horror classic to this day, with Warner Bros. even developing a Shining prequel entitled The Overlook Hotel, which has Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) attached to direct from a script by Glen Mazzara (The Walking Dead). While we don’t have any updates for that prequel, original Shining producer Jan Harlan and screenwriter Diane Johnson, who co-wrote The Shining with director Stanley Kubrick, shed some light on some of the alternate ending ideas the director had during production. And they were dark.
The film is based on Stephen King‘s best-selling novel of the same name, and fans of the book know there is one major difference between the novel ending and the ending Stanley Kubrick came up with. The original novel culminates with a showdown between young Danny, played by Danny Lloyd in the film, and his father Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), who had been consumed by the nefarious powers of the Overlook Hotel, with Jack fighting off the hotel’s grasp long enough for Danny, Jack’s wife Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and the hotel chef Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers) to escape, before the hotel catches fire and burns to the ground, with Jack in it. The movie ends with a haunting scene where Jack kills Dick Halloran and chases his family through a maze, with Danny and Wendy escaping in Halloran’s snowcat vehicle, while Jack freezes to death in the maze. Entertainment Weekly caught up with writer Diane Johnson as part of the magazine’s Untold Stories issue, who shed some light on why Stanley Kubrick changed the ending.
“The ending was changed almost entirely because Kubrick found it a cliche to just blow everything up. He thought there might be something else that would be metaphorically and visually more interesting. In the book, nobody gets killed except Jack. And Kubrick really thought somebody should get killed, because it was a horror movie. So we weighed the dramatic possibilities of killing off various characters and did different treatments. We actually talked it over in detail the possibility of having different people getting killed. Danny’s relationship with his father was the thing that most interested Kubrick. He was emotionally involved with the point of view of a little boy who is afraid of his father. I remember Kubrick saying that visually he could imagine a small yellow chalk outline on the floor like that they put around the bodies of victims. And Kubrick liked that image. But he was too tender-hearted for that ending and thought it would be too terrible to do.”
It’s worth noting that the 1997 mini-series adaptation of The Shining, starring Steven Weber, Rebecca De Mornay and Courtland Mead as the Torrance family, did use the original Stephen King ending where the Overlook Hotel burns to the ground. There was also another alternate ending in the original movie that never made it into the actual script, but was part of an early treatment that eventually leaked online, where Wendy actually kills Jack in self-defense. When Mr. Halloran arrives, he actually becomes possessed by the hotel and turns into the main villain at the end, with Diane Johnson revealing that the hotel had actually been getting inside Halloran’s mind for years. Here’s what Diane Johnson had to say about this alternate ending.
“That’s right. We always had the powers of the hotel in mind. So the hotel would have been warping Hallorann’s mind for quite a long time. It was an attractive idea that Hallorran is good [throughout the film] then he gets there and is possessed by the hotel into a monster surrogate for Jack.”
The writer also revealed that the mysterious photograph, which shows Jack Nicholson‘s Jack Torrance in a photograph taken in 1921, during the Overlook’s 4th of July Ball, was always going to be in the ending. She also addressed the fan theories that sprung up after Stanley Kubrick’s death in 1999, some of which she thought were quite humorous, but one in particular she found “insulting,” which theorized that The Shining was actually a film about the Holocaust. Producer Jan Harlan revealed that all of the deleted scenes were destroyed by the director, so no one else could re-assemble his edit.
“Stanley wanted to make sure that nobody would ever re-assemble his edit in any other way. All outtakes and unused scenes were systematically destroyed, including negatives and rushes. He himself knew that he would never consider a re-cut. He was someone who lived totally in the present. He never looked back.”
While The Shining didn’t open to critical or commercial success when it hit theaters in 1980, it eventually became a heralded classic that has spawned countless fan theories, many of which are examined in the critically-acclaimed documentary Room 237. The actual hotel which was used for The Overloook Hotel, the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO, was home to the Stanley Film Festival from 2013 to 2016, with the festival shifting gears this year. The festival will now be called the Overlook Hotel Film Festival, which will take place in Oregon’s Timberline Lodge next month, which was used to film the exterior locations of the Overlook in the film.