Life On the Set of “The Shining”

Jack Nicholson and Danny Lloyd in "The Shining"

There is no denying that Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining is a masterpiece. It is chilling from start to finish and remains one of the most iconic horror movies of all time. There are a lot of rumors about what went on behind the scenes, but what was life really like on set?

The film took five years to make and although sources offer mixed reports, filming likely took the best part of a year. At the time he was cast, Danny Lloyd was just five-years-old. To protect him from psychological trauma, Kubrick did not tell Lloyd the storyline of the film. He told Danny that the film he was making was a drama and hid all of the horrific and frightening scenes from him. In the scene where his on-screen mother runs with Danny in his arms, it is actually a dummy. Lloyd was sixteen when he saw the movie for the first time.

Unfortunately, life on set was less pleasant for Shelly Duvall, who played Jack’s wife. There have many reports that Kubrick was exceptionally hard on her during filming. In the infamous “Here’s Johnny” scene where Wendy swings a bat at Jack, it took 127 takes to get right. In the scene that made the final cut, Duvall’s exhaustion and horror are genuine. She once said: “From May until October I was really in and out of ill health because the stress of the role was so great. Stanley pushed me and prodded me further than I’ve ever been pushed before. It’s the most difficult role I’ve ever had to play.” 

And do you remember child actresses Lisa and Louise Burns who played the creepy twins? They were never meant to be cast, but Kubrick decided that twins were way creepier than one young girl. For their birthday, the director gave the twins vials of fake blood. It was the same fake blood that they had to lie in following their brutal on-screen murder. 

Unfortunately, despite all of the effort that went into making sure the entire cast gave it their all, Stephen King was not happy with the movie. He describes it as a “disappointment” and thinks that Jack Nicholson was all wrong for the role. Ironically, King may be one of the only horror fanatics who didn’t like the movie.