Many of us are watching Christmas-themed movies as the year comes to a close. Let’s include Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film “The Shining” to the list of alternative holiday movies even though not many people think of it as a holiday movie (and if they do, they definitely don’t think of it as a happy one). However, this cinematic gem contains a feast of unsettling imagery that climaxes during the winter. While many criticise how far the movie deviates from the Stephen King book on which it is based, almost everyone can agree that the visual in Kubrick’s movie has a lasting impact on our memories. There are many scenes that still frighten audiences today, including the eerie Grady twins enticing Danny Torrance to come play, the decaying old woman in the toilet, and the ax-slashed gash in the door with Jack Nicholson’s crazy face shouting “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” The Shining is likely the ideal horror movie to watch at the time because it features numerous scenes with the symbolic red, green, and white colour schemes that also happen to be connected to Christmas. Given how long some of us have been in quarantine, it’s almost too ideal. One legendary bloody scene, however, required more blood than was ever considered conceivable at the time and was notoriously difficult to stage.
Kubrick’s longtime assistant, Leon Vitali, described how the crew managed to precisely spill gallons of blood through the crevices of The Overlook’s old elevator doors, causing it to gush into the corridor and head directly towards the camera, in a recent interview with Yahoo. Vitali claims that due to the meticulous planning that went into the execution’s setup, Kubrick was unable to witness it. According to Vitali, “We tried for weeks and weeks and weeks to get the quality and colour of the blood as natural as it could be.” “It was not what you desired. We were pouring out hundreds of litres of the substance, so uniformity was also very crucial. Naturally, there were also the physics involved since, if you put that much pressure inside an elevator, it will blow if you aren’t careful.” It’s not too shocking that it took so long to get the fake blood in this scene just right because any horror fan would know how crucial fake blood’s consistency and colour are.
There Will Be Blood
In King’s 1977 novel, the sole evidence of a New Year’s Eve party is scattered confetti and streamers in the elevators of The Overlook Hotel. Kubrick turned toward more dramatic angles in an effort to breathe life into a building that shelters so much death. All of the blood that was spilling out of the elevator, in Vitali’s words, “told a little bit about the hotel kind of becoming a character itself.” The crew was under tremendous stress because they had to get this shot in one take due to the limited special effects technology available at the time. The crew topped down the elevator compartment on the day of filming and then set up four cameras to record the bloodbath. There were various lenses and film speeds available for each camera. To protect themselves from being splashed in the red mixture, the camera operators climbed into large wooden chests. The elevator could not tolerate the liquid for very long, therefore time was of the importance. Actually, the elevator had already begun to leak before the doors had even opened, Vitali recalled. The film shows little amounts beginning to seep through if you look attentively. Even though this is a minor error, it still contributes to the movie’s dramatic arc of evil emerging as the Torrance family’s sanity gradually deteriorates.
While the rest of the crew watched as the blood concoction poured out of the doors and flooded the hallway, coating everything in its path, Kubrick anxiously exited the set after ordering “action.” Here’s Vitali once more:
“I tell you, it worked in a way we never thought it would work. That deluge of blood was picking up things like the sofas. It was such a violent volume of this red liquid coming at you; those of us who were in there thought, ‘My God we’re doing to drown!’ When Stanley saw the footage, he was so happy.”
“The Shining” is a shining illustration of Kubrick’s ultimate talent. He is renowned for his careful shots, spectacular cinematography, and intricate set designs. Watching special effects moments like this in the CGI era can occasionally make you feel as though you are witnessing a dying art form. But just like The Overlook’s ghosts, this movie is so intriguing and expertly made that it seduces viewers into visiting its eerie halls forever, ever, and ever.