GEP Pal and WE ARE STILL HERE director Ted Geoghegan talked about how The Shining influenced his feature debut for EW. Read on for his thoughts on the horror classic, working in the shadow of such a masterpiece, and working with Fessenden on such a reminiscent piece.
My first exposure to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece of horror, The Shining, came in 1993 at the impressionable age of 13 years old. By that time, amongst my classmates, the title of the movie was already spoken in reverently hushed tones. Even without seeing it, I knew the major beats via schoolyard chatter: there was a lonely, haunted mountaintop hotel; an impossibly endless tidal wave of blood rushing from its elevators; and a seemingly-possessed, ax-wielding Jack Nicholson shouting “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” as he hunted down his terrified wife and son. Just the salacious, sensational descriptions of “the scariest movie ever made” were enough to raise my heart into my teenage throat.
While the accounts of my classmates were vivid enough to give me nightmares long before I’d even watched the actual film, I was still wholly unprepared to experience it. To this day, The Shining stands alone as the only piece of horror cinema that surpassed my brain’s own pre-conceived horrific imagery and delivers a moviegoing experience that, from my first VHS viewing through the many screenings that have threatened to wear out my special edition Blu-ray, continues to paralyze with its outright dread. And while anything I can say about Kubrick’s chef-d’œuvre has already been said a million times over, I still find excuses to wax poetic over The Shining’s brilliance and how the film shaped our love of not just genre cinema—but movies, in general.
My love for The Shining runs so deeply that when writing and directing my debut feature, We Are Still Here, I had to step back from the project and decide just how much of the film’s influence we could allow onscreen. My film, which is set in the late 1970s and features a haunted, snowbound location that slowly traps its unwitting inhabitants, couldn’t simply rehash the beats of a masterpiece—but we knew we’d be doing our project a disservice to willfully ignore how perfectly Kubrick balanced his scares and teeth-gnashing tension. While the stylized nooks and corners of We Are Still Here’s New England homestead were a far cry from the labyrinthine halls of the Overlook Hotel, the mounting snowdrifts and desolate locale had created an environment too similar for our cast and crew to ignore. While many people have noted that horror director and We Are Still Here cast member Larry Fessenden bears a striking resemblance to Shining-era Nicholson, never had it been more clear to me than when trudging through the snow with him by my side, costumed in garb from 1979. Why, even our film’s supernatural antagonists, the ghostly Dagmar family, conjured up memories of the dreamlike ghouls that inhabit Kubrick’s hotel: strange, physical beings, somehow conjured up from the spirit world to terrify (and possibly warn) the living.
But by the end of our 21-day shoot (blissfully shy of Kubrick’s reported 230), I began to question whether it was the details of The Shining that had influenced me, or if the film was just so damn perfect that one couldn’t help but want to be associated with something similar. Being able to capture even the tiniest iota of the movie’s dark allure and spectacle seems to have become the dream of every genre director since it was opened May 23, 1980. There is, after all, a reason why both filmmakers and fans hold it in such high regard—because The Shining still engages, horrifies, and enchants like absolutely no other piece of cinema.