To fully believe in life’s most surprising and seemingly impossible events, people often require concrete evidence that the circumstance actually occurred. Whether it’s accepting that the seemingly unscientific incident of seeing ghosts can truly happen, or finally witnessing several of the most celebrated genre actors publicly reunite after living out of the spotlight for several decades, undeniable proof is a crucial element. That’s certainly the case with the iconic movie adaptation of Stephen King’s acclaimed 1977 horror novel, ‘The Shining.’ Not only do the characters begin to believe in the supernatural after witnessing apparitions firsthand, but several of the horror film’s beloved actors, including Lisa and Louise Burns and Joseph Turkel, reunited for the first time since it was released in 1980.
‘The Shining,’ which was co-written, directed and directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, celebrated its 35th anniversary during the 6th Annual Mile High Horror Film Festival in Denver, which ran October 1 through October 4 at the Alamo Drafthouse Littleton. The three actors made rare public appearances at the festival to attend several screenings and Q&As of the classic movie. Following one of the screenings, the Burns twins and Turkel, who have retired from acting, generously took the time to discuss their experiences starring in the admired film during an exclusive phone interview.
‘The Shining’ follows Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a struggling writer and recovering alcoholic who interviews for the position of winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel in Sidewinder, Colorado. The hotel, which was built on the site of a Native American burial ground, is closed between October and May, as it becomes snowed-in during the winter. The closing leaves Jack hopeful that he can use the solitude to write a play. But he’s warned by the hotel’s manager, Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson), that the previous caretaker, Charles Grady, developed cabin fever while staying at the Overlook, and killed his family and himself as a result.
But Jack ignores the manager’s advice, and has his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and their young son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), travel to the hotel from their home in Boulder, so that he can take the job. When the two arrive, the hotel’s chef, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), surprises Danny by telepathically offering him ice cream. The chef explains to the new caretaker’s son that he and his grandmother shared the telepathic ability, which he refers to as shining. Dick also warns Danny that not all of the hotel’s memories are good.
As time passes at the Overlook, Jack’s writing goes nowhere, while his son begins having frightening visions, including seeing Charles’ daughters (Lisa and Louise) in one of the hallways. When Danny then develops a bruise on his neck, Wendy accuse Jack of abusing him. Her husband then wanders into the hotel’s Gold Room and meets a ghostly bartender named Lloyd (Turkel). Lloyd serves him bourbon while Jack complains about his marriage.
Wendy and Jack later argue over whether Danny should be removed from the hotel, and Jack furiously returns to the Gold Room. There he meets Charles’ ghost, who tells him that Danny has reached out to Dick, who’s now in Florida, using his talent. After the chef has a premonition that something is wrong at the hotel and flies back to Colorado, he struggles with the new caretaker. But their ensuing battle over saving the rest of the Torrance family leads to disastrous results.
Turkel opened the conversation about starring in ‘The Shining’ by noting that he became involved in the horror film because Kubrick wanted him to play the role of Lloyd the Bartender. “He said, ‘Joe, I have a role of a bartender. Let me know what you think about it.’ That led me to getting the part,” Turkel divulged.
“It was Stanley’s call from the beginning; there really wasn’t a casting process,” the actor also revealed when he further explained how not only he, but all of the actors, joined the writer-director-producer’s horror adaptation. If “He saw you in a film and he liked you, he had you come in. If you impressed him (again in person), he gave you the part…He was strictly business, so if you had the goods to deliver, you got the part.” Turkel then noted that he was the only actor to have ever made three films with the BAFTA Award-winning filmmaker; they previously collaborated on the crime thriller ‘The Killing’ and the war drama ‘Paths of Glory’ together.
The Burns sisters then chimed in by saying they became involved in ‘The Shining’ through an open audition. But Kubrick was initially looking for sisters who weren’t twins, because the characters were several years apart in King’s bestselling novel. But the director changed his mind once Lisa and Louise met with him for the roles.
Once filming on the horror film began, Turkel said Kubrick always enthusiastically greeted him when he arrived on the set. The actor also embraced the fact that the writer-helmer-producer was “very unassuming and knew what he wanted” from the cast and crew. Much like the previous two movies the actor had worked on with the filmmaker, “He was very relaxed in the knowledge that he was the finest director in the world, but he handled that modestly.” The performer further praised Kubrick by noting that his work ethic “didn’t change one bit” from ‘The Killing’ and ‘Paths of Glory.’
Turkel added that Kubrick became so dedicated to his work on ‘The Shining’ that he “used to sleep in the office. After the shooting was over for the day, he would go with the editor into his office. The editor would show him the scenes from the day or week before, and Stanley would say, ‘Put take twenty-two next to take forty.'” As the editor would put the two takes Kubrick requested together, the director would sit on the couch, the actor said. “When the editor would then turn to Stanley on the couch, he would be out like a light…He was very dedicated to his work.”
Lisa also emphasized her co-star’s description of their director’s devoted commitment to the filming of ‘The Shining.’ “He was very considerate to his actors, especially us, since we were children,” she said.
Then switching over to discuss their experiences with the rest of their co-stars on the horror film’s set, Turkel quickly noted his admiration for Nicholson’s professional nature. “There was a time when we were filming the bar scene, and Jack had most of the dialogue memorized. I knew he knew it, but I still said, ‘Jack, let’s get together and run lines.’ But he said, ‘That’s alright, I’ve got the lines. I don’t need any help, but that’s every kind of you,'” the actor revealed. He added that since his co-star was comfortable with his dialogue, they would spend time off the set together, including going to baseball games and bars.
One of the most humble experiences Turkel had with Nicholson and Kubrick was when they visited the Dachau concentration camp, which is 10 miles northwest of Munich in Germany. The Burns sisters admitted they weren’t aware that their co-stars and director visited the memorial site, and were respectfully curious about what they saw. Turkel then emotionally noted that he and the rest of the group were reverent to the history they witnessed, notably the prisoners’ writing on the walls that asked for helped, which brought them to the verge of tears.
After discussing how the profound trip powerfully and emotionally touched him and the rest of the group, Turkel noted how ‘The Shining’ was filmed entirely on soundstages at the legendary EMI Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, Britain. “The inside of the hotel was all a set in the studio. There was nothing about the hotel that was real, except for the helicopter shots, when the helicopter was filming the hotel…Everything, from the bar to the pantry, was built on a set, and that’s the way Stanley wanted it.”
Turkel then laughed when asked about attending the Mile High Horror Film Festival, as he jokingly said “I’ve never liked attending these events; they’re obnoxious and overbearing! I’m kidding, of course-I just wanted to end this on a giggly note, as we went through some tough times out there. The ladies are beautiful and lovely.”
The Mile High Horror Film Festival’s co-founder, co-director and programmer, Timothy Schulz, also chimed in on the iconic movie’s screenings, and the actors’ rare reunion and appearance, at the festival, through email. ‘The Shining’ is not only one of his favorite horror films of all time, but also one of his most cherished movies that he’s ever seen. “So to actually reunite, and get to meet, the sisters and the bartender, Lisa and Louise Burns and Joseph Turkel, for the film’s 35th anniversary is a dream come. It’s the first time that they have been together since the production, so to help facilitate and host that within our festival is extremely exciting,” Schulz said. “It’s a special moment for horror fans,” especially since the film’s set “here in the state of Colorado.”
Schulz also discussed how he helped start the festival in 2010 with his co-director, Theresa Likarish. “As both a filmmaker and a fan, I regularly attended festivals across the country. There was no genre film festival in the state of Colorado at the time, and being a genre film fan, I knew there was an audience for it,” he explained. “It’s incredible how quickly it’s grown each year. This year alone, (we hosted) numerous celebrity guests, filmmakers, screenwriters, panelists and over 90 of the best genre films on the planet.”
Check out photos of ‘The Shining’ actresses Lisa and Louise Burns and actor Joseph Turkel from their reunion at this year’s Mile High Horror Film Festival below.
Written by: Karen Benardello