Mike Flanagan is excited to show us something.
We’re on the set of Doctor Sleep in Atlanta, Georgia and the film’s director is between takes and wants to watch our faces when we see it for the first time. He leads the journalists out of one soundstage and towards another, crossing a long pathway and passing various members of the crew as they hustle about. It’s a short hike, but Flanagan seems giddy. We soon learn why.
We enter the soundstage. We walk through a set of doors. And we’re in the Overlook Hotel, the obscenely haunted hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror masterpiece, The Shining. Specifically, we’re in the Colorado Lounge, the sprawling space where Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance wrote “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy” thousands of times. The space where Wendy Torrance confronts her husband with a baseball bat. The space Danny rides his big wheel through in so many icy tracking shots.
And it’s perfect. It’s the kind of thing that sends chills down your spine. We soon learn why: this set was built using the exact blueprints from Stanley Kubrick’s film, which were in storage at Warner Bros. It’s literally as close as anyone will ever get to actually entering the original movie.
This is where things get tricky. Stephen King’s 2013 novel Doctor Sleep was a sequel to his 1977 novel The Shining. In that book, the Overlook Hotel burns down during the climax. There is no Overlook Hotel in the sequel novel – it’s ashes. Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation leaves the Overlook standing, but it’s not the only massive change he made. In fact, King has been very public over the years about his disdain for the film, leading to all kinds of debates about which one is superior.
What Mike Flanagan decided that there was no answer to that question. Both the novel and the movie are masterpieces. So the only way to go forward was to make a movie that managed to act as a sequel to King’s novel and to Kubrick’s film, as the book deeply informs the characters of Doctor Sleep and the film lingers too deeply in the public consciousness to ignore. So the sequel gets to have its cake and eat it too, winning the blessing of King and getting to utilize some of the most famous locations in horror movie history for a nostalgic horror kick.
The Colorado Lounge
Mike Flanagan offers us a personal tour of the Colorado Lounge, pausing by the massive table near the entrance and noting that the typewriter that should be sitting there has been placed away in storage because it would be the prop potential thieves would want to steal. But everything else is there. The garish carpets, the tacky old furniture, the looming staircase, the chandeliers. It feels complete.
It’s here that Flanagan tells us about hunting down the original blueprints for the set and having it built all over again, brick-for-brick and plank-for-plank. It’s here that Flanagan talks about the countless hours spent analyzing every frame of the movie to track down every book on every shelf and every framed photograph on every wall. If something proved impossible to find or identify, they fabricated something that would look identical through the camera lens.
I’ll be honest: this was an overwhelming experience, something akin to a religious moment. And I’m not alone in feeling this way. Jaws are agape on every visiting journalist. And Flanagan can’t stop smiling.
Like with Kubrick’s original set, this Colorado Lounge is massive and mostly uninterrupted. The first floor connects to the stairs, which connect to a series of balconies and hallways on a second level. This allowed Kubrick the space to let his camera roam for long tracking shots, following characters from room-to-room and from corridor-to-corridor. This means Flanagan will be able to do so, too.
He guides us up the stairs, where we follow that obnoxiously unsettling orange, brown, and red carpet down long hallways, which eventually wrap around to a balcony overlooking the entrance. We pass by Room 237, but the door opens to reveal a blank, empty space. Flanagan grins, because the actual Room 237 is elsewhere. Another door leads to the outside of the set and a catwalk for set decorators. Across the way is the exterior entrance to the Overlook, covered in fake snow and being prepped for shooting in the near future.
At this point, Flanagan produces an adult-sized big wheel bicycle, offering us the chance to recreate Danny Torrance’s ride through the Overlook. I’m not often amazed on set visits. I’m jaded. I’m cynical. But here, I’m amazed.
The Corridors and the Torrances’ Room
It should be noted that the Colorado Lounge seems mostly intact, as if time has been fairly kind to to haunted space. This does not apply to everywhere else in the hotel. In another soundstage, we find a series of hallways, instantly recognizable due to the wallpaper with the blue flowers. This is where young Danny saw the ghostly twins in the movie. But the sterile look has aged. The walls are crumbling. The wallpaper is peeling. The carpet is a mess. In the decades since the events of The Shining, it seems that the Overlook Hotel has fallen into disrepair.
In fact, another room suggests that the hotel may have been straight-up abandoned after Jack Torrance murdered a man and froze to death while his family fled for their lives. Tucked away near the hallway sets is another familiar area: the hotel room where the Torrance family lived during their ill-fated winter. The door is still splintered from Jack’s axe (“Heeere’s Johnny!”) and “redrum” is still written on the wall in blood.
Flanagan is rightfully shy about the details, but this raises a few big questions. Was the Overlook shut down immediately after The Shining, leaving everything as it was to rot? Or has the evil power of the place conjured all of this to torment the now-grown Dan Torrance?
We spend most of our visit to the set in the most evil room in horror movie history: Room 237. It’s here that we gather between takes and it’s here that we interview Mike Flanagan and his producer Trevor Macy and star Ewan McGregor. We’re there long enough to start feeling comfortable…until you turn around, take in the ghastly green walls and the thankfully empty bathtub and realize, “Oh shit, this is Room 237.”
It’s in this room that we learn that the third act of Doctor Sleep, the climax, will take place in the Overlook. This is a massive departure from the novel, where the Overlook is ashes on a Colorado mountain. This movie will not only continue the original story, it will take us back to our favorite nightmares. It will send poor Dan Torrance to the places that nearly destroyed him 40 years ago.
The Future of This Recreation?
I’m not exaggerating when I say that walking through the Overlook Hotel was one of the highlights of my movie-loving life. Inhabiting that space was terrifying and exciting and something that I hope more people will have a chance to do. Hopefully, Warner Bros. knows this. Hopefully, when they struck the set, they didn’t destroy it. Hopefully, they boxed it up and are saving it for something special. Hopefully, the Overlook will rise again, maybe on the WB studio lot in Hollywood. After all, they have their own annual Halloween event now and I can imagine horror fans flocking from far and wide to see this in person.
But for now, the Overlook Hotel will live again in Doctor Sleep, which hits theaters on November 8, 2019.
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