I’m Still Haunted By the Creepy Content Warning For the 1983 Broadcast Premiere of ‘The Shining’
One of the reasons I’m grateful to live in this era of things like Twitter and YouTube is that it has allowed me to confirm some things that, for a good part of my life, I swore I remembered having seen or heard on TV many years ago, but could never quite verify if I was recalling them accurately.
Case in point: May 6, 1983, when Stanley Kubrick‘s classic 1980 film adaptation of Stephen King‘s 1977 novel The Shining, led by Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall and Scatman Crothers, made its broadcast network premiere on The ABC Friday Night Movie.
I had recently turned 13, and had not seen the movie before. I really wanted to, given my interest in scary movies, yet at the same time was a little leery. I’d heard that The Shining was a very scary film, and I would be home alone for a while at the time ABC’s broadcast began.
I hadn’t seen an R-rated horror film before, and while I knew this would be edited for television, I still expected to be creeped out and even debated not tuning in as I started psyching myself out by imagining what sorts of frights might be contained in the story.
Anthony James' wordless, ever-smiling performance as the chauffeur/hearse driver in Burnt Offerings surely lingers in the minds (and bad dreams) of anyone who has seen the 1976 horror movie.
But, I steeled myself and ultimately decided to turn on ABC at the start time. The terrific Friday Night Movie intro kicked in, adding an air of excitement to the fact that I was able to finally see a theatrical film on my family’s large Zenith television (after first using a rotor to properly direction the rooftop antenna, of course) three years after the movie had been released.
And then, the following text came onscreen, read aloud by an ominous-sounding narrator:
“Tonight’s film deals with the supernatural, as a possessed man attempts to destroy his family. Although edited for television, it may not be suitable for young viewers. Parental discretion is advised.”
I had seen programming advisories before movies and shows before, of course, and expected there would be one for this title, offering some of the usual cautions about violence, or mature themes and language.
But this warning, being so specific in its reference to The Shining‘s supernatural plot about a possessed man trying to destroy his family, was something I had not seen before, and really, have not seen since.
At the time, the advisory heightened the dread I had already been feeling about even tuning in to the movie, and I think made viewing it (which I did in bits and pieces, sometimes flipping the channel if a scene seemed too intense as I sat there, a young viewer whose folks were not home at the time to weigh in with any parental discretion) an even scarier experience.
I may not have been glad that happened at the time, as I felt unnerved by the whole experience, but I appreciated it more as years went on and am glad for the thrill I had, which I can still feel when I think of that night.
That programming content advisory, and its impact upon my first viewing of The Shining, stuck somewhere in my mind over the subsequent decades, coming to the forefront once in a while as I tried and failed to recall exactly how it had been phrased. I wondered why it had helped make that Friday Night Movie so scary for me at the time, but felt certain there had been something mentioned about possession.
In the 21st century, of course, I have since been able to confirm online that I was not misremembering things; the weirdly specific warning had indeed aired. I’ve also been delighted to find that others had obviously been struck by it, too.
Just last year, on the 39th anniversary of The Shining’s ABC premiere, the official Twitter feed for the late Stanley Kubrick even gave it a shoutout:
On 6 May 1983, ABC premiered #TheShining for the first time on national television, complete with a pre-show warning of the nature of the film they were about to unleash… pic.twitter.com/MDaAQCZ7mn
— Stanley Kubrick (@StanleyKubrick) May 6, 2022
And, thankfully, there has been at least one YouTube channel that was able to get video of that entire original Friday Night Movie opening that had freaked me out then and stayed with me for 40 years.
That includes not just the warning, but also the narrator’s subsequent description of The Shining in his equally creepy voiceover delivered as scenes from the movie, along with Rachel Elkind and Wendy Carlos’ eerie main theme for The Shining, played:
I finally saw an unedited version of The Shining on video a few years after this broadcast, in 1986. The year before that, I had read King’s novel for the first time, and was somewhat disappointed, as the author has been, in seeing that some elements from the book that I liked hadn’t been included in the film, or were changed.
Fourteen years after this broadcast, in 1997, I would again be tuned into ABC for The Shining — only this time, it was the miniseries starring Steven Weber and Rebecca De Mornay that was more in line with King’s vision of the story.
I appreciated the effort of that miniseries, and even though I think it ultimately fails overall, I do find parts of it — particularly the Room 217 sequence — to be better handled than in Kubrick’s film. (I’ll likely go into this more in a later post at some point.)
While it may differ from the novel more than I would prefer, Kubrick’s film is still a terrifying experience, and he creates a terrifically chilling and claustrophobic ambiance of isolation and dread.
I think much of what I have felt toward the film in that respect does stem at least in part from that creepy content warning and intro I saw and heard while home alone one Friday night back in a time that is long gone.
And it still echoes across the decades like a muffled phantom tune suddenly heard in a supposedly empty Overlook Hotel.