Each year in October, I find myself revisiting the Stanley Kubrick classic The Shining, which has surpassed broad criticism from Stephen King throughout the 1980s to eventually become a heralded classic of horror cinema.
Last year, I was inspired to re-watch the movie after seeing the sometimes nutty but always thought-provoking Room 237, which offers various theories about the hidden messages in the original film – including everything from Native American genocide to Kubrick confessing to faking the moon landing.
One part of the film that was examined is that iconic blood elevator sequence, first seen by Danny Torrence (Danny Lloyd) in a psychic vision. A lot of discussion has surrounded this image, including the symbolic meaning of the blood as well as how the effect was achieved.
With the twisted mind I have, my thoughts went somewhere else: How much blood would it actually take to fill the elevator lobby?
The Answer: About 3,000 gallons… and possibly much more.
The actual shooting of the blood elevator scene was, of course, an effects shot. Achieved decades before CGI blood would even be an option, the sequence was shot on a soundstage in miniature. Kubrick wanted to literally have 200 to 300 gallons of Kensington Gore fake blood available for the shot, and it reportedly took days to reset.
Visual effects expert David Ridlen generated a computer model of the blood elevator sequence using RealFlow 4 and LightWave 9.6. What resulted was a strikingly accurate recreation of the original practical effect from The Shining. In the process, Ridlen’s work debunked the theory that there is a body or some other object hidden in the blood. (Ridlen tells me, “I am absolutely 200% sure there is no such thing.”)
Ridlen used a 1/2-scale set because he felt Kubrick would have wanted his shoot to look as close to reality as possible, though there is evidence that the set itself might have been 1/3rd-scale. Regardless, in Ridlen’s recreation, he used 366 gallons of digital blood. Doubling the size of Ridlen’s elevator set would mean the volume of blood needed to fill it increases by a factor of eight. This results in 2,928 gallons of blood. So there’s your shopping list.
However, while a set was used to shoot the scene in The Shining, within the film itself, the elevator hallway is opened to the rest of the hotel. Within the actual scene, you can see chairs floating and the blood pooling rather than draining away. So…
Wouldn’t the blood go somewhere else?
One of the hallmarks of Kubrick’s film is that the Overlook Hotel is constructed with impossible geography. Maps are available online which attempt to lay out where the different rooms are. However, many of the rooms, hallways, and corridors seen in the film cannot fit together in normal space.
Of course, the concept of impossible geography in film and television is nothing new, especially for anyone trying to figure out the layout of the house or apartment in The Golden Girls, Roseanne or any other popular sit-com. However, Kubrick deliberately used impossible geography in The Shining to disorient the viewer (and, at times, the cast and crew).
Ultimately, no one knows exactly where the blood elevator hallway is, aside from it being on the first floor. Ridlen explains:
“I studied every angle of the hallways, and I don’t see any way to determine the location of the blood elevator within the hotel, other than it is on the first floor, lobby level. The elevator dial shows 5 digits “B, L, 2, 3, 4” and the indicator is pointed at “L.” Wendy had just come from discovering Halloran’s corpse who had just entered through the hotel lobby before getting axed. The elevator scene is preceded by Wendy walking down a red hallway not seen in any other part of the movie, and is unconnected to any particular hotel geography.
The entirety of the Overlook’s ground floor is easily 40 to 50 times the size of the blood elevator hallway. Assuming the blood from the elevator actually crossed over into the regular dimension (and that is a big assumption), it would take between 120,000 and 150,000 gallons of blood to flood the Overlook’s lobby to a consistent level.
That’s a lot of blood, which raises in important question…
Where did it all come from?
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes elevator blood is just elevator blood. Kubrick did not leave an explanation for the symbols he used in The Shining, so this is left to debate. On one hand, you can see the blood as nothing more than a disconcerting symbol of horror meant to unsettle the viewer. Others have offered up explanations ranging from the blood of the Native Americans to the Holocaust. I’m not here to make a claim one way or another.
I can tell you, however, that the average human body has about 5 pints of blood in it, which is a bit more than a gallon. Therefore, it would take the blood from 2,400 people to fill the hallway outside of the blood elevators. If you were to consider the flooding of the entire Overlook Hotel, you’re looking at the blood of close to 100,000 people.
Let your theories run wild from there. Does the 3,000 gallons of blood come from the spirits trapped in the hotel? The July 4th Ball from 1921 we see in the Gold Room when Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) originally meets Delbert Grady (Philip Stone) contains only about 200 people, which is explained in the commentary track to the film. That would barely make a bloody splash.
The blood of 100,000 people needed to flood the entirety of the Overlook Hotel is at least close to the number of Native Americans living in Colorado today, if that offers any significance at all.
Believe what you want. I will be here waiting by my phone for a call from the producers of Room 237: Part II – Electric Boogaloo.
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