Just a quick recap if you don’t know:
In the film – Kubrick’s story ends with Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance gone mad from the supernatural presence at the Overlook Hotel, rampaging through the halls with an axe, to kill his wife Shelley and psychic son, Danny. Jack murders hotel head chef (and Danny’s psychic friend) Dick Hallorann, but Shelley and Danny manage to escape the hotel, with Danny leading Jack deep into an elaborate hedge maze, in the middle of a snowstorm. Eventually Jack loses his way, and ends up freezing to death, while Wendy and Danny leave the hotel in the snow truck Hallorann drove up to rescue them in.
In the book – Things are more supernaturally inclined, as Jack is fully possessed by the Overlook Hotel entity. He only beats Hallorann, instead of killing him, then confronts Danny in the hotel. Danny gets Jack to fight off the entity long enough for to let Danny know he loves him and let him escape with Wendy and Hallorann. Due to Jack’s lapses in keeping up the hotel during the story, the boiler pressure overloads and the hotel explodes with Jack in it. The entity tries to possess Hallorann, but with his powers he fights it off, and gets away to safety with Danny and Wendy.
Why it was Changed – According to Diane Johnson: “The ending was changed almost entirely because Kubrick found it a cliche to just blow everything up. He thought there might be something else that would be metaphorically and visually more interesting.”
As Johnson added: “In the book, nobody gets killed except Jack. And Kubrick really thought somebody should get killed — because it was a horror movie. So we weighed the dramatic possibilities of killing off various characters and did different treatments. We actually talked it over in detail the possibility of having different people getting killed.”
Yep, Kubrick considered killing the story’s protagonist, young psychic (or “Shiner”) Danny Torrance (played by Danny Lloyd), as the father-son relationship interested him more than the supernatural story. The reason the filmmaker didn’t do it?
As Johnson revealed: “I remember Kubrick saying that visually he could imagine a small yellow chalk outline on the floor like that they put around the bodies of victims. And Kubrick liked that image. But he was too tender-hearted for that ending and thought it would be too terrible to do.”
To give the audience a big surprise climax, Kubrick thought to twist a strand from the book’s ending, and use the Overlook Hotel’s powers of possession to fake viewers out.
The bait would be having Wendy kill Jack in self-defense during his rampage, with Hallorann arriving to answer Danny’s psychic cry for help. Without a vessel to do its dirty work, it would be revealed that the Overlook Hotel has successfully possessed Hallorann, and he is there to murder Wendy and Danny, not save them.
As Johnson described: “We always had the powers of the hotel in mind. So the hotel would have been warping Hallorann’s mind for quite a long time. It was an attractive idea that Hallorran is good [throughout the film] then he gets there and is possessed by the hotel into a monster surrogate for Jack.”