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The Shining prequel movie you didn't get to see

The Shining is one of Stephen King's most famous works, and Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of King's novel is one of the most influential horror films ever made. Naturally, there's always going to be a desire to revisit the story of Jack Torrance and the Overlook Hotel.

King himself oversaw a 1997 TV mini-series version of The Shining that was more in line with the original plot of the book. More recently, King penned a sequel, Doctor Sleep, which was also adapted into a film by The Haunting of Hill House showrunner Mike Flanagan.

Something you might not know, however, is that there was another take on The Shining which very nearly made its way into the world — a prequel. The film, titled The Overloook Hotel, was scripted by The Walking Dead writer and Damien showrunner Glen Mazzara. In an interview with Jason Jenkins at Bloody Disgusting, Mazzara spoke in detail about the film he tried to make.

The Shining prologue that inspired a prequel

In a way, Stephen King already wrote a Shining prequel called Before the Play. The story was written to serve as a prologue to an early draft of The Shining, but was left unpublished. "He wasn't the Stephen King yet," explained Mazzara. "I think The Shining was his third novel, so his editor actually told him, 'The book's too long, we need to cut this.'"

Ultimately the story made its way out into the world via Whispers Magazine in 1992, with an abridged version also being published in TV Guide to help promote the 1997 mini-series. Mazarra explained that the prelude features "little vignettes from every decade leading up to Jack Torrance's arrival." He went on to recall, "I think many of the other writers who came in to pitch on this assignment wanted to tell the backstory of the Grady twins."

Mazzara had a different vision for the prequel, however — one focused on how the Overlook Hotel was built. One of the vignettes focused on a robber baron named Bob T. Watson, who builds the hotel and whose hubris leads to his and his family's downfall. "The Shining is basically a haunted house story," said Mazzara. "Let's talk about the guy who builds the house. I haven't really seen that. We usually see people move into a haunted house. You don't see the guy who builds the house. And why does he build that?"

Before the Overlook Hotel

With One Hour Photo director Mark Romanek on board to direct, Mazzara put together an entire story for The Overlook Hotel, set to be a big budget period piece set in the early 20th century. The plot would revolve around Bob T. Watson and his quest to build the "grandest hotel the world has ever seen."

Mazzara gave Bob a whole family, including wife Sarah and their two boys, Boyd and Richard. Naturally, Richard has his own psychic abilities, much like Danny Torrance does in The Shining. The location where the hotel would eventually sit is plagued with tragedy before Bob and his family even arrive. Richard has visions on their way to the mountaintop, including one of a "middle-aged woman, mouth bloody, brandishing a human bone in her hand." It turns out this is the matriarch of the McCready clan, a family who turned cannibal after becoming stranded in the midst of a brutal winter.

The Watson clan witnesses other horrors, too, including a massive flood which, according to Mazzara, "washes down the ravine — crushing metal, shattering bodies, slamming vehicles, carriages, men and horses into one another, crushing and impaling various victims as all of the crew gets washed down the mountain."

After the Overlook is built

Naturally, all the ugliness of the world around the hotel bleeds into the place itself once it's built. "On the night of the Grand Opening, the Watson family greets their crowds in fine formal wear, with Bob T. entertaining envious business rivals while noting to another guest that the Indian artifacts which decorate the hotel are actually authentic," revealed Mazzara.

Things don't stay entertaining for long, however. Richard is seeing the ghosts of the dead everywhere he looks. As Bob addresses his guests and Richard tries to shut out his visions, "Boyd begins to choke on a piece of steak," said Mazzara. "In a harrowing sequence, a medical student attending the ball assists the family, trying his best to save their son. This leads to an attempted tracheotomy, with the student using a butcher's knife to do the work. When Boyd struggles against the makeshift surgery, he winds up slicing open his own throat, forcing his parents to watch their eldest son bleed out all over the new hotel kitchen."

The rest of the story of The Overlook Hotel plays out in a parallel way to The Shining, with Bob losing his mind, attacking Sarah, and hunting Richard. It effectively becomes the story that echoes throughout the annals of the hotel's history.

The almost-stars of The Overlook Hotel

Mazzara came up with an enormously elaborate story which would have required outdoor sets and a massive hotel — obviously, if the picture had been made it would have required quite a budget. And the studio heads, likewise, wanted a big-name star to go along with the project. Their pick to star as Bob T. Watson was, apparently, Brad Pitt.

"I don't know if Brad read the script," said Mazzara, "but there's a horrific scene in which a young boy ends up dying. We heard that Brad was not interested in playing something that bleak. I never spoke to him, but word came back... he's a dad, and it just hit him, he didn't want to participate. It wasn't something that he wanted to play."

Pitt was not the only name in the mix. "There's a character named McCready," said Mazzara, "who is sort of the first man on the mountain. He kinda commits the original sin." McCready is the patriarch of the family that cannibalizes itself. Mazzara planned to have Bob T. Watson meet and speak with the ghost of McCready, and for that ghost to be played by none other than Jack Nicholson. "In my dream, I would've had Jack Nicholson give that speech. I know Jack's older. I thought he'd be sitting there, and just give him one speech."

In the end, the film never happened. Why? "Eventually, what happened from my understanding, was that you had a Shining prequel with The Overlook Hotel, and you had a Shining sequel with Doctor Sleep," says Mazzara. "Warner Bros. wasn't going to commit to making both, so they ended up going with Doctor Sleep."

We got a sequel to The Shining, but now you know about the prequel we nearly got instead.