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The Horror Duo We Almost Got To See In The Shining

Every genre has its own pantheon of untouchable, inarguable masterpieces, those precious few classics which define the cultural understanding of that particular mode of cinema. In the case of horror, you could name "The Exorcist" and "Alien" as golden age entries into the pantheon, while "Scream" and "The Blair Witch Project" are more recent pop touchstones, just as "Psycho" and "The Haunting" represent the old guard, and so forth. And, if you were to name the one horror movie that towers above them all, you could do a lot worse than "The Shining."

40 years on, Stanley Kubrick's haunted, hotel-based psychological freak-out is still one of the most piercing and indelible experiences that horror cinema has to offer, as well as a key reference point for almost everything made after it in the ghost story genre. Where the performances of its three-person central cast were once controversial and maligned by some for their sheer strangeness — leading, for instance, to an outrageous Worst Actress nomination for Shelley Duvall at the Razzies — they're now broadly celebrated for their uniqueness and effectiveness, to the point where it's impossible to imagine a version of "The Shining" without either Duvall, Jack Nicholson, or Danny Lloyd.

And yet, one such version almost existed, one which would have paired Nicholson up with a very different kind of horror icon, and probably resulted in a completely different rendition of the character. Here's who almost played Wendy Torrance in "The Shining."

Both Jack Nicholson and Stephen King wanted Jessica Lange for Wendy Torrance

In Stephen King's original 1977 novel, Wendy Torrance is described as a strong, self-possessed, perky blonde who has equal footing with Jack in their marriage. Both King (via Showbiz CheatSheet) and Jack Nicholson (via Lewton Bus) found that description to be a perfect fit for Jessica Lange, then an up-and-comer on the heels of notorious performances in musical classic "All That Jazz" and the critically-panned yet commercially successful 1976 remake of "King Kong."

Stanley Kubrick, however, saw Wendy very differently, and re-conceived her as a brittle, passive, emotionally susceptible waif who reacts to Jack's meltdown with abject horror. Instead of Lange, he cast Shelley Duvall, an actress known for playing eccentric, off-kilter women — and then put her through absolute hell in order to coax the distress and desperation he wanted out of her, in one of film history's most infamous cases of directorial mistreatment of actors. For all her troubles, Duvall was all but ignored by the film's early reception, as she explained to Roger Ebert in a 1980 interview: "The reviews were all about Kubrick, like I wasn't there," she said.

Eventually, of course, Duvall's raw-nerve performance did find the acclaim she deserved. But to this day, Stephen King maintains that Kubrick's changes to Wendy's character were wrongheaded and misogynistic. Lange, whose "King Kong" damsel in distress was criticized at the time for being too spunky and not looking helpless enough, and who went on to be crowned high matriarch of modern horror decades later on "American Horror Story," would almost certainly have given us a Wendy more to King's liking — but it would have been a different movie altogether.