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Mystery 'orb' memories haunt The Shining

By Neil Curry, CNN
updated 9:52 AM EDT, Thu November 1, 2012
The mysterious 'orbs' captured by Neil Curry's family camera in a stairwell at the Stanley Hotel.
The mysterious 'orbs' captured by Neil Curry's family camera in a stairwell at the Stanley Hotel.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The British Film Institute is releasing the full 144-minute version of The Shining
  • CNN's Neil Curry found mysterious 'orbs' on his family's pictures of the hotel that helped inspire Stephen King to write the horror novel
  • "It's amazing how this film invited speculation and fantasy in the audience," said the film's executive producer Jan Harlan
  • Neil Curry: If there is anyone out there with a good theory about the pictures we'd love to hear from you

(CNN) -- As Halloween approaches, my 10-year-old daughter is getting excited about choosing a scary costume for trick-or-treating and the prospect of a bucket full of sweets.

I usually accompany her, but this year has stirred memories of a genuinely spooky encounter, re-awakened by a recent assignment for CNN.

The British Film Institute is about to release the full 144-minute version of The Shining -- 24 minutes more than previously seen in Europe. If you're of a nervous disposition, the thought of subjecting yourself to additional minutes of what many regard as the most terrifying movie ever made might be a less than appealing one. But true horror fans are licking their lips in anticipation.

The film -- directed by the brilliant Stanley Kubrick in 1980 -- is now regarded as a masterclass in movie-making but at the time it was largely received with the scratching of heads and a mood of disappointment.

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Kubrick adapted the film from the book written by horror novelist Stephen King -- and that's where my connection begins.

In 1974 King and his wife stayed at the majestic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, a small town at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. The hotel was due to shut down for the winter season and the Kings were the only guests in the place, echoing round the long empty corridors and silent ballroom. By the time they checked out of Room 217 the next morning -- Halloween - King had the bones of his chilling story.

Stanley Kubrick treasures on display

I visited Estes Park 34 years later and decided to take my family to the Stanley Hotel.

Although Kubrick's film was shot at the Timberline Lodge in Oregon (exteriors) and Elstree studios near London (interiors) the resemblance is uncanny.

Our guide told us the hotel was inhabited by a number of ghosts, sometimes appearing in photographs as balls of energy. The warning was met with a mixture of giggles and suspiciously raised eyebrows.

We were about to shuffle along another carpeted corridor when my wife gave a cry of surprise: "Look at this!"

We gathered round her camera to see an image of the staircase on which were three orbs of light -- different sizes, different opacities, different to anything I'd ever seen before. They hadn't appeared to the naked eye nor had they appeared on anyone else's camera.

During the rest of the tour our group achieved a degree of minor celebrity by repeating the feat at several other locations within the hotel. There was one on the wood-panelled ceiling of the ballroom and later, when we checked back through all the pictures, we discovered that another had appeared on the photograph we took of the reception before meeting or tour guide.

The images were taken in different places, with very different lighting and of the 200 photographs we took during our holiday no orbs appeared on any other photograph -- nor indeed on any photograph ever taken on that camera before or since. We were amused and baffled but promptly forgot about them when we returned to London.

This month, covering the story of the extended version of The Shining came my way and while researching it I remembered the photographs.

So when I went to interview the film's executive producer Jan Harlan at his home in the ancient English city of St. Albans, an hour's drive north of London, I took them with me. He talked eloquently about Kubrick and his movie.

"It was a film that shows nothing but ambiguity. And this is what Stanley wanted," he said.

I showed him the pictures. He seemed amused but like me could offer no plausible explanation. They too remain ambiguous and I'm happy for them to remain so.

But for some fans of the film, ambiguity leaves a void which must be filled with conspiracy theories. Some claim to have discovered hidden messages about anything from the Holocaust to the plight of Native Americans, and to Kubrick's apparent use of the film to confess to helping the U.S. government fabricate the Apollo moon landings.

"It's amazing how this film invited speculation and fantasy in the audience. Which is good," said Harlan. "It's a great compliment to Kubrick that people go into orbit about it."

"Orbit" eh? Is that another deliberate clue... no, I'm not going down that road. I'll stick to my own photographs instead. And if there is anyone out there with a good theory (conspiratorial or otherwise) about those we'd love to hear from you.

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