“Heeeeeere’s dinner”. This dangerously unfunny observation as our waitress approached with two steak sandwiches was met with the roll of the eyes it deserved. If looks could kill, this is the place they’d do it. We were sat nervously in the Timberline Lodge where the exterior shots for horror classic The Shining were filmed.
35 years ago Stanley Kubrick crafted arguably the most frightening film of all time, in the creepiest hotel in movie history. ‘The Lookout’ was where Jack Nicholson descended into a slow murderous madness. And our Oregon road trip had brought us here in the off season.
Earlier we’d made the slow, looping ascent to Mount Hood. Black skies splintered with snarling snow, warning us not to come any further. Our hire car’s engine screamed in agreement, partly due to us not being able to get out of 4WD mode. We sat silent, the only sound coming from our overworked windscreen wipers. Pulling into the deserted car park, we were a pair of pumpkins ready to be carved.
The Timberline Lodge was built during America’s dark past - the grand hotel and ski resort forged in the depths of the American depression. Its interior of quarried stone and handcrafted timber a symbol of resilience in bleak times.
These bleak times were something our waitress could probably relate to as we moved across to the Ram’s Head Bar. Saddling up on a stool, just as Nicholson had, the staff were haunted further. “Redrum, please”, i said, sounding more Pat Butcher than butchering maniac. I added a knowing wink, for this spelt ‘MURDER’ backwards, just like the film. The barman sent me out into the snow to get ID.
This was, of course, how Nicholson met his frosty maker. Not because he got asked for ID, that’s a compliment, but when he got lost in the snow-caked maze. The maze doesn’t actually exist, the hotel’s exterior was completely rebuilt on a soundstage at Elstree Studios. It’s now used for something else that has grown men hiding behind sofas - Strictly Come Dancing.
The barman wore the look of a someone who’d heard one too many Shining lines. So before we were the things that went bump in the night, we fled for other ghostly goings on. In the film Kubrick deliberately set up camera angles and the geometric carpet to disorientate the viewer, and the local craft beers we’d drunk were having the same dizzying effect. We stumbled down corridors looking for clairvoyant kids on tricycles and lifts oozing blood. Nothing. Nothing except the faint clacking of keys. Gulp. Jack’s typewriter? All work and no play makes us dull tourists, so we crept forward, took a sharp intake of breath and, gasp, a ghostly figure. Fortunately it was a bored receptionist playing Angry Birds. “Hi, can i help?”, she offered cheerily. "We’re looking for room 237", i replied with a whimper. It was here Nicholson kissed the decomposing hag in the bath. She sensed my trepidation, “Oh, there is no room 237. It was made up for the film because the owners thought guests would be too scared to stay there”. Room 217, depicted in Stephen King’s book, is ironically the lodge’s most requested.
The Timberline can’t escape its haunted past, so it’s stuck a white sheet over its head and embraced it. There’s an axe with, ‘Here’s Johnny’, scrawled on the side, a cocktail called ‘Grady’s Spill’ and late-night Halloween viewings of The Shining.
Resetting our Jack-navs we got into the spirit of things. Tip-toeing down corridors cloaked in shadow, animals carved into staircases sprung out. I’d got chills and they were multiplying. Then, a sinister glow. Fire embers illuminating ‘The Barlow Room’. Inside there was no Gary murdering a Bee Gees middle-of-the-roader, but a solitary table tennis table. The perfect opportunity for the film’s blood-soaked twins to appear and say “come and play doubles with us, forever and ever and ever”.
But ghosts would be rubbish at ping pong, and so climbing a final staircase we arrived at scary central - room 217. Here, another horror story was unfolding. Selfies. This modern travesty interrupted by a creaking floorboard and long black shadow creeping across the wall. Eyes wide and terrified, we turned to meet our maker - a little old lady. She clutched at something in her hand. A sharpened axe? No, a hot chocolate. The treat that tricked us.
Try as we might, we’d failed to recreate Kubrick’s mastery of suspense. With a sigh of relief we departed for our campground, passing a sign warning to keep food locked away from bears. “Oooo, scary”, said my girlfriend. I went as white as a ghost, replying, “I’ve left a banana in the tent”. Suddenly a psychopath with an axe had nothing on a bendy piece of fruit in a Millet’s pop-up as we faced our own night of terror.
GETTING THERE: Fly to Portland with KLM from Heathrow, from £614 return. Visit www.klm.com. The Timberline Lodge is 60 miles south of Portland. Car hire from £32 per day, see www.hertz.com
STAYING THERE: The Timberline Lodge has non-bloodsoaked twin rooms from £88 per night. Visit www.timberlinelodge.com
OUT & ABOUT: Flee the lodge and explore Mt Hood and Hood River, see www.traveloregon.com