Former school-teacher Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes a job as the caretaker of an inaccessible mountain resort which is closed for the winter, as he thinks it will help his writer's block.
Torrance's young son Danny doesn't want to go. 'Tony', "the little boy who lives in his mouth", agrees. His mother Wendy (Shelly Duvall) thinks their cosy new digs in a wing of The Overlook Hotel are perfectly "homey", at least until inexplicable forces begin to exert a dark and terrifying influence on her increasingly unhinged husband and traumatised young son.
Is Torrance, a recovering alcoholic with a latent violent streak, a victim of psychological or supernatural forces? Does he suffer a mental breakdown brought on by isolation, the "extreme form of cabin fever" his employer warns him about during his interview?
Or should the original owners of The Overlook, way back in 1907, have heeded the anguished pleas of the local Indian tribe not to build a resort on their ancient burial ground?