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7 potential Stephen King stories that could be explored in J.J. Abrams' HBO Max series 'Overlook'

By Josh Weiss
JJ Abrams The Shining

Heeeeeere's J.J.! Late last week, it was announced that HBO Max had provided the green light to three original, hour-long series from J.J. Abrams and his production company, Bad Robot.

Along with shows about a getaway driver and DC's Justice League Dark, the Star Wars director is also setting his sights on a project inspired by Stephen King's The Shining. Titled Overlook (after the novel's main setting), the horror-thriller series will explore "the untold, terrifying stories of the most famous haunted hotel in American fiction."

That got us thinking: What would a Shining-inspired TV program look like if it's not just a straight-up adaptation or else a remake of Stanley Kubrick's iconic film version from 1980?

JJ Abrams The Shining

To properly answer that question, we need to head back to the 1977 source material, which is sprinkled with information about the Overlook Hotel's checkered (and often blood-soaked) past. Some of it is relayed to the reader via a scrapbook full of unholy news clippings discovered by the hotel's final winter caretaker, Jack Torrance, in the bowels of the Colorado mountain resort. Upon this find, Jack toys with the idea of writing a book about the Overlook's entire sordid history.

The book idea never came to fruition for obvious reasons, but Abrams (producer of other King-adapted fare like Hulu's 11.22.63 and Castle Rock) is now in a place where he can pick up the baton and weave together a sinister tapestry of the Overlook's supernatural evolution in either a serialized or anthological format.

The Shining

From familial homicides to mob-related shootings, the hotel was plagued by a steady stream of violence, death, madness, and financial instability from the time it first opened in the early 1900s, to the day it was destroyed in the late 1970s. 

In the words of the hotel's summer caretaker Watson (grandson of the place's founder, Robert Townley Watson): "Any big hotels have got scandals. Just like every hotel has got a ghost.” 

Operating on those two ominous statements, we bring you seven possible story ideas that Abrams' Overlook could — and might just — explore when it finally checks into HBO Max.

Stephen King

Before The Play

This novella-sized prologue to The Shining was ultimately cut for length, but its bone-chilling content could finally see the light of day in Overlook.

The first part chronicles the ill-fated construction of the hotel and the misfortune (both financial and personal) it brought upon Robert T. Watson in the early part of the 20th century. The premature deaths of his favorite son and a corrupt politician on the premises were some of the first to occur at the secluded Colorado resort.

Part II of the prologue is all about the horrible mind games the hotel is able to play with susceptible visitors. Wealthy New York socialite Lottie Kilgallon, for example, is driven to an early grave after suffering horrible nightmares and sensations while on her honeymoon at the Overlook.

A movie adaptation of "Before The Play" (some more of its insights are mentioned in entries below) was once in the works at Warner Bros., but never came to fruition. Nevertheless, the fact that it received both a script and director proves that the studio saw plenty of potential in a prequel project.

It is the most obvious choice for the HBO Max least for Season 1.

Philip Stone The Shining

The case of Delbert Grady

A previous winter caretaker for the hotel, Delbert Grady suffered a fate similar to that of Jack Torrance. According to Overlook general manager Stuart Ullman, Grady (a known alcoholic) got drunk on a hidden store of whiskey before murdering his two daughters with a hatchet and his wife with a shotgun. Those tasks completed, he then committed suicide.

If Overlook wants to slowly acclimate audiences into its world, then presenting this Shining-adjacent story of a father slipping into madness is definitely the way to go.

Overlook Hotel

The rise and fall of Horace Derwent

The Overlook passed through several owners throughout the decades, but its most famous proprietor was perhaps the eccentric, Howard Hughes-esque millionaire known as Horace Derwent.

An entrepreneur, film producer, and inventor, Derwent renovated the vacant hotel at the end of World War II, hoping to turn the place into what he described as the "Showplace of the World." He celebrated the hotel's grand re-opening with a masked ball in August 1945, an event witnessed by Jack Torrance when the Overlook fully awakens near the end of The Shining.

In "Before The Play," we learn that the re-opening was marred by the curious death of Derwent's erstwhile lover, Lewis Toner. From that point on, the resort proved to be one of Derwent's only financial failures and he ended up selling it in the early 1950s. Subsequent owners included the Mob (see below) and, more curiously, Derwent's wife, Sylvia Hunter, who may or may not have turned the hotel into a brothel.

All of this adds up to a rich, albeit shady, timeline filled with more than enough material for a story about the Overlook's halcyon days under the management of an idiosyncratic captain of industry, whose spirit ended up as part of the decor long after his death.

police tape

The gangland 'redrum' of Vittorio Gienelli

Per the aforementioned scrapbook unearthed by Mr. Torrance, the Overlook was once a haven/business venture for the American Mafia.

In June of 1966, Vittorio "The Chopper" Gienelli (a key lieutenant in the Mob's Las Vegas operations) was gunned down along his two body guards. Not only were the contents of Gienelli's head splashed all over the walls of the lavish Presidential Suite, but his testicles were almost removed. "Before The Play" covers the brutal assassination in even greater detail.

In this grisly regard, Overlook could very well become a Scorsese-esque period piece about organized crime in the United States.

The Shining Scatman Crothers Danny Lloyd

Dick Hallorann, Delores Vickery & Room 217

In November of last year, it was reported that Warner Bros. had ordered a spinoff movie about Overlook chef Dick Hallorann. While the poor financial returns of Doctor Sleep probably put a stop to that idea, there's no reason it can't be repurposed for Overlook. Thanks to his psychic "shining" abilities, Dick opens the door to all sorts of supernatural adventures at the resort, especially since the character worked there for many years.

A good example is the case of Mrs. Massey, an older woman who was found dead in the bathtub of Room 217. It turns out Massey killed herself after being abandoned by a young lover. Both Dick and Delores Vickery (a maid with a small knack for shining) came upon the gruesome psychic imprint of Massey's wrinkled corpse in the tub — an image that shocked both characters to their core.

When young Danny Torrance lived at the hotel, he was nearly choked to death by Massey's ghost when he ventured into Room 217, despite Hallorann's dire warnings. Billie Gibson famously played the decomposing crone in Kubrick's movie (her younger form was provided by Lia Beldam).

During his career at the hotel, Dick sensed and saw a good deal of evil things living there, so why shouldn't the HBO Max series turn him into a gourmand who also moonlights as paranormal investigator? We'd love to see him grapple with the rabid, animal-shaped hedges like he does in the book.

Doctor Sleep

The True Knot

There's no need for Overlook to restrain itself to The Shining. Doctor Sleep, King's 2013 sequel about Danny as an adult, contains its own fair share of lore about the hotel.

For instance, the True Knot (a roving group of Manson-esque vampires) spend their summers at a campground located on the spot where the Overlook once stood. That's because the Knot is drawn to places of immense pain and suffering.

Should Abrams' show want to explore the lingering evil of the famous hotel, it can revisit Rose the Hat and her gang of rube-hating essence eaters. We'd love any excuse for Rebecca Ferguson to reprise the scene-stealing role of Rose.

Jack Nicholson The Shining

Chopping down new doors

At this time, we have no clue if Overlook will pay more reverence to King's novel or Kubrick's film adaptation. This feeds into a debate of whether it will be set in the past or in a time after the Torrance family lived there. If the second part is true, you open up a new can of worms of whether the hotel was completely destroyed (like in the book) or remained intact (like in the movie).

With a good amount of disjointed continuity out there, it makes a lot of sense for the HBO Max series to ignore what's come before and try something new by establishing its own mythos and set of rules (à la Castle Rock).

The skeletons hidden inside the Overlook's closet are a good place to start, so we recommend that the project be set in the past, B.T. (Before Torrance). Aside from the items we mentioned above, the show is free to think up plenty of original stories about the establishment and its growing collection of unrestful spirits over the years.

Prior to its permanent closure, the Overlook Hotel played host to U.S. presidents (Wilson, Harding, Roosevelt, Nixon), industry barons (Vanderbilts, Rockerfellers, Du Ponts, Fords), actors (Jean Harlowe, Clark Gable), and a big shot movie producer (Daryl F. Zanuck).

Take your pick, Mr. Abrams, and start ghosting up the place!