THE SHINING -- AMC Academy, AMC Skyline, Fairfax Circle, Landover Mall, Pike, Springfield Mall, Uptown, Wheaton Plaza.

It's one thing to frighten a movie audience with shadows in a near-dark attic or slowly opening crypt doors, but it's quite another to attempt, as Stanley Kubrick does in "The Shining" to show us fear in a blank piece of paper: to conjure horror from the failure of a writer-husband-father whose confrontation with his inadequacy opens the door to madness.

There are plenty of ghosts, visions and sinister portents in "The Shining;" Kubrick handles them elegantly but peripherally to the central disintegration of his protagonist, hauntingly played by Jack Nicholson.

In addition to attempting a thinking-man's horror film, Kubrick makes it hard for himself in other ways as well. The seriousness of his theme is underlined by the slow pace of his 140-minute film. While Kubrick proves he can build tension with the best of them, he most often chooses to skip the pulse-pounding climax, startlinly undercutting the terror with humor, mixing sardonic jokes into even the most horrible of moments.

"The Shining" pivots on a brilliant scene in which shelley duvall for the first time reads the pages her husband (Nicholson) has been typing for weeks in a huge lounge of the gigantic mountain resort hotel they are taking care of through a cruel Colorado winter.

Looking at those typed pages, she comes face to face with the truth: There can no longer be any illusion about the desperateness of the situation for her and her clairvoyant seven-year-old son (Danny Lloyd). It's a chilling moment, but simultaneously a funny one, mixing nursery rhyme with terror.

"The Shining" is packed with images -- like the two little girls who might have stepped from a Diane Arbus photograph -- and it is as beautiful as Kubrick has led us to expect all his films to be. Yet, in the end, it may well disappoint horror buffs and Kubrick fans alike. It's an interesting movie, but not the ultimate work in its genre that some expected from one of the great directors.

The horror fan who climbs into his movie seat looking for an experience as intense as a roller-coaster ride will be more teased than satisfied. The director of "Lolita," "Dr. Strangelove" and "Clockwork Orange" is simply working with less interesting material: "The Shining" is a slender, barely believable tale being asked to carry a lot of style and weight.

In the central role, Nicholson is never a convincingly warm father and husband. From the start, his twitching eyebrows and eerie smiles forcast his spiral into madness. Along the way, Nicholson pauses for a few drinks, miraculously served by his favorite bartender amid a gala crowd in evening dress in what has been shown to be an empty ballroom. The scene skilfully blends an alcoholic's jovial nonchalance, as he wraps a hand around his first drink in months, with menacing intimations and the cliche-ridden banter between hearty drinker and icy but subservient barkeep.

Nicholson's performance gathers power as the movie progresses, and in one small way he and Kubrick have changed domestic life for the 1980s: After seeing "The Shining," no husband will call to his wife "Dear, I'm home," with quite the same innocence.