The ‘Here’s Johnny!’ axe scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic The Shining has become so iconic it’s quite difficult to separate it from its infamy and view it as simply a moment among many great moments in the film.
Nevertheless, it is a masterfully deranged performance from Nicholson, whose wild eye, eyebrow and mouth movements convey sheer mania.
It begs the question, how did he get into this mindset?
The clip below helps answer this, showing the seconds leading up to the take.
Nicholson doesn’t really interact with notoriously strung out co-star Shelley Duvall, instead jumping up and down, running on the spot and shouting “come on!” and “axe murderer!” At one point he imitates slamming the axe down on a bed.
Kubrick originally shot the scene with a fake door, but Nicholson, who once trained as a fire marshal, chopped it down too quickly.
The "Heeeere's Johnny!" line that followed the door’s destruction was improvised by Nicholson and lifted from the intro to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. A Brit, Kubrick wasn’t aware of the reference and nearly didn’t use the line in the final cut.
Speaking of alternate lines, there were several drafted to potentially be used instead of ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ in the typewriter scene, including the brilliantly creepy: ‘The morning has gold in its mouth’. You can read more of them here.
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