The Shining released in 1980, but more than 40 years later, it is still one of history’s most impactful horror films. That is largely thanks to a terrifying performance from Jack Nicholson, whose preparation for the film’s climax is as scary as the scene itself. This behind-the-scenes clip shows Nicholson pumping himself up, muttering like a madman as he readies himself to ax down the door standing between him and a bloodbath.
The clip shows actress Shelley Duvall enter the bathroom her character hides in from her deranged husband. She closes the door, leaving Jack Nicholson jumping in place on the other side. “Come on!” Nicholson exclaims between snippets of angry and unintelligible self talk.
Jack Nicholson roams the small hallway, frantic with manic energy. Then he picks up the ax. “Ax murderer kill!” he growls as he pulls the weapon back, much to the alarm of a nearby crew member. Talk about getting into the zone.
The Shining is a film about a slow descent into madness, and any descent bottoms out somewhere. For Jack Nicholson in The Shining, this is that moment, and the minutes leading up to the iconic scene are almost as psychotic as the scene itself.
“Ax murderer kill!” Nicholson growls as he pulls the weapon back, much to the alarm of a nearby crew member.
Bloody Disgusting explains the long-circulating rumor that Jack Nicholson used to serve as a fire department volunteer. His prowess with an ax had him breaking through flimsy prop doors with ease, and director Stanley Kubrick wanted his character to struggle through the barrier.
The art department had to bring in sturdier doors for Nicholson to go to war with, leading to the slow, splintery intrusion that makes this tense sequence one of the most memorable in horror history. The scene immortalizes iconic imagery and inspired performances from Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall, including Nicholson’s unforgettable utterance: “Here’s Johnny!”
Stephen King Didn’t Want Jack Nicholson for the Role
Jack Nicholson is a little scary at baseline (maybe it’s the eyebrows?), and that is exactly why Stephen King, the author of The Shining, objected to Nicholson’s casting. King felt that the character of Jack Torrance should be unassuming in the beginning, as he is in King’s novel, but Jack Nicholson supplied a sinister streak from the start.
Director Stanley Kubrick disagreed, taking the character, and thus the story, in a different direction. That is only one of several ways The Shining deviated from its source material. The film even deviated from itself, with Kubrick editing scenes out after its release.
Though it was only on 10 screens during its opening weekend compared to Star Wars‘ 126, The Shining actually boasted a larger per-theater gross than the Star Wars sequel.
Those involved in making The Shining carry different opinions about many of Kubrick’s creative choices, but the film has nonetheless become a classic. Fueled largely by the star power and energy of Jack Nicholson, The Shining opened in theaters against The Empire Strikes Back. Though it was only on 10 screens during its opening weekend compared to Empire’s 126, it actually boasted a larger per-theater gross than the Star Wars sequel.
The Shining expanded its release in subsequent weeks, garnering mixed reviews from critics. Over time, the film has become universally recognized as one of Kubrick’s most successful endeavors.
Jack Nicholson has starred in numerous iconic films during his decades long career. Chinatown, Batman, and The Departed are just a few of the classics on his resume. Amid all his achievements as an actor, his performance in The Shining stands out as truly terrifying, and thanks to behind-the-scenes footage, fans can catch a glimpse of what went into crafting the madness.