Few movies horrify audiences as deeply as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, about a family that manages an isolated hotel during the off-season. Jack Nicholson plays the caretaker who goes mad during his tenure at the remote Overlook Hotel. During one of the movie’s most frightening scenes, Nicholson’s Jack Torrance takes an axe to a bathroom door in an attempt to kill his terrified wife (played by Shelley Duvall). “Here’s Johnny!” he shouts at her through a hole in the door. Back in 1981, Nicholson told Rolling Stone that the line was improvised:
“Yeah, people loved that line. I remember Stanley wanted a funny line there. It was the most horrific scene in the movie, and he wanted to break it up. So I came up with that line. It holds a lot of essence of what we were trying to do.”
He contradicted that statement during an interview for Empire in 2009, stating that the “Little pigs” portion of the scene was improvised instead. Regardless, most reports indicate that Nicholson was inspired to use the creepy catchphrase after hearing it on Johnny Carson’s talk show (Ed McMahon introduced the host using the line). Other stories indicate Nicholson was inspired by an incident that happened in the 1960s. Reportedly, Johnny Cash used a fire axe to break down a connecting doorway between two motel rooms where he was staying with his band on tour.