The Movie: 'The Shining' (1980)
The Scene: After slowly going mad during a snowy winter spent at the haunted Overlook Hotel, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) finally snaps as the supernatural forces around him push him over the edge. The evil stalking the halls of the stately hotel wants one thing: Torrance's son, Danny, a gifted young psychic who could make the hotel more powerful than ever. Jack succumbs to the Overlook's wishes and sets out to slaughter his family -- just like previous caretaker Charles Grady did years before. Nicholson aims to start with his wife, Wendy (Shelly Duvall), who locks herself in the bathroom. Undeterred, Jack grabs an axe and starts chopping his way through (while pretending to be the Big Bad Wolf of 'The Three Little Pigs' fame). As the door falls apart under his repeated blows, Nicholson sticks his face through the opening and yells "Here's Johnny!" while his wife cowers in the corner, armed only with a knife.
Why It's Iconic: The "Here's Johnny" scene in Kubrick's 'The Shining' has become unforgettable for a number of reasons. Nicholson's performance in the sequence is essentially pitch perfect, for starters. Stephen King didn't want Nicholson for the role (feeling the audience would assume Torrance was insane from the beginning given the performer's ties to 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'), but Kubrick's choice works. This is the moment where the actor really explodes, giving reign to the violence that has been simmering beneath the surface for the whole film. It's a terrifying moment, made even scarier by his levity as he chops through the door to murder his wife and child. One gets the feeling that giving in to these murderous impulses has made Torrance happier than he's been at any other time in his life -- as if the character has finally found his calling. That's terrifying.
Nicholson ad-libbed the line in homage to Ed McMahon's classic introduction of host Johnny Carson on 'The Tonight Show.' To hear such a well-known line (one synonymous with laughter and good times) re-used in such a horrific set of circumstances has no doubt added to the scene's enduring legacy.
Imitators/Flatterers: Listing all the places the "Here's Johnny!" scene has been parodied and paid homage to would be a monumental undertaking. This is one of horror cinema's most instantly recognizable scenes, almost on the level with the shower sequence in Hitchcock's 'Psycho.' Naturally, 'The Simpsons' parodied it in their annual 'Treehouse of Horror' series (in a brilliantly executed entry entitled 'The Shinning') and it made for a funny political bit on the Australian sketch comedy show 'Double Take' (where the former Prime Minister chops his way into the current Prime Minister's bathroom. Hard to imagine American politicians doing something so light-hearted and fun...). Even Johnny Carson, the inspiration for the line, paid tribute to Kubrick's creepy scene -- using the Nicholson footage as part of the intro to one of his annual anniversary shows.