Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles [suspenseful music] [Wendy screaming] - [Anthony] This is one of the most memorable scenes in movie history. It's a moment of anguish combined with a moment of deranged glee. It's disturbing in the extreme. - Here's Johnny! [screaming] - This moment from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, became indelible in the minds of moviegoers the world over. So much so that it's been imitated, parodied, and referenced over and over again, for more than four decades. - [All] Here's Johnny! [screaming] - But what became of this object, the ax Jack Nicholson swings, as he lurches through the Overlook Hotel? For decades, no one knew its whereabouts. Then last year, one of the axes resurfaced, and it sold for more than $200,000, at an auction in London. While The Shining has been analyzed to death, the story of the ax is one that almost no one knows. It's as important an object as the Maltese Falcon, or the ruby slippers, from The Wizard of Oz. It's a relic from an iconic movie. So how could it have vanished, virtually forgotten, for so long? [television buzzing] To answer this question, we need some context. What is it about this ordinary, off the shelf fire ax, that created such a lasting impression in moviegovers around the world? - [Mike] I think it is absolutely one of the most iconic props you're gonna find in a horror movie. - This is Mike Flanagan, the director who brought the ax back to the big screen, in the sequel to The Shining, "Doctor Sleep", which was released in 2019. - [Mike] The thing about the ax in The Shining, is that it becomes tethered, at a certain point to the camera itself. When he begins to swing it, Kubrick lets the ax drive the camera. It is whip panning left and right with the blade. The viewer is essentially turned into the head of the ax itself, and we collectively are thrown against the door. It's an incredibly striking sequence. And one of the most fascinating ways I've ever seen of someone filming a weapon. - The way Kubrick shot it leaves the viewer feeling uneasy, like they're the ones swinging the ax, which is maybe one of the things that makes it so scary, and so memorable. [screaming] Before we go any further, we have to remember two things. One, The Shining itself was dismissed at the time. When it debuted in 1980, the reviews were blistering. Some, like Variety's, [chuckling] were downright insulting. It was nominated for zero Oscars, but it was a contender for Best Director at the Razzies. Even Stephen King famously despised this adaptation of his book, and he remains one of the few today to still hold that grudge. Over time, The Shining's esteem evolved. It's unsettling rhythms were ahead of its time, but in it's actual time, it was dismissed as a misfire by a master. So a prop from such a film would not have been regarded as anything special when the film debuted. The other thing to remember, it's just an ax. And back before there was a thriving market for movie props, the weapon Jack Nicholson used, to menace both his family and the viewers watching curled up in their seats, was just another tool. - There was really no value attributed to these artifacts whatsoever. It was a disposable part of the production process. - This is Stephen Lane, CEO of Prop Store, one of the largest vendors of rare film and TV memorabilia. Remember the guy from earlier, holding the ax? That's him, but we'll get back to that. - And during that period, at the end of production, the fate of the props and costumes would have a few different paths. They'd have an end of production sale, some of the material may go back to a rental property, and then anything that was really left over, maybe a little bit of it get held onto by producers or directors or talent, the rest of it would just be disposed of, thrown away. - The props for The Shining were no different. I reached out to Jan Harlan, The Shining's executive producer, and Stanley Kubrick's brother-in-law. And he had this to say about the ax. The ax was, as you say, an everyday object, one expects to find among the tools in this sort of hotel. We bought several to have spares for this key prop. I used to have one in my house for many years too, after the filming. My wife threw it out. Straight to the landfill, never to be seen again. - You know, the amount of people I've spoken to who, for example, from Star Wars, who took stormtrooper helmets home, they were given stormtrooper helmets, and their kids just wanted to play with them, and they played with them, and played with them, or stormed through the blasters, and they just smashed them all up, and then they threw them away at the end of it. You know, the last stormtrooper helmet that we sold, sold for nearly a quarter of a million dollars. - So back in 1979, when The Shining wrapped, they did what many productions at the time would do, and had an end of production sale for the crew, kinda like a garage sale. And the ax in question, the one that went for over $200,000 in 2019, it was sold to a construction worker for just about £5. - This particular gentleman bought the fire ax for £5, to take it home as a wood chopping ax. So he bought it for fully practical purposes, nothing else. - And the ax would remain in his possession, sitting in his shed for the next 26 years. Now, when we're talking about this ax, it's important to remember that there wasn't just one of these on set. Prop departments have a saying, which goes, "If you have one, you have none", because on a production of that scale, there will always be multiples of the same item, in case something goes wrong. - So there were many axes constructed for the production. There would have been hero versions. She would have had stunt rubber versions, maybe biscuit foam, lightweight versions, special effects versions, with plates connected to them, to strap onto a torso, once they've been impaled, and maybe bloodletting versions as well, so there would have been numerous versions that would have been created for the film. - What we're interested in, and what most collectors care about is the hero ax. The one that was actually intended to be used in scenes with Nicholson breaking down the door. There are probably a few of these out there, but not many. We know there would have been a number obtained for the production, and we know at least one was owned by Jan Harlan whose wife tossed it away. While one went to the construction worker who bought it for £5, to chop wood in 1979. So the question is, what happened next? - Well finding so much of these treasures used to be through networking. So it was all about meeting people, crew members who worked in the film industry, either current or retired, and then finding out who they knew, and what they've heard might be in somebody's private collection. And I was chatting with a friend of mine who was a plasterer at Pinewood Studios. And he phoned me up and he said, "Yeah, my friend's brought this ax in, "from The Shining, do you wanna come down and see "Pinewood, and have a look at it?" And I was just like, "Yep, I'm coming right now." I was literally boom, straight out of the door on the way to the studios. And met with this lovely gentleman who worked extensively throughout the entire production of The Shining. And then he pulled out this ax, out of the back of his back of his van. And there it was, it was a hero Shining ax, a full metal hero construction head, with the wooden handle to it as well. You know, we had a long discussion about what it really was, what its inherent value was now, as a piece of memorabilia, as a piece of movie history. And I explained to him that I'd be willing to pay thousands of pounds for it, which knocked him off his socks. And we managed to conclude a deal that afternoon in Pinewood car park. - Do you recall what year it was that it came into your possession, that it ceased being stored in the corner of a shed, and started being stored in museum conditions? - [Stephen] Yeah, I bought the ax back in 2005, 15 years, loved every moment of it. - Why did you decide it was time to put it up for sale? - We're all only temporary custodians of any of these artifacts. You know, I'm not gonna be buried with it. I think it's just as a period of recognition of, "Okay, I've had my time with this", and it was just time for it to find a new home. - [Anthony] So in September 2019, the ax goes up for auction in London. - I saw a background video from the prop store exhibit at Comic-Con, and I noticed an ax. And my first thing was like, "Nah, that can be the ax from The Shining." - Well, the estimated price on the ax for auction day, was 40 to £60,000. And I had really no indication of which direction it might go from there. - Lot number 619, The Shining here. The Shining, and we are onto here's Johnny! - I knew it was gonna be the only piece I wanted to go after. - And then obviously in an auction to drive a price north, you really only need two passionate people who really want it. - We're already at £80,000, ladies and gentlemen. - It was a phone bidder who was bidding very heavy for it.