Dear Odin, it seems when I write some things, they leave such an impact that I cannot get away from them. So, after one polite request that I cannot really turn down, I am going to tell you all about some films that have Lance Henriksen in them in some capacity.
One of Henriksen’s best performances was as the leader of a roving gang of vampires in a Kathryn Bigelow film called Near Dark. Near Dark has many, many flaws in it, not least of which is some terrible acting from many of its cast. But Henriksen‘s performance as one Jesse Hooker, the leader of the vampire gang, is more or less spot-on. In Near Dark, a boy in his late teens by the name of Caleb crosses paths with a nice-looking girly called Mae during one of those shindigs they have at those festivals where country hick fukktards go to be country hick fukktards and convince themselves that it is a good thing to be a country hick fukktard. *cough* Excuse me. Anyway, Caleb has only one thing in mind when he is running after Mae, but after Mae bites him on the neck, she ends up taking him to meet the gang of vampires that she has been part of for a while. I have already mentioned Jesse, the leader portrayed by Lance Henriksen. He gets all of the best lines in the film, or delivers them the best, depending on the situation. In the capture I have attached to this paragraph, we see two of the other vampires in this small roving gang: Severen (Bill Paxton) and Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein). Severen comes off by far as the most appealling of the group, although with the exception of Jesse, that is a pretty low bar to begin with. But I digress. Like all of the films where Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron collaborated, Near Dark follows the hyper-realistic approach to violence. And although Near Dark also shares a common James Cameron Before He Decided To Infantalise characteristic of snappy dialogue (in parts), there is also a great share of extremely daft dialogue and even worse acting.
Henriksen, as I said, gets the best lines. It has been a very long time since I actually saw this film, but I remember two scenes as if I watched them a matter of months ago. The lesser of the two involves a moment when the gang are caught outside in the sun and start to burn. What makes this sequence stand out from the pack is that in contrast to the overdramatic “oh look at me, I’m out in the sun, I’m burning lah de dah de dah” crap that most vampire death scenes carry on with, Near Dark‘s scene of this kind shows the characters behaving in a manner that actually reflects the fact that they are dying in a very painful manner. I speak from experience here. I do not know if I have referenced this fact before, but I have experienced states where my blood glucose has been so low that medical professionals are still scratching their heads as to why I was not comatose. And believe this: the process of even breathing, leave alone moving in an effort to get some relief from being in that state (which involves trying to consume enough glucose to bring one’s blood glucose levels back up above near-terminal level) hurts like a mother. I would even wager that childbirth or surgery without anesthetic only come a close second. Especially when you have nobody around to actually help you. So when I say that Near Dark‘s depiction of vampires desperately trying to spraypaint windows in cars black or tape what appears to be a kind of black plastic over said windows whilst screaming and groaning about how their skin is burning off comes across as more real than any scene of its kind in history, I want you to understand my full meaning here.
But the scene where Henriksen really shines is when Caleb’s father, Loy, confronts the gang with a lengthy-barrelled pistol in a hotel room that the gang have used as a hideout. Even most of the vampires are yelling at one another or very excited. Jesse, Henriksen, is so calm on the other hand that he is the best-remembered thing in the scene. Unfortunately, the script lets him down in a big way after Loy shoots Jesse in the chest. Although the coughing up of the bullet and placing into the pocket of Loy was a clever idea, simply saying “for you” as he does this is a major scripting faux pas. The way I misremembered the line (“here, I think this belongs to you”) works far better because it amplifies the sarcasm Jesse would be putting on at this point. I mean, Caleb has practically begged and pleaded with Loy that shooting Jesse will accomplish nothing. If ever there was a time when a father should listen to his late-teen son, “shooting this asshole from point blank range is not going to do either of us any good” would have to be top of the list.
Unfortunately, as that last statement hints. Near Dark suffers one problem that is hard to get around when you do not resemble this element. My hatred of hick fukktards is something pretty much everyone knows about, even if they have never heard of me. And thanks to the script written by Kathryn Bigelow and Eric Red, every character, or rather the actor portraying them, in the film has to contend with trying to rise above the status of hick fukktard. The ones who succeed (Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton) do so by either narrow margins or by having some sense of subtlety. You see, if I understand the parameters of vampirism right, one has to be made a vampire. Unlike being autistic, one is not born with it (unless they are the Rosario To Vampire variety, which is a whole different matter). That means that someone, somewhere, had to turn all of these people into vampires. Now, the idea that Jesse turned most of them into vampires or similar is plausible. But someone had to turn Jesse into a vampire, and given that Jesse at least sounds like he knows the meaning of the word “credibility”, I just cannot imagine a vampire came to a hick fukktard state like what appears to be Texas to make him a vampire. And if the common lore that different kinds of people have different-tasting blood holds, why any vampire in their right mind would want to live on a diet of hick fukktard is a similar question to why I would want to live on rice cakes and water.
I have already written a bit about Dead Man, in which Lance Henriksen plays one of a trio of mercenaries the main antagonist hires to chase down and kill the protagonist. Maybe I will write again about Dead Man in future. It is a good film and I like it. But for the time being, I want to talk about a film called Powder. Lance Henriksen portrays a sheriff by the name of Doug Barnum. On the IMDB, Barnum’s deputy, Harley Duncan, is quoted as saying “I’m saying that that’s more than albino, Doug. That is spooky.”, to which Doug responds, “I never thought we’d find a man too white for you there Harley”. Leaving aside the contorversies of the film, which I will get to in a tick, this is a great case of the writer and actor working together to hit one not only out of the park, but right off the planet.
Powder, however, has been deluged with controversy because writer and director Victor Salva was convicted of molesting a child actor in 1988. The victim in this case, one Nathan Forrest Winters, came forward in order to get people to boycott the film to protest Disney hiring Salva. Unfortunately, there was likely no way around it, as Salva also wrote the script. I only saw the film once, on television at that, and that was at a very trying time in my life. So I only have a very hazy recollection of the content. I do find some of the statements that Salva was trying to by proxy say that molesting a child is somehow okay a little over the top, but given the content of the story, I can sort of understand where people who make this statement are coming from. But this is about Henriksen‘s performance in the film, which is top-notch. As I have already established, Henriksen plays a sheriff in this film. He is the one who finds the titular character in the home of said character’s recently-deceased parents. He also has the unfortunate task of breaking the news to the character that said character’s parents’ farm home has a great deal of debt against it, so living there is no longer an option.
Henriksen has the unenviable task of using the legal terms that pertain to the situation (I forget how they go), and then asking the character, whom we are at some point told is somehow much more intelligent than normal for reasons relating to his albinoism, if they understand what this means. Again, I forget the exact wording of this question, but the manner in which Henriksen delivers it conveys two things. First, as I am sure the dialogue I just quoted establishes, Henriksen‘s character respects the protagonist as a person. Second, and this is an adjunct to the first point, Henriksen‘s character does not make the assumption that the person he is talking to understands what he is saying, but nor does this sheriff make the assumption that the person does not understand. In other words, during his years as an underling, someone said to this sheriff, “assumption is the mother of all fukk-ups”, and he listened. I like characters like that. Probably because I also happen to consider that quality a minimum requirement for being considered a person.
Another good thing about Henriksen is that he is not afraid to slum it for a paycheque, and make no bones about the fact. I am not sure how to describe his performance in the John Lafia film Man’s Best Friend, but either the poor script or the direction compelled him to ham it up as much as he can. Whilst the character was clearly written as megalomanic, such is Lafia‘s direction that Henriksen actually does a brief series of motions during his conversation with two actors, trying to explain why his character is so determined to retrieve the dog around whom the film revolves. This series of motions has several components, but the one that a person should be very surprised to see coming from an actor of Henriksen‘s calibre (and was all over the place in Bakshi‘s production of The Lord Of The Rings) is a gesture that beginning drama students refer to as “milking the giant cow”. That is, when an actor is desperate to convey that their words mean something important both to characters and audiences, they raise their hands to a height above their heads, clench said hands into fists, and bring them down to a level near their shoulders or lower. Henriksen does this action in part during one exchange in Man’s Best Friend. Given how well he portrays characters in other films, and with simple, subtle tics or gestures at that, I believe director John Lafia actually asked him to do this. Big no-no.
I believe that Lance Henriksen is underappreciated among audiences. However, he probably also agrees with John Cusack‘s statement that celebrity is the worst thing that can happen to an actor. For all we know, Henriksen might have told Cusack this when they were both younger. But if you want a good shopping list for other films that Henriksen appears in, his IMDB profile is probably a good place to start. Hopefully this writing proves helpful in terms of what to look at next, and why.