Make the Case: 5 Essential Lance Henriksen Movies
“Do you ever resent being typecast to a certain extent?”
I asked Lance Henriksen this question during a face-to-face interview in 2006. It was a dumb question, but Henriksen, who has a reputation for graciousness and professionalism, answered it nonetheless.
“Not at all,” he replied, in that instantly recognizable voice of his. “I’m never out of work.”
That certainly seems to be true. Extremely prolific, Lance Henriksen has established a body of work that includes dozens and dozens of film and television appearances. Most of his work has been in horror. That certainly makes sense. His genuine respect for the genre, combined with a striking presence and substantial acting chops has allowed him to work steadily for about five decades. Most often, he plays the bad guy, but he has also had several opportunities throughout his career to play the good guys, or at least someone sympathetic. Several of his performances are legendary. They are amongst the best examples of the unshakeable fact that the so-called “horror” actors are amongst the best at their craft.
If your Halloween horror movie marathon doesn’t include at least one appearance from Lance Henriksen, I’m pretty sure you’re doing it wrong. Although Henriksen is often regulated to depressingly uninspired b-movies, he remains one of the greatest genre actors of all time. He is certainly one of the most reliable. Compared to peers like Doug Bradley and Robert Englund, both of whom are exceptional actors in their own right, Henriksen may also be one of the most versatile.
This month’s column will try to highlight that. At the same time, although it is not a movie, you’re seriously missing out, if you don’t check out his lead role on Millennium. Running for three seasons, and sharing a universe with The X-Files, Millennium allowed Henriksen to play a compelling hero role, as psychic Frank Black. The world of Millennium is a bleak one, filled with doomsday cults, demons, and physical manifestations of savage madness and horror. For three largely remarkable seasons, Henriksen portrayed Frank as a desperate, relentless source of light in such claustrophobic, apocalyptic darkness. The quality of the show’s writing and storytelling, particularly as the series became increasingly convoluted, varied from one season to the next.
Still, if you want a complete impression of just how good Henriksen is, Millennium is a compulsory cult classic.
By the time Aliens cast Lance Henriksen in the iconic role of the android Bishop, he had been an actor for over a decade. You can find him in small, but memorable roles with movies like Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Damien: The Omen II, The Terminator, and more. As a sympathetic, unwanted reminder of what Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley went through in the first film, Henriksen adds deep, vital layers to the androids that populate this franchise. Beyond the memorable knife trick scene, Henriksen creates one of the most striking, memorable characters in this busy, beautiful film.
Henriksen makes for a great bad guy. No question. However, Aliens (and Millennium) makes a strong argument that he’s even better as the dark horse good guy.
Near Dark (1987)
Long before she deservedly won an Oscar for directing The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow made me a fan with her hellish horror western about vampires in the bleak Midwest of America. The movie feels like someone applied punk rock songwriting sensibilities with how to pace, light, and ultimately write a horror film. It also has Henriksen as a vicious, contentedly deranged biker vampire. There is a very unique, sinister charm to the actor, and this movie illustrates that fact better than most. His delighted, psychotic bursts of violence are memorable. But they aren’t the whole of his performance. Nor does it ever feel campy, or over the top.
Pumpkinhead has good practical effects, good atmosphere, and some good death scenes. Without Henriksen’s vengeful father performance, I don’t think as many people would remember this movie. The character is pretty straightforward. The performance is what gives Ed Harley more complexity than he might have had with a different actor. I have no idea what Henriksen used as an actor to give this enjoyable horror movie such an interesting element. What I do know is that he offers nuances and choices that create an impressive portrayal of pure, blind rage. Those massive, expressive eyes of his are pretty awesome, too.
Dead Man (1995)
No, it’s not a horror movie. It might creep you the hell out nonetheless. Either way, Henriksen gives a droll, disquieting performance as a monstrous gunslinger for hire. While I can’t honestly tell you if the character, designed to hunt down a pitiable accountant (one of Johnny Depp’s best) is designed to be funny, there is something kind of hilarious about this guy. At other moments, he is also very distinctly and clearly terrifying. Henriksen manages all of this, and he is once again memorable in a large, excellent cast.
Alien vs. Predator (2004)
Henriksen continues to work at an impressive pace. In the 2010s alone, he has appeared in 25 films, and appeared in numerous television shows. While the quality of the larger works makes for treacherous viewing at times, there are still a lot of great performances from this underrated actor to be found. Alien vs. Predator is a good case in point.
The movie is pretty disappointing, but that’s just my take. Compared to its sequel, the movie shines like Seven Samurai, for what that’s worth.
Henriksen uses low-key Lear undertones to portray the dying Charles Bishop Weyland. That sounds ridiculous, but his time on screen repeats Henriksen’s ability to find believable, even layered humanity for otherwise standard characters. The connections this creates to Aliens and even Alien 3 (is that still being wiped out by the eventual fifth film? I honestly can’t be bothered to check) is a nice little bonus for those who want it. What I take away from Henriksen’s work here is the fact that even though I really don’t like this movie, I’ve seen it three times in twelve years. For a movie that kind of sucks, I’d say that’s a lot. That’s entirely because of Lance Henriksen.