Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lance Henriksen Week: Millennium & Tales From The Crypt

During and after reading Lance Henriksen's autobiography Not Bad For A Human, I of course had a hankering to see the man in action.  With so many credits to his name, it was hard to find a starting point.  Of course his work in James Cameron's Aliens and John Woo's Hard Target holds a dear place in my heart and VHS collection turned special edition DVD's, director's cuts and revival theater screenings.  Oddly, I ended up not watching a film with our guy but two episodes of television where Mr. Henriksen guest starred.

The first was a 1999 installment of The X-Files.  Now I've never seen an episode of The X-Files nor Millennium but a sizable chunk of Human is dedicated to Henriksen's portrayal of former FBI profiler Frank Black and the effect it had on his mind and career.  The brainchild of X-Files creator Chris Carter, Millennium was written with Henriksen in mind and became one of Fox's most watched pilots of all time.  The grueling pace of television took it's toll on its star who equated a season to TV akin to making 10 or 11 movies in a year.  His method approach combined with the dark subject matter made it difficult to jettison the role once shooting ended.  However, Henriksen's work was recognized with 3 Golden Globe nominations for Best Performance and 2 Saturn Award nominations for Best Genre TV Actor.

Season 3 ended on a cliffhanger and was then canceled by FOX.  That brings us to "Millennium", episode 4 of season 7 on The X-Files where Agents Scully and Mulder investigate exhumed graves of FBI agents who committed suicide.  A cult with ties to the Millennium Group are reanimating corpses and only Frank Black can stop them.  Well, sort of, we find Black living a quiet life in a mental institute and refusing to assist in the investigation.  It was actually kind of funny to see Henriksen's first two scenes in the show have him acting in a bath robe.  By the end though, Black is back and rescues Mulder, who is trapped in a basement full of zombies.  Since I was unfamiliar with Millennium as a show, I have no way of knowing if this was a satisfying conclusion.  According to Henriksen, it wasn't.

More satiating was my next viewing, a 1991 episode of HBO's horror anthology series, Tales From The Crypt.  Executive produced by Hollywood heavy hitters like Richard Donner, Joel Silver, Walter Hill and Robert Zemeckis, Tales translated old comics and short stories into creepy and eerie star powered installments.  Henriksen appeared in two episodes of Tales: Cutting Cards by Walter Hill and Yellow by Zemeckis.  The credits of Yellow alone are insane.  Director of Back to the Future, writers of Predator, composer of The Avengers, featuring Kirk Douglas, Henriksen and Dan Aykroyd! 

Yellow is set in the trenches of The Great War aka World War I where a cowardly lieutenant couldn't care less if his troops follow the general's orders or hide out in in the mud.  Unfortunately the general (Douglas) is his father who can't risk having his son be viewed as an incompetent coward.  Henriksen plays Sergeant Ripper: a tough, sneering, snarling soldier who can't help but despise the lieutenant.  Ripper and the lieutenant are sent on a dangerous night mission to fix a downed communication line.  In the field, Ripper tries to instill some confidence in the lieutenant as his and the life of his men are at risk.  The lieutenant loses his nerve, fails to warn Ripper of approaching enemy troops and they're all gunned down with Ripper catching the brunt of a grenade blast.

The lieutenant retreats back to base where he claims they were ambushed and he was the only survivor.  But badass Ripper makes it back to camp, holding his guts in and all to tell the general his son is yellow and left them to the episode to find out what happens, it's worth it.

Man, this was some good stuff all around.  Henriksen as Ripper was a phenomenal performance in a short amount of time.  He's angry, intense and feral while appearing sympathetic when necessary.  According to Human, it was also a milestone for Henriksen who had been inspired to hit the road by Douglas westerns like The Big Sky and Lonely Are The Brave.   Now, decades later, Henriksen was sharing the screen with his idol who complimented his acting prowess.  That's what we call coming Full Circle, John (Rambo).

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