There are a few iconic character actors working today who have been in the limelight for close to 40 years and who have starred in some of the biggest movies of the 1980s. But there is one man working as hard today as he was when he starred in James Cameron’s ALIENS, and that’s the great Lance Henrisen. Dominating the horror/sci-fi/action/western genre since he crashed onto the scene with A DOG DAY AFTERNOON and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, the dude has been working non-stop ever since. From big-budget blockbusters to small independent films landing straight to video, the man has done it all. Anyone with this type of filmography needs a career retrospective stat, so sit back, relax, and enjoy a look back on the great films of Lance Henriksen!
Henriksen has been a busy guy since his career took off in 1975’s DOG DAY AFTERNOON, and over the years the man has been in ton if iconic movies with equally iconic roles. From the detective on the case in THE TERMINATOR to the ruthless bad guy in STONE COLD, and just about everything in between. His biggest roles also happen to coincide with some of the biggest directors in Hollywood: James Cameron’s ALIENS, Kathryn Bigelow’s NEAR DARK, and John Woo’s HARD TARGET. Not every actor has the opportunity to work with such a great diverse group of directors… but then again, not every actor is Lance Henriksen.
His role as Bishop from ALIENS is probably the quintessential Lance Henriksen role, playing an android that you want to trust and like, if only Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley would let her guard down long enough for you not to be suspicious of his ulterior motives. The western/vampire flick NEAR DARK is also fantastic, with Lance head of the band of roaming vampires wreaking havoc and putting a nice young man through hell. He’s sooo good in that one! And of course, as the vicious killer for sport in HARD TARGET, the only crusty badass big and mean enough to go head-to-head with the great Jean-Claude Van Damme. He’s so good… at being so bad.
Other epic titles of Lance’s includes THE QUICK OF THE DEAD (from director Sam Raimi!), MAN’S BEST FRIEND, PUMPKINHEAD, THE HORROR SHOW, EXCESSIVE FORCE, NO ESCAPE, SCREAM OF THE BANSHEE (it’s good… for a SyFy movie of the week), and JENNIFER’S BODY (not that it was a good movie, but his glorified cameo in the film was quite the honor). And on the small screen, one only need to mention the name of Frank Black in some circles and you’re ‘in’. His role in MILLENNIUM was one of the kind, especially for a show on network television, and way before its time.
With the staggering amount of great movies under his belt, it’s a goddamn shocker that the guy could have room for anything bad, but alas, while he’s good in everything he does… not all of the movies he’s in are very good. For example, while his role as Bishop was fantastic in ALIENS, his recurring role as the head of Weyland, and as the “original” Bishop, in both ALIEN 3 and AVP: ALIEN VS. PREDATOR was not. Or rather, ALIENS was awesome, but ALIEN 3 and AVP sucked. Speaking of sucking, there’s also POWDER, JENNIFER EIGHT, SUPER MARIO BROS., PISTOL WHIPPED (starring opposite Steven Seagal), WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (in the remake, as the voice of the stranger on the phone), and of course, the hilariously awful COLOR OF NIGHT (starring opposite BRUCE WILLIS).
But what a few of his craptacular films have in common is their sequel status. I’m talkin’ SCREAM 3, THE MANGLER 2, HELLRAISER: HELLWORLD, PUMPKINHEAD: ASHES TO ASHES, and PUMPKINHEAD: BLOOD FEUD. Why was he in one of the countless HELLRAISER sequels? I have no idea. And sure, his part in SCREAM 3 could be seen as an honor, as he was in a movie filled with cameos, and he was essentially playing Wes Craven, but… that movie is horrendous. Sorry Lance, even your awesomeness can’t save that one from sucking!
When you see Lance on the big (or small) screen, you know what you’re going to get. The man’s eyebrows and wide-eyes gives his look, no matter how interested or bored it may be, one of the most intense looks ever, not to mention the scar that runs down the left side of his face. Seriously, when you see Lance, his intensity just radiates from him. Which is why he’s so good at being a bad guy, and which is why when he is a good guy, you’re never really sure how good he actually is.
The intensity doesn’t stop with the eyes either, it’s his whole mannerism, his voice inflections, and how he holds himself. This is probably why he does such a fantastic job as an android in ALIENS, because he looks like a freaking robot, with his whole body taking in sensory data all the time. That intensity is also why he plays the bad guy so freaking good: STONE COLD and HARD TARGET were goofy action films, but his over-the-top evilness really makes each of the films that much more fun and interesting to watch. And the fact that he can go from a sci-fi flick to a western, and be just as good in both, is pretty damn cool as well. Talk about diversified!
Lance has taken many genres by storm—and has proven a dominant force in all of them. So it’s a tough choice to call out the one “hidden gem” amongst the man’s layered and successful career, but I guess I’m gonna have to go with his role as Emil Fouchon in 1993’s slo-mo action extravaganza HARD TARGET, from director John Woo. Lance is so sinister playing the guy who coordinates the hunting of homeless people, and his diabolical due diligence at the end, when he actually goes head-to-head with JCVD himself, you almost think he might win for a second there. HARD TARGET is just an entertaining ride from start to finish, and it’s partly due to the impeccable casting decision to let Lance have the lead role as the main villain. Absolutely perfect.
A guy doesn’t work as hard as Lance without having a few projects on the horizon—and boy, does he ever! Right now Lance has over 10 movies that are either in post or pre-production, are currently filming, or are completely wrapped and ready to be released at any moment, including HOUSE AT THE END OF THE DRIVE, THE KILLING TIME, CARETAKER, CHAMPION, PHANTOM, GINGERCLOWN, GEMINI RISING, SIN REAPER 3D, and maybe the most promising (and interesting) of the bunch, BRING ME THE HEAD OF LANCE HENRIKSEN! Phew! And yes, it’s about time Lance gets the Bruce Campbell treatment of a fictional movie based on his real-life self. So effin’ cool. On top of all the genre work, he also has a few animated series he regularly lends his voice to (TRON: UPRISING and THE LEGEND OF KORRA), as well as video games (ALIENS: COLONIAL MARINES, MASS EFFECT 3, and INFEX). Least to say, the dude is as busy as ever… good for him!
From sci-fi to horror, and action to westerns, Lance Henriksen has captivated audiences with his unique and sinister features, providing colorful performances in just about every role he’s ever done. From the big blockbusters of the 1980s like ALIENS, to the smaller yet modest hits of the 1990s like THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, Lance has proven time and time again that he’s a great actor who always gives his all to each and every role, no matter how big (or small). And that, my friends, is the sign of any truly great actor. It’s odd Lance isn’t the go-to actor for James Cameron or Kathryn Bigelow, as he was there at the beginning of each of their careers. At this point, we can only hope that someone like Quentin Tarantino casts Lance into one of his movies and breathes the right kind of air back into this career, so we can see him in more theatrical movies than just the straight-to-video variety. Because he deserves goddamnit, and so do we.