Thoughts from the Ledge: Lance Henriksen – horror legend

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In preparation for HorrorHound Weekend in August, I decided to take a look back at the career of one of my favorite actors in the genre, Lance Henriksen.

“The greatest gift in life is being remembered.” – Ken Venturi

The Legend Begins

I remember seeing Lance Henriksen in the movie, Dog Day Afternoon. Al Pacino and John Cazale give tour de force performances in this Sidney Lumet classic. A story about a botched robber turning into a hostage situation becomes less of a crime drama and more about the love story behind it.

Henriksen played Murphy, one of the men responsible for bringing down Pacino’s character. It was a small role but so memorable that I began to follow his career. An actor who’s a veritable chameleon and capable of switching from an FBI G-man to a world-weary vampire, it’s no wonder why he’s always steadily employed.

Trained in the Actors Studio and on the Broadway stage, he’s a perfect example of an actor that’s able to straddle both the A-List world and the land of the B-movies with ease. For some, he’ll forever be known as Bishop from the Alien franchise while for others he’s Frank Black, the gifted profiler from Chris Carter’s Millennium.

Few entertainers achieve legendary status, but in the case of Lance Henriksen, it’s a given. His work is a testament to talent and his movies will stand the test of time.

I have chosen the following horror films based on his performances. In most of them, he has a lead role while in others a more supporting position. All of these efforts are definitely must see flicks for Henriksen fans.

Damien: Omen II

Damien- Omen II – Lance Henriksen – Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox, Harvey Bernhard Productions, Mace Neufeld Productions

The second film in the series about growing up Anti-Christ finds Damien, the spawn of Satan, in a military academy. Much like young Jesus, he has no idea about his legacy. Neither does his aunt and uncle, played by William Holden and Lee Grant.

However, someone knows his true destiny. That would be Sergeant Neff played by Lance. In a pivotal scene after young Thorn bests his history teacher, Neff pulls him aside and warns him to be careful. He also points him toward the Book of Revelations so that he can figure out who he is.

Check out Henriksen’s performance at 4:18.

Near Dark

Near Dark – Lance Henriksen – Courtesy of F-M and Dark Joint Venture

More from Horror Movies

For what it’s worth, in my mind, Near Dark is one of the best vampire pictures around. Directed and co-written by Kathryn Bigelow, this film was shot 21 years before her Academy Award winning Hurt Locker. Also appearing in this flick with Henriksen is the late, great Bill Paxton.

Lance plays Jesse Hooker, the leader of a rogue band of vampires. A force to be reckoned with, you don’t want to get on his bad side. Unfortunately, when Mae (Jenny Wright) falls in love with Caleb (Adrian Pasdar), a local boy in the town where they happen to be staying, things take a turn for the worse.

After he becomes a vampire, he refuses to feed. Meanwhile, his parents start searching for him. When they find him, he has to decide which is stronger, love for his girl or love for his family. Of course, everything culminates in a showdown.

Although Hooker is fierce, in the end, Caleb wins and also manages to turn his girl, Mae, human again through the use of a transfusion.


Pumpkinhead- Lance Henriksen – Courtesy of De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG), Lion Films

This frightening film was directed by one of the greatest special effects gurus of all time, Stan Winston. Lance plays Ed Harley. Ed is a man who’s deeply grieving the loss of his son due to the carelessness of some reckless teenagers.

Filled with the need to avenge this wrong, he seeks out a local witch. She conjures up a bloodthirsty demon, Pumpkinhead. Once he is unleashed, the youths who took the life of Ed’s boy meet grisly demises.

In the end, things spin out of control and the demon ends up going after innocent people. The only way it can be stopped is if Ed kills himself. While it may sound like the typical ’80s slasher film, the performances save it from becoming pedestrian fare.

Namely, Henriksen’s portrayal is both disturbing but touching. He makes you feel his pain and loss. This is what sets Pumpkinhead apart from other flicks of the same storyline.