Horror is evolving as a genre. Although your local multiplex is still loaded with the usual contenders, look a bit closer and you’ll find the latest drama, thriller, or crime offering is closer to horror than you might expect. In this bi-weekly series, Joey Keogh presents a film not generally classified as horror and argues why it exhibits the qualities of a great flight flick, and therefore deserves the attention of fans as an example of Not Quite Horror. This week, it’s mental, Henry Rollins vehicle He Never Died.
It’s difficult to imagine a role more perfect for the great Henry Rollins than Jack, the curmudgeonely anti-hero of Jason Krawczyk’s He Never Died. Jack’s age, his family, life story and everything else are left curiously ambiguous as the usually motormouth Rollins is forced to turn his permanently-furrowed brow into a full-on grimace as he is rendered almost mute.
The short, often one-note answers Jack gives to basic questions from other humans he encounters (along with his nonchalant attitude to being injured) form the basis of the movie’s dark comedy – and make no mistake, this is dark stuff. From the smudgy, grey cinematography to the frequent bursts of bloody violence, He Never Died is a horror movie in all but name (IMDb calls it a comedy, drama and a thriller, again reaffirming its bizarre classification system).
Jack’s worldview is also resolutely dark, his desire to interact with other people practically non-existent. He neglects to use a car, feeling no need for one since he only, by his own admission, attends three places. One of those sees him accepting mysterious packages from a young medical intern (The Twilight Saga‘s Booboo Stewart, proving he’s more than just a rubbish werewolf).
As anyone who’s watched a vampire movie can attest, it’s likely that what’s in the bags isn’t particularly nice, but wisely Krawczyk chooses not to show Jack chowing down until the third act, leaving us guessing as to what he’s actually up to – and, crucially, what he is. Is Jack a vampire? But what of the scars on his shoulder blades, which usually denote the prior presence of wings?
He Never Died never quite explains who Jack is or where he’s come from, save for a speech towards the end in which he kind of spells it out to his bemused, would-be paramour (a charming Kate Greenhouse). Whether you buy this idea, or snort in derision at the suggestion of it, will depend on personal preference, but suffice to say Rollins sells it for all its worth.
Imagining anyone else in this role would be nigh-on impossible. Rollins inhabits it, giving it gusto even when things turn considerably loopy and the script leaves a lot to be desired. Considering he’s tasked with being in virtually every scene, it’s a powerhouse performance indicative of his skills as an actor. Without him, it’s unlikely we’d even care who Jack is, let alone what he’s up to.
Horror comes dressed in many forms, whether it’s as a drama, a crime or, as is annoyingly becoming the norm with movies such as Green Room, a horror-thriller(!?). He Never Died straddles the line by exposing the horrors of humanity, of being alive, through one immortal creature’s eyes. Via Jack, we can see how horrible everything, and everybody, really is.
Naturally, Rollins’ permanently-downturn mouth helps matters enormously, imbuing Jack with a kind of innate sadness that is all too relatable. If the flick’s final act revelations feel a little rushed, and the denouement a tad neat, Rollins keeps it all grounded with the deep-seated anger and resentment only he can muster.
With anyone else in the lead role, He Never Died would be pure comedy. Thanks to Rollins, it’s pitch black Not Quite Horror and all the better for it.