This week I pull a new release off of Amazon Prime starring musician, performer and all around bad-ass Henry Rollins called He Never Died. It is a “comedic horror” with some supernatural elements that made its way through the independent circuit before arriving on streaming services earlier this month. Director Jason Crawczyk aims for the casual violence and witty banter of Tarantino or Guy Ritchie, and he succeeds in limited fashion. Almost all of the pleasure to be found in this piece comes from Henry Rollins, who pairs deadpan delivery of his lines with intense physicality, managing to suck marrow out of the “ain’t it cool?” dialogue where others choke on the bones.
He Never Died (2015)
Jack (Rollins) is a loner and a creature of habit. Never quite sure what day it is, he muddles through his time on Earth by visiting the same diner every day and by frequenting the bingo game at the local church. His routine gets thrown in the trash when an old girlfriend informs him that he has a grown daughter who is trying to find him. Despite trying to keep the rest of humanity out of his hair, Jack ends up taking the young woman into his life…shortly before everything in his life goes to shit.
Jack has a small problem with cannibalism. To fend off his dark urges, he’s sworn off liquor and red-meat, and basically sleep-walks through his existence. His very considerable existence, since indulging in human flesh keeps him from ever dying. In order to work through his dependency, he pays a medical intern to drop off donated blood. Unfortunately, he’s not his dealer’s only client, and when small time mafioso attempt to shake down Jack because of money the intern owes, Jack and his newly discovered daughter become caught up in an escalating cycle of violence which threatens to awaken the monster inside of him.
The Set Up
There’s two stories/styles being woven together in this film: the first is about a man with substance issues who is trying to make it through life without relapsing, when fate intervenes to make him come out of hiding and re-engage with the world; the second is a kiss-kiss, bang-bang crime story where bad guys kidnap the wrong girl and her very angry and very lethal father comes calling for revenge. The meshing of these two tropes can get messy. While the first story is slow and methodical drama, the second is a rapidly boiling melodrama where common sense often does not apply. The rules of each style tend to get warped and bent. Sometimes this is subversive and funny, but mostly it’s disconcerting, and you end up with some very vivid pacing problems when that methodical story tries to assert itself during the action-filled second half, or when the gonzo character interactions of the melodrama pop into the human interest centered first half.
One major aspect where the stylistic choices prove problematic is in the dialogue. He Never Died seems to be very consciously using the clipped and gritty patois of crime dramas, where every line is dripping with cool. People say very odd things, just for the sake of using a zippy one-liner. This makes many of the characters feel like caricatures spouting movie lines instead of actually talking to each other. Plenty of crime flicks make use of this style, but here it feels undeserved since few of the actors can actually pull of the cavalier tough-guy personas. They’re just not very good. The only person who makes the over-heated dialogue work is Rollins.
Henry Rollins, noted for his spoken-word career and Punk-rocker cred is the perfect person to work with this style. While others are heaving around their lines like kids throwing bricks through the windows of an old factory, Rollins drops his like a mic after having destroyed an audience who know they’ve just been destroyed. He doesn’t need to sell the words; in fact he does almost the exact opposite, he delivers absolutely devastating comments without any emotion or affectation. You constantly feel like “did he just say that out loud?” Everything he says would start a bar-fight…except Rollins says it so matter-of-fact and with an expression on his face like kicking your ass would be just another boring thing he’ll have to do today.
An Acquired Taste
He Never Died is for a very specific audience: people who like Henry Rollins. Besides actress Kate Greenhouse who plays Jack’s potential love-interest, most of the talent on display is subpar, and most of the characters are secondary considerations to how much fun Jack is to watch. Rollins manages to take an emotionally dead and disinterestedly violent character and complete inhabit him. He may not be a sympathetic creature, but he is a genuine one, and a genuinely intriguing one at that. It’s no wonder they’re hoping to spin this film off into a miniseries, with Rollins coming back as the misanthropic man-eater. I’d be happy to put down my money to spend more time watching Rollins raise Cain.