Not Bad for a Human: The Life and Films of Lance Henriksen (Book Review)

When Jim Bouton wrote his game-changing book about baseball called Ball Four, New York Times writer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt said (and you can find it plastered on each copy): ‘Ball Four is a people book, not just a baseball book’. That was, mostly, true, as Ball Four examined the baseball culture, not just baseball. And culture has personalities, moods, and are grounded in reality.

Lance Henriksen’s recent book, Not Bad for a Human, co-authored with filmmaker Joseph Maddrey (Nightmares in Red, White,and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film), is one of those ‘people’ books that surpasses the subject matter on it’s surface level and examines other, deeper issues.

Most celebrity biographies are put together and read for their potential to share tidbits of behind the scenes Movie/TV knowledge. A majority of folks (that I know anyways) like to skip the biography portions and get right to the juicy behind the film secrets. What gets lost in the celebrity bio is often the bio itself. Our need to examine the sensational aspects of their lives that MADE the celebrity famous drives our will to skip the more mundane aspects that look shockingly like our own lives.

Lance Henriksen’s book is a movie star biography that works in reverse of this trend. Mr. Henriksen, who has a very prolific career in almost any genre but especially horror, has had his share of clunkers and his share of hits. And the dedication and, often times, secret art of Lance’s work is truly worth reading about, especially in concerns to Lance’s film roles.

However, Lance’s life, off screen, is almost as entertaining and horrific as Lance’s most graphic genre film. The book decides to focus less on the minute details of each film Lance has appeared in and rather on Lance’s approach to the role and how previous life experience formed the character he has been picked to play. And the depths Lance went for his roles (and the personal, often vunerable depths he went to reveal for this book) is quite shocking.

This is, of course, after a 100 page introduction that shows how Lance got to a stage and, eventually, a movie set. Usually the weakest part of a star biography (or, for some, the most boring), Lance’s rather consistent and rich life in films pales in comparison to the vagabond ways of which he lived prior to acting somewhat late in life.

From being shipped from orphanage to orphanage (even though he had two parents he knew and could communicate with), becoming a mistaken murder victim, to hitchhiking across the country, to being put in military prison, to not learning how to read until the age of 30, Lance’s life is far from boring.

It is the kind of nearly unbelievable story that makes your mouth gape in terror and that makes you laugh when it is sometimes highly inappropriate to do so. In fact, as Lance developed a film career, his story gets a bit more mundane. Once again, the complete switch from the normal, hum-drum star bio.

But don’t think there isn’t any fun tidbits to be had. A lot of Lance’s co-stars, friends, and directors are interviewed and provide all kinds of great stories. And while not a lot of time is spent on each film, EVERY film or TV show on Lance’s resume (and there are over 150 by the way) is examined in some detail and with full disclosure. If Lance thought the film sucks, he’ll tell you (beware Pumpkinhead fans!).

But the most important aspect is getting to know Lance himself. And the book delivers this in spades. It’s more then just movies for him, it is literally a lifestyle. . .one that was forged with pain and, through his art, has led to broken marriages, wearying travel, and love lost with once chummy co-stars.

I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Lance a number of times and I can assure you that the voice you hear is NOT a good writer covering up for an actor’s poor prose. Lance does most of the speaking and his tone and attitude is shockingly present. Lance is talking to you directly with this book.

The special edition, available online only through Bloody Pulp Books, is gifted with all kinds of nerdy fun. There is original artwork by Mike Mignola, Tim Bradstreet, and Bill Sienkiewicz, amongst others and the interviewees include Walter Hill, Bill Paxton, and Chris Carter, just to name a few.

Go here for some great excerpts!