"...the main purpose of criticism...is not to make its readers agree, nice as that is, but to make them, by whatever orthodox or unorthodox method, think." - John Simon

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity." - George Orwell

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lance Henriksen Blogathon: Nightmares: "The Benediction"

BLOGGER'S NOTE: This post is part of the Lance Henriksen Blogathon being hosted by John Kenneth Muir over at his blog and by Joseph Maddrey at his blog. These guys have put in a lot work on this and have produced some stellar tributes to this awesome actor. I urge you to check out their stuff as well as my fellow contributors.

Some of my favorite horror films are anthologies – a single film comprised of several segments that are either independent of each other or linked in some way. Originally written for an early 1980’s television anthology series known as Darkroom, four stories compromise Nightmares (1983). The powers that be originally deemed them “too intense” for the small screen and so extra footage was added to pad out the running time. The final result is a little-seen gem of a horror film that features the likes of Christina Raines (The Sentinel), Emilio Estevez (Repo Man), Richard Masur (The Thing), and genre veteran Lance Henriksen.

He stars in the segment entitled “The Benediction” playing a priest named Frank MacLeod who serves in a small parish out in the countryside. He has lost his way, hitting the sacramental wine pretty hard it seems as evident from a fellow priest (Tony Plana – excellent in a small role) having to wake him up and his general hungover state. MacLeod has trouble concentrating on his job. A bishop even asks him at one point, “You are asking Father, why we are given so many signs of evil and so few signs of good?” MacLeod has lost his faith and decides to give it all up and leave his parish, despite the protests of his fellow priest. “The well is dry,” MacLeod tells him simply. Once on the open road, he encounters a pitch-black 4x4 pickup truck with opaque windows. The truck cuts him off and drives off. It soon reappears and terrorizes the priest at every turn.

Director Joseph Sargent sets an ominous tone right from the start as MacLeod dreams of a snake biting a young deer. Inhuman sounds play in the background, creating an unsettling mood. This nightmarish vision foreshadows the living one that MacLeod will soon experience. Lance Henriksen is particularly good in these early scenes as a man wrestling with his faith and wracked with guilt. Known mainly for playing heavies in countless genre films, it’s nice to see him playing a conflicted protagonist in Nightmares. In flashbacks, he shows a rare, caring side as his priest helps a family whose son has been fatally shot. These sequences allow the actor to show off his considerable dramatic chops as we discover what made MacLeod lose his faith.

For a B-horror film, there are some pretty weighty issues explored in Nightmares and Henriksen is more than up to the task. While the cat and mouse chase with the truck is derivative of Duel (1971) and, to a lesser degree, The Car (1977), his solid performance almost makes us forget that. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s a showstopping moment where the evil truck comes bursting literally out from under the ground! Was the truck real or merely a manifestation of MacLeod’s fears and lack of faith? Regardless of whatever actually happened, he learns an important lesson. This could have so easily been a very silly segment but Henriksen’s acting grounds things and we find ourselves invested in his plight. This is quite impressive considering he isn’t given much screen time in which to do this but it is true mark of his abilities that the veteran actor makes the most of it.


  1. J.D.,

    You've cemented my desire to finally pick this one up. Lance, no matter what the context (or lack thereof) always turns in a thoughtful and committed performance, and I guess that's a roundabout way of saying that I'd really like to see him battling a demonic truck.

  2. Hi J.D.

    I'm so glad you selected Nightmares for this retrospective. Despite the TV origins, I really love this movie. The first segment -- based on an urban legend -- is pretty strong too. And I'm a big fan of that "Bishop of Battle" sequence too, with Emilio Estevez battling an evil arcade game.

    But Henriksen battling a devil truck is a highlight for me.

    We really need a blu-ray of this, but I suspect it's doubtful.

    Anyway, great review, and thank you so much for contributing something so smart to the blogathon.


  3. J.D.,

    I have to agree with John.

    Lance hates his performance in NIGHTMARES with a passion... It was one of the projects that he didn't really want to talk about for the book....

    ...but I tried to get him talking, because I think his performance in NIGHTMARES foreshadows his performance as Frank Black.

    Thanks for taking part in the blogathon!

  4. Fine look at this one, J.D. I remember this film well and you captured what makes it, along with Lance Henriksen, so enjoyable.

  5. Another eye opener J.D. on the cinematic history of Henriksen.

    Loads of great commentary here.

    Henriksen has so much work out there I'm not sure I'll ever see them all.

    You certainly give good reason to see this one. I'm not a big fan of films with men battling cars or trucks. They never quite deliver for me, but like anything by the man, Henriksen would clearly make it interesting.

    I'd love to see Millennium get a Blu-Ray release. But, I do have Bone Dry, Pumpkinhead, The Quick And The Dead and the Alien franchise in my queue to watch the variety of performances.

    Great piece as always my friend.

  6. Sean Gill:

    This film is definitely worth checking out, not just for Henriksen's segment but if only to see Emilio Estevez get sucked into a video game a la TRON but with Fear blasting on the soundtrack.

    John Kenneth Muir:

    Thanks for the kind words, my friend. I really do love this film and it is most definitely one of my all-time fave horror anthology films.

    And yes, I also really dig the first segment with Christina Raines going out for cigs and running into a serial killer. The mood and atmosphere of that one is particularly effective as is the fake-out at the end.

    I'd love to see this film get an upgrade on DVD and/or Blu-ray. Love to know how this film came together, the various segments, etc. Oh well, maybe some day.

    It was my pleasure contributing to your blogathon. You and Joe have done a bang-up job. Bravo!


    Wow, I had no idea that Henriksen dislikes his performance in NIGHTMARES! Incredible, considering how great he is in it. And good call on how this role foreshadows Frank Black. I hadn't thought of that before but it certainly makes sense. Thanks for stopping by and good work on the blogathon!


    Thanks for the compliments. This film is definitely a keeper and it is one of my fave Henriksen's performances for sure.

    The Sci-Fi Fanatic:

    He sure does have a lot of films out there. I don't know how many I've seen but I know I've got a lot to go. The man is certainly prolific!

    As always, thanks for stopping by.