Jack has a problem: He can’t die. As hard as other people try to put him six feet under, no method of murder is effective. Being shot point blank in the head, a shotgun blast to the gut, and being tossed into a river to drown all fail. No one attempts to chop him up with an ax, but knowing what I do about Jack after watching “He Never Died,” I don’t think he’d let anyone try – as much as he’d love to breathe his last.
“He Never Died” is a little horror comedy noir gem I discovered while scrolling through the On Demand section of my cable box on a quiet Saturday afternoon. As I watched the trailer, I was intrigued by the following exchange:
Woman: “How old are you?”
Jack: “I’m in the Bible, if that means anything.”
By “little,” I mean that “He Never Died” was clearly made on a shoestring budget. There are no big action scenes, and the special effects aren’t that special. By “gem,” I mean that it’s fun, funny, and features a career-changing performance by actor Henry Rollins.
I debated whether or not to reveal who Jack is in this review. It’s a clever twist on an old idea, and as far as I know, entirely original. The ramifications of his identity even go beyond the film to embrace another mythology – one with which everyone is familiar. But since one of the things that lured me into watching the film was the mystery of who he is, I decided to keep what I know to myself.
Besides, I can still discuss how his identity, and what writer and director Jason Krawczyk does with it, is a large part of what makes “He Never Died” a joy to watch.
A little about the story first: “He Never Died” is centered around Jack, a recluse who spends his nights collapsed on the bed of a cheap downtown apartment and his days watching television. He leaves the building only to do three things: visit a local diner, play bingo at a nearby church, and buy blood from a hospital intern, Jeremy. When Jeremy defaults on a loan from the mob, goons start showing up at Jack’s door wanting to know where the intern is. Things don’t go well for them, but as movie mobsters are wont to do, they keep trying.
One day, the daughter Jack never knew he had shows up at his door. Seeing an opportunity, the mob makes the grievous mistake of kidnapping her in an attempt to get Jack to cough up where Jeremy is. Lots of people who made a poor career choice die as a result.
My enjoyment of “He Never Died” was focused on two things, neither of which are the story. While the narrative serves its purpose, it takes one or two wrongheaded turns, the worst of which is the reason Jeremy borrowed money from the mob. It’s dumb. And just how bad does the mob want what can’t amount to more than a few hundred dollars? These guys keep coming out of the woodwork.
But I got over the bumps in the story thanks to Rollins’ pitch perfect performance and the hilarious ways in which Krawczyk rifts off of Jack’s identity.
I love the way Rollins plays Jack. You can see the weight of millennia in the slumped over way Jack carries himself, and his exhaustion in the way he collapses onto his bed. “What are you going to do today?” his daughter asks after he crashes into his mattress. “I’m doing it,” he mutters through crumpled sheets. I especially like the way Rollins delivers his lines. His character has seen and done things that would shatter the soul of a normal human being, so when someone disagrees with him or tries to argue with him, they rarely elicit more than a detached, “OK.”
Although the humor in “He Never Died” is subtle, it’s there. For example, given who Jack is, the very idea that he’d be dealing with the kinds of everyday things that muck up the lives of regular people is amusing. There’s the pestering daughter who wants to establish a connection with him, the pretty blonde at the diner who has a crush on him, and his need to pay rent. Even the image of him playing bingo with elderly people in a church hall has a certain absurdity given who he is.
I really liked “He Never Died.” It offers a portrait of a different kind of hero – one who struggles against his nature as he tries to do what he considers to be the right things. It’s also hialrious, bloody, and has a pretty kickin’ jazz score. I hope you’ll hunt it down through one of the various digital distribution channels or grab it at your nearest Redbox.
Three stars out of four. Rated R for language and bloody violence.
David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at email@example.com.