In 1986 it began. He was unleashed onto the world. An unstoppable force that no one would be able to tame. No, I'm not talking about a new horror mass murdering villain. I'm talking about iconic actor, Michael Rooker.
Notoriously known for his deep, raspy, gravelly voice and his frequent performances as sinister villains, Michael Rooker is forever embedded in peoples minds and memories as Henry in Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer.
But where did it all begin?
Michael Rooker was born in Jasper, Alabama on April 6, 1955. After his parents divorced when he was just 13, he and his siblings were moved to Chicago with his mother, where Michael attended the Goodman School Of Drama. He had the acting bug while attending college, and began appearing in local stage productions.
But in 1986 that all changed when Michael's good looks were highlighted and used in a rather chilling effect in Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer. Loosely based on the true life serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas, this film is disturbing on so many levels. It feels very real. Too real, perhaps. Nothing is slicked up and nothing seems counterfeit or contrived. The entire thing is so utterly plausible that it chills you to the bone. Needless to say that it's Michael's performance that gave this film its balls. Chilling. Outstanding. Thought-provoking. But above all, it's a must see movie. (Fun Fact: It didn't get released into theatres until 1989 despite being filmed in 1986)
Rooker has stated before that Henry is a very easy character to slip into, quote, "I can bring that role back in a second. I just rip into the little idiosyncrasies and it's interesting, I've never said good-bye to Henry. That character, the introverted-ness, the soft-spoken quality is always there." Now that is chilling.
In 1987, Rooker joined the cast of Rent-A-Cop (starring Burt Reynolds and Liza Minnelli) as well as Light Of Day which starred Michael J. Fox. Despite being given a leading role the previous year, Rooker had to settle for a small cameo in each film. In the case of Rent-A-Cop it may have been a good thing seeing as both Reynolds and Minnelli were nominated for a golden razzie for Worst Actor and Actress, with Minnelli 'winning' (and I use that term loosely) her category.
1988 rolls around and Rooker is given a larger role in what some people deem to be one of the greatest movies of all time: Mississippi Burning. Starring along side Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, Frances McDormand and Brad Dourif, Rooker landed the role of Frank Bailey, who was a very predominate character, and quite racist at that. It just shows how much talent this man has. One scene that always sticks in my mind is when Gene Hackman ends up grabbing Rooker's character by the balls during a heated 'discussion' regarding the missing civil rights workers. The film was very controversial when it was released. Though fictional, the movie was clearly based on an actual case. Many people felt that too many facts from the real-life case were distorted or left out. In any event, it is a powerful piece of cinema and one that is highly recommended.
In 1989, Rooker joined forces with Al Pacino and John Goodman in Sea Of Love which was about a New York detective investigating a case of a serial killer who finds their victims through the lonely hearts column in newspapers. A very underrated movie. Sexy, steamy and has an Alfred Hitchcock feel to it. Keep an eye open for Rooker as Terry who gets into a bit of a scuffle with Pacino and gets hurled out of a window.
We've reached the early '90's now and what a busy time it was for Michael Rooker. You've all heard of the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, right? Every actor can be linked to Kevin Bacon by six people or less? Well, Michael Rooker is no exception. Teaming up with Top Gun himself, Tom Cruise (who starred with Kevin Bacon in A Few Good Men), in Days Of Thunder as the character Rowdy Burns, appearing on television in Equal Justice, even starring in JFK along side Kevin Costner as Bill Broussard.
In 1993, Rooker found himself in a hellish story out of the mind of great horror writer Stephen King. The Dark Half was about a writer's fictional alter-ego wants to take over his life at any price and saw Rooker take on the role of the town Sheriff while Timothy Hutton was the leading man...or should that be men?
For those that are fans of Stephen King, I have to say this film is probably the closest adaptation you'll ever get in regards to his work. Like Henry before it, this film was also delayed in being released, filmed in 1991 but released to theatres in '93. Rooker, while not the leading man, delivered a remarkable performance and gave 110% to his performance, stealing some of the focus from the other characters, which, to me, screams 'brilliant actor alert.' The Dark Half is pretty much a forgotten gem in the horror field. The direction, acting and writing were all up to scratch (some may even say perfect) and above all, it delivered on atmosphere, which most horrors today lack. Believe me, once you watch this you'll never be able to listen to 'Are You Lonesome Tonight' in the same way. Not after that highly uncomfortable dream sequence...
In that same year Rooker would team up with director, Renny Harlin, and action hero, Sylvester Stallone for Cliffhanger. (Fun Fact: This movie is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the costliest aerial stunt ever performed at a cost of $1 million)
Cliffhanger shows Rooker off as being a good guy, teaming up with Stallone and who is tricked into helping the merciless terrorists get off the mountain with dumped cases of cash from a mid-air hijacking gone wrong. It's up to Rooker and Stallone to outwit the psychotic leader played by John Lithgow. I'm not much of a Sly fan, but this movie (and Rambo and Rocky) are my exceptions.
Also in '93, Rooker teamed up with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer in Tombstone, a western, that in itself prove that the western genre can be fun without being over the top and campy. It was because of this film that Rooker learned how to shoot. Rooker was cast as Sherman McMasters.
In 1994 Rooker starred in a short film that aired on the SciFi channel called Suspicious. I'm sad to say I haven't had the pleasure of seeing this. Fortunately, my brother has seen it and gave me the scoop on the film which sounds a lot like an urban legend. A highly paranoid woman driving to an unknown destination at night. Every time she stops she is frightened by the people that are around her. She stops at a gas station and the attendant is a very menacing man who tries every way that he can to get her out of her car. Janeane Garofalo and Michael Rooker give excellent performances in this film. So with that being said, when and if you get the chance, watch this film because it will entertain as well as frighten you.
Which brings me to the 1995 movie (and a favourite of many) Mallrats. A star studded cast including Jason Lee, Jeremy London, Shannen Doherty and Ben Affleck, Rooker was in good company. Mallrats is about two friends, who have both been dumped by their girls, seeking refuge in a mall. (Fun Fact: The character of Svenning was not originally suppose to be bald. Rooker was trying to dye his hair gray for a better look, and decided that bald worked a lot better)
Rooker did a lot of television appearances in the mid to late nineties. Fallen Angels and Honolulu CRU were two series in which he made an appearance. He also did a few television movies. Back To Back was one such film. Made in '96 Back To Back was about an ex-cop finds himself caught up in a battle between Japanese mobsters and local gangland thugs and discovers that he was framed for wrong-doings by a corrupt cop. Action packed and directed by Roger Nygard and co-starring Scream Queen Danielle Harris, Back To Back gave Rooker the much deserved leading man status and, despite it's typical TV action movie formula, is probably one of the most enjoyable TV movies I've seen in a long time. (Fun Fact: This film is also known as American Yakuza 2, and Back to Back: American Yakuza 2)
Jumping to 1998 and Rooker teamed up once more with a star studded cast in Rosewood. Starring along side Jon Voight, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle and Muse Watson (my feared Fisherman from I Know What You Did Last Summer), Rosewood was a dramatization of a 1923 horrific racist lynch mob attack on an African American community. Channelling the same lines as Mississippi Burning, Rooker managed to steal focus whenever he appeared on screen as Sheirff Walker.
Failing to kill anymore because of his conscience, a troubled hit-man seeks aid from a forger to help him get papers to China. However, the drug-lord has hired replacements to finish the job and kill the hit-man is the storyline for The Replacement Killers (1998). Co-starring Chow Yun-Fat (in what I believe to be his first American film) and Mira Sorvino, Rooker played a LA cop who killed the son of Chinese Triad boss, Wei. Needless to say, a hit is put out on his young son but Yun-Fat's character finds he has a conscience and can't go through with it. It all goes pear-shaped from there.
That same year, Rooker found himself in Shadow Builder which also starred Tony Todd. The storyline for this film is a demon is summoned to take the soul of a young boy who has the potential to become a saint. By doing this he will open a doorway to hell and destroy the world. Now I have friends who love this movie and friends who hate this movie with a fiery passion. One of my friends described this film as "A complete trainwreck from start to finish. Big fan of Rooker, but this was beneath him." While another one of my gal-pals described this as "Enjoyable. It had likeable characters, naturalistic acting. There were some really creepy deaths. There were also a couple of excellent wince-inducing stunts but over all it was pretty good and definitely worth a look."
Also that year, Rooker found himself matching wits against Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie in The Bone Collector. If you haven't see this film, go and see it. If you enjoyed Silence Of The Lambs, then you should enjoy this too.
In 2000, Rooker teamed forces with Arnold Schwarzenegger in The 6th Day. The storyline is a futuristic action movie about a man who meets a clone of himself and stumbles into a grand conspiracy about clones taking over the world. Redicuious concept (and probably my least favourite Arnie film) but whenever Rooker hits the screen you can't tear your eyes away from him as he commands the spotlight, once again stealing focus from his co-stars. That, to me, is a sign of a brilliant actor.
In 2001, Rooker teamed up with one of my favourite acton stars, Jean-Claude Van Dammn in Replicant. Van Dammn is a serial killer and Rooker is out to stop him. Meanwhile, scientists create a genetic clone of Van Damme in order to help catch the real Van Dammn. The clone then teams up with Rooker in a bid to stop the evil Jean-Claude. It's a typical Van Dammn movie, but a mighty enjoyable one.
Jumping a couple of years to 2004, Rooker teamed up with Casper Van Dien in Skeleton Man. Two scientists receive some objects and a skull from an ancient Indian cemetery, and while cleaning a vase, they are attacked and murdered by a mysterious being, known as the Skeleton Man. A military squad commanded by Captain Leary (Rooker) seeks out two groups of four soldiers each that vanished in the jungle. They face the Skeleton Man, shooting him while he kills each soldier. The Skeleton Man goes to a power plant, and Captain Leary explodes the facility destroying the supernatural being once and for all...or does he?
This film is another one that rages war between my friends. Some loved it and others loathed. I do recommend giving it a watch and making your own mind up about it. It's an odd film but, with Rooker's genuis, it does have its moments.
In 2006 Rooker starred in Repo! The Genetic Opera along side Saw Queen, Shawnee Smith. I understand why a lot of people don't like this movie and that's simply because many don't understand what is going on, due to the high vocabulary and constant musical numbers. Having done musical theatre myself, I've always loved musicals for their creativity, incredible music and lyrics. Repo! The Genetic Opera has a goth element about it (very Dracula's for anyone who's read my article on their cabaret) and is, by far, one of the funnest movies I've seen in years. Highly recommended although it won't be everyone's taste.
Slither (2006) is probably one of Michael's more famed pieces of work. Directed by James Gunn, Slither is about a small town is taken over by an alien plague, turning residents into zombies and all forms of mutant monsters. For me, aside from Rooker being a horrible creature in need of being destroyed, the scene that stood out the most was the bath sequence.
I recommended it to a friend (who thought the film was about a giant snake – got to admit, I can see where she got that notion) and she now considers it a top ten film of hers. Slither is not only well acted, but you get a sense of comearidary about the cast. While it won't rank in my top ten favourite horror films, Slither is highly entertaining and a great way to kill a couple of hours.
2007 bought about an interesting film called Whisper in which Rooker played a character by the name of Sidney Braverman. The storyline is as follows: When the eight-year-old son, David, of a wealthy New England socialite is abducted, his kidnapper Max Harper and his seedy associates assume it will be a routine kidnapping in exchange for a large ransom. Unknown to the kidnappers, the shy and reserved David actually has a hidden agenda of his own, and a mysterious way of tapping into the minds of others. Soon, Max will wish that he had never kidnapped David, much less even heard of him.
During this time, Rooker made several television appearances from Law And Order and Crossing Jordan to Chuck and Criminal Minds. Each appearance added new fans to his ever growing fan base. Just like most guest stars who appear on TV shows, Rooker stole the limelight and gave audiences characters to love and loathe.
In 2010 Rooker bought us Freeway Killer which was a tale based on William Bonin who was a real serial killer residing in Californina. Rooker was the detective in charge of the investigation. Now I will admit that I haven't seen this, but it's something that I want to see despite the poor reviews I've read.
2010 also saw Rooker appear as a, quote "badass mo-fo prison guard," in Cell 213. Cell 213 is a horror film set in a prison where, as things get worse and worse, you just want to yell at the characters, "Are you NUTS??? Just LEAVE!!!"
Which brings me now to a very popular TV series: The Walking Dead. The Walking Dead in a nut shell is police officer Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) leads a group of survivors in a world overrun by zombies. The plot is focused primarily on the human element of a post-apocalyptic world and the way the struggling humans survive. (Fun Fact: The actors who played zombies had to go through zombie school to learn how to walk and move like zombies) Rooker, to date, has only made three appearances as Merle Dixon, but is referred to as recurring character.
The one common thing I've noticed about Michael Rooker from writing this article is, despite his horror status firmly embedded in everyone's mind, he doesn't always need to stick to the horror genre in order to install fear. His abilities and range outside of horror is what makes him a truly sensational artist, an expert at his craft.
To prove how good he is, Rooker even ventured onto VH1's Scream Queens (the show had 12 actresses compete for a chance to be in the next instalment of the Saw franchise hosted by Shawnee Smith) for one of the challenges which saw him seduced by the five remaining girl before being devoured by them and their vampire ways. I know I was suppose to be watching the show for the girls, but I couldn't take my eyes off him.
From Henry to that little cameo appearance in Scream Queens, Michael Rooker has stamped himself in my eyes as, not only one of horrors best, but one of cinemas best actors. He can be my leading man any day.