SHE NEVER DIED (2019) is… kind of a sequel to HE NEVER DIED, the really good, dryly funny 2015 horror-action movie with Henry Rollins as an ancient being whose peaceful but depressing life is upended when an encounter with gangsters revives his habit of eating humans and absorbing their strength. From what I understand, the script by HE NEVER DIED’s Jason Krawczyk started as a continuation, but was rewritten for director Audrey Cummings (TORMENTED, DARKEN) to follow a different, similar character called Lacey, played by Olunike Adeliyi (SAW 3D, A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY).
Like Rollins’ Jack, Lacey lives in an unnamed city (filmed in North Bay, Ontario), eats at a diner and lacks social skills. But she’s straight up homeless, barely talks and has no qualms about killing people – bad people, at least – and tearing off pieces to eat later. When we first see her she’s busting into a nefarious warehouse looking for a particular man who wears lots of rings, and settles for a guy who’s about to play Russian roulette with a dog for one of those sicko livefeeds that exist in the darkest corners of movie-world.
That’s also when veteran detective Godfrey (Peter MacNeill, CATHY’S CURSE, Droids, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE) first spots her. He sees her leave with a bullet wound in her head and then sees her the next day, completely healed. And he’s after the same guy so when he meets her even though he realizes she’s a cannibal he decides to set her up with his unused flophouse (with refrigerator for storing fingers and ears and stuff) and give her the DEATH WISH 3 style unofficial sanction.
When the guy they’re both after, human trafficker and torture enthusiast Terrance (Noah Danby, THE TUXEDO, RIDDICK, MY SPY), sees her eat a guy’s eyeballs and survive a headshot on the webcam he becomes obsessed with her and tries to capture her for his sister and crime partner Meredith (Michelle Nolden, CARRIE ) to auction off to her rich clients. In the process of killing one of Terrance’s underlings for Godfrey, Lacey rescues an abductee, Suzzie (Kiana Madeira, HARRIET THE SPY: BLOG WARS), who subsequently follows her around and gets mixed up in all this too.
Though the genre is very different, certain things about SHE NEVER DIED remind me of GHOST DOG: WAY OF THE SAMURAI. It’s another small story of a very unusual anti-social person using their surprising killing abilities to wreak havoc on some gangsters, much to their shock. There’s a similarity in the sparse, unglamorous locations, oddball performances and dryly humorous dialogue. I’ve seen it described as a “horror comedy,” but it’s better than that makes it sound. The story is serious and ugly but the understated reactions to all the craziness are very, very funny.
The story often shifts its focus to a different character for a while, which works in part because the cast (made up of people who have mostly worked as guest stars on Canadian TV shows) is uniformly outstanding. The MVP is Danby as Terrance, who reminds me of Randy Couture except a foot or so taller, and is funny pretty much every time he speaks. When we first meet him he answers the door and can’t hear anything over the screams of the guy he has tied to a chair (Kevin Louis, WOO), so he says, “Shut the fuck up, I’m talking, don’t be rude!” When he notices bites taken out of the dead guy in his place of business he says, “That’s kinda different.” When he later chains Lacey up and puts a bunch of knives in her he stands back and says, “True art takes courage.”
Don’t worry. When he has her chained up like Houdini you don’t so much worry for her as rub your hands together in anticipation of what he’s about to unleash. Lacey chose him as her prey because she once saw him do something horrible, “plus he has long femurs.”
It’s so rare and thrilling for a low budget movie to have some crime boss character played by an actor you’ve never seen or heard of before and have them be so captivating that it’s exciting, rather than perfunctory, every time the story returns to them. Nolden as Meredith is similarly great – a soul-less monster who hears about Lacey and says “Oh – it’s so interesting!” like it’s a story she heard on NPR. She worries about her brother, reminds him to take naps and stuff. I love the contrast of their funny, likable personalities and their absolutely appalling crimes, and the way it sets us up to enjoy our growling, cannibalistic heroine wreaking havoc at a “reception” for their potential buyers. (There is one spectacularly good gore gag here, so I feel honor bound to shout out makeup department head/prosthetic makeup artist Sheilagh McGrory [CAST NO SHADOW].)
Godfrey is a good character too – an underdog because he’s way more of an everyday schlub than your average too-old-for-this-shit movie cop. It’s nice that he and Suzzie become so attached to Lacey even though they see more of her grunting, no-eye-contact side than her humanity. Being a finger-muncher from the word go, Adeliyi as Lacey has a more physical, bestial role than Rollins did, but there’s alot of humor and pathos in her performance too.
The only returning character is a mysterious god-like being in a bowler hat (played by a new actor, Lawrence Gowan), but there’s some late-in-the-movie mythology that suggests world-building and/or setting of the stage for possible future stories. I will cross my fingers for a THEY NEVER DIED bringing together Jack, Lacey and/or a non-binary cannibalistic Biblical figure.
I don’t want to overhype or anything, because the pleasures of SHE NEVER DIED and HE NEVER DIED are pretty humble and simple. But it’s a set of familiar ingredients put together in a really original way, creating a distinct little world and tone and sense of character-and-situation-based humor that I really appreciate. If you’re into this sort of thing I can’t recommend them enough, in whichever order you prefer. HE is on disc and streaming on Netflix and SHE is available for digital rental in various places, or streaming free with ads on Tubi.