With the recent passing of Michael Parks, I thought it was fitting to look back on one of his performances that really left a mark on me. He’s always been great, with a long list of films and TV shows he’s worked on; Twin Peaks, Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2, Django Unchained and From Dusk Till Dawn to name a few. No matter if the roles were big or small, he left an impression. When he started collaborating with writer/director Kevin Smith, Kevin unleashed something from within him. In Tusk, his second feature film working with Kevin. Michael played Howard Howe, a man offering a room at his mansion for free and a lifetime of stories. Justin Long’s character Wallace, who missed out on an interview for his podcast (because the guy he was going to interview committed suicide), decides to stay with Howard to get a new story. Unbeknownst to Wallace, Howard wants to turn him into a Walrus. It’s fucked up and ridiculous, but Michael is terrifying. A man obsessed with one goal, no matter what the cost. Even if that goal means turning a man, literally, into a walrus (that’s dedication).
Before Michael was trying to turn the Apple guy into an animal, he played a villain that’s all too real to us. Red State, which came out back in 2011, was his first venture with Kevin Smith (and Kevin’s first foray into horror films). It’s disturbing and intense, with some twists and turns I didn’t see coming. It’s also relevant, no matter what year your living in. The high point of it all though, is Michael’s performance as Abin Cooper, the leader of the Five Points Trinity Church. He’s right up there with the ranks of some of my favourite villains. The dude is pure evil.
The story begins with the Five Points Trinity Church (Westboro Baptist Church), led by Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) protesting the funeral of a local gay teenager who was murdered (like I said, pure evil). We’re then introduced to three typical teenage boys who just want to get laid; Jared (Kyle Gallner), Travis (Michael Angarano) & Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun). Jared recently found an ad on Craigslist, posted by a woman offering group sex. When Jared propositions his friends on a night of fun, they’re too horny (as those teenage boys usually are!) to pass up the opportunity for some easy action. Of course, it’s a set up, which lands them drugged and trapped inside the Five Points Trinity Church as hostages. They’ve committed a sin in Abin’s eyes, and they must be punished. Michael Parks knocks it out of the park as the leader of this twisted group. With a gay man they lured via a online chat room, tied up and gagged to a cross behind him. Abin gives a skewed, hate filled sermon about how homosexuals are “insects” and that they must be cleansed from this world, like a disease. It feels real and horrifying, his performance gets under my skin every time I watch it.
This is where things go from bad to worse. It turns completely chaotic, with guns and plastic wrap coming into play. John Goodman plays Agent Joseph Kennan, who is called in to deal with what’s happening inside the church. As the situation escalates, he’s given orders to leave no witnesses at the scene. Not even the children and hostages are safe. It’s kind of like the film Green Room, where you honestly don’t know what’s going to happen or who’s going to die next. The story doesn’t pull any punches. It’ll make you feel uncomfortable, but sometimes you have to go outside your comfort zone to understand some of the horrors that exist in our world.
With Red State, Kevin Smith showed us a side of him we hadn’t seen before. The same could be said for Michael Parks, who was all kinds of crazy in this one. Everyone involved did a hell of a job. There’s humor here and people have lots to say, like most Kevin Smith films, but this one is mostly vicious and cruel. It depicts life exactly how it is. I definitely commend Kevin for having the guts to tackle a subject like this. He doesn’t shy away from anything, which makes the experience all the more visceral. To this day, we still see certain churches and groups condemning the lgbt community. Things that happen in this movie have happened, and will continue to happen, unless we try to make a better future for our children. Red State will leave an impression on you. – NVJ
Michael Parks passed away on May 9th, 2017. He was 77.