Michael Parks was one of those actors who could light up a scene, and although you hear similes like that thrown around about a whole lot of people on the business, he was one that more than deserved to have it applied in his work. Originally gaining traction in the 60’s and 70’s for television, feature films and westerns, Parks was put on the Hollywood blacklist for simply standing up to the integrity of a character/show he was working on, a testament to his spirit and refusal to let the work be anything but top notch. The latter half of his career saw him resurrected with a vengeance by the likes of Kevin Smith, Quentin and others and it was here that he provided us with some truly unique, compelling performances. Here are my personal top ten!
10. Esteban Vihaio in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 2
His second role in the Kill Bill films sees him embody a mercurial Mexican pimp who provides the story with some purring exposition and Uma Thurman’s The Bride with vital information whilst slyly hitting on her at the same time. It’s only a quick scene but he grounds it with some deft humour and relishes every syllable of the Latin accent.
9. Dr. Banyard in Deceiver
More exposition! This is a weird little 90’s neo-noir about two troubled Detectives (Michael Rooker and Chris Penn) investigating the murder of a hooker (Renee Zellweger). Parks plays the psychiatrist they consult about a creepy suspect (Tim Roth) who suffers from a rare type of epilepsy. He’s essentially laying out information for the audience here but Michael was one of those rare actors who could do that and tell you so much about his character without, you know, *actually* telling you. This is pretty obscure for a such a great cast but it’s worth seeking out.
8. Abin Cooper in Kevin Smith’s Red State
Terrifying is the word for him here, playing the maniacal patriarch of a bunch of backwoods extremists who make the Westboro Baptist Church look like choirboys. The key is in the soft spoke dialogue, letting his energy simmer on the back burner so that when the fire and brimstone portion of his performance does show up, it blindsides us.
7. Doc Barrow in Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are
A small town doctor who gets suspicious when people including his wife go missing near a secluded rural area, Barrow discovers a family of cannibals living in the hills and must fend them off. This is a brilliant slow burn horror with solid performances all round but it’s his keen, quiet and observant husband who wins the day and becomes the most memorable.
6. Tommy O’Shea in Death Wish V: The Face Of Death
O’Shea is a reprehensible piece of shit Irish mobster who isn’t above threatening or killing women and children and rules his district with casual Joker-esque brutality until, naturally, Charles Bronson kicks the piss out of him. He’s one of the most memorable villains of the franchise in ironically the least memorable film it has to offer, but oh well. He redeems the film with his thoroughly evil portrayal and has a lot of fun along the way.
5. Ronny ‘Del’ Delany in The Hitman
This is essentially just another carbon copy, subpar Chuck Norris action flick but Michael owns villain duties as Chuck’s scumbag partner who betrays and tries to kill him. He’s only in the beginning and end of the film but the character bookends the whole thing and provides a classy, dashing evil prick to do battle with the hero. Too bad he doesn’t win in the end, because he’s eternally more watchable than that goofy ass cocker spaniel Norris.
4. Ambrose Bierce in From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter
Real life poet Bierce really did disappear, although he likely didn’t end up in an Aztec vampire bordello like this film imagines. Parks made an appearance in the first Dusk film and gets the lead here, making Bierce a well read, hard drinking, sardonic badass who totally steals the show.
3. Howard Howe in Kevin Smith’s Tusk
How do you bring dimension to the role of a walrus obsessed serial killer? Start by being Michael Parks. Smith gave him the role of a lifetime here and he chews it up enthusiastically, hitting so many notes in his performance that one could write a dissertation on the character. He makes the guy a monster, no doubt. But a funny ass monster, one with depth, charisma and the magnetism to pull off such an absurd premise.
2. Jean Renault in Twin Peaks
This masterful show is jam packed with villains both earthbound and of other planes so the competition to leave a lasting impression is high. Parks showed up during a season two creative drought as Renault, a psychopathic French Canadian drug kingpin with a taste for blood and the nerve to back it up. Stylish, confident and venomous, he’s one of the show’s great antagonist arcs and plus the dude has a retractable dagger up his sleeve, it doesn’t get any cooler than that.
1. Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1/Death Proof and Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn/Planet Terror
Parks is so good as McGraw that the character is pretty much an archetype by now, appearing multiple times across the Tarantino/Rodriguez multiverse to battle zombies, investigate the El Paso wedding chapel massacre and lament that retards are allowed to operate BBQ stands. The laconic nature, laidback yet keen attitude and no nonsense demeanour of this guy makes him stand out in whichever scene he chooses to amble in and grace his true blue presence with.
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