Out-riffing us all: Remembering Ken Hanke

Ken Hanke, 2016. Photo by Cindy Kunst

by Marc McCloud

For those that don’t know, local critic Ken Hanke passed away Tuesday evening.

“Are you allowed to smoke up here?” I asked. Ken Hanke shrugged and continued to walk the upstairs of the movie theater where he worked. I was a manager of a Blockbuster and quickly sought him out after realizing that his movie reviews were peppered with obscure horror references. I had to meet him, and if I was lucky, befriend him. We clicked and commiserated about our corporate overlords and talked hours and hours about film.

Turns out that I had met Ken a decade before, in book form. The Modern Horror Film was an indispensable reference for me and my friends in college. Amongst the titles that you would expect, were full chapters making the case that Ken Russell was our time’s greatest horror directors, in particular, The Devils. Ken Hanke authored many of those chapters, influencing me greatly. I still make the case for other directors, but I never would have devoured Ken Russell’s films if it were not for him. The Devils remains in my top three to this day.

It was hard to argue your point against him. I tried. Multiple times. But he was smarter, wittier and much more knowledgeable about film than I was. You couldn’t win. I never saw anyone that could. Even if you think that he is 100 percent wrong, you can clearly see his point of view.

So I sought revenge. How? By giving him the worst movies ever to review for screenings that I held around town. Even those didn’t phase him. He approached every Deadly Prey or The Apple as if it were the new Coen Brothers movie. He never complained, never bickered. Ken took his job as a reviewer seriously.

Ken loved film, but more in particular, the movie theater. That was his preferred method for viewing. I think with failing health that he only recently (and begrudgingly) signed up for Netflix.

I saw Ken a few weeks ago at his new haunt, The Grail Moviehouse. I have been preparing myself for this week for awhile, but even in good spirits, Ken did not look good, and it rattled me. The inevitable has come true. Film in Asheville has lost its titan, and I wonder if we can ever recover from it.

Goodbye, friend. Thank you again for Zardoz when we first opened, and I regret never scheduling a screening where you claim that you can out-riff MST3K. Oh, you hated MST3K so much, damn you.

Marc McCloud owns Orbit DVD.


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6 thoughts on “Out-riffing us all: Remembering Ken Hanke

  1. So sorry to hear the sad news of Ken’s passing. I was an avid reader of his reviews, and his knowledge was indeed extraordinary. Some of the reviews were a real pleasure to read, such as his take on Fifty Shades of Grey.

    • Marcianne Miller

      Thanks Marc, You really captured him, a man of enormous contradictions and great knowledge. Let us all work to keep his legacy alive. Let us also remember that he left behind, not only a thriving film community, but his grieving wife Shonsa and daughter Elizabeth. I miss you, Cranky. Marcianne

  2. Jack Sholder

    Ken Hanke was everything you’d want in a film critic: a true lover of cinema, passionate about the films he liked. Ready to skewer those he felt were banal, formulaic, derivative, or simply disappointing. Fair enough to praise good work from a filmmaker he hadn’t thought much of. Generous enough to encourage the work of those he loved or had just discovered. And more importantly, able to write about them so that we wanted to see those films.

    Ken was very kind to me when I first moved to Asheville, inviting me to critics’ screenings and to a late night gathering in Ken Russell’s hotel room – he had managed to convince his favorite director to come to Asheville to be honored at our Film Festival.

    Whenever I picked up a Mountain Express I immediately turned to Cranky Hanke to see what new films were in town and what Ken thought of them. His reviews, like the man, are irreplaceable, and I will sorely miss both.

    Jack Sholder
    Film & Television Production Program
    Western Carolina University

  3. I left the area more than 6 years ago,b ut I was still a regular reader of Ken’s reviews. I could praise his skills as a reviewer, author, movie affcianado, but the one word that comes through first in thinking of Ken is “friend”. Thank you for being a friend.

  4. Arlene Domkowski

    I don’t think that anyone who knew Ken, or read his work will ever recover from his loss.

  5. boatrocker

    Am I the only one who will fondly remember his phrase “By Clapton” for not even admiring Clapton?
    I tried By Hendrix, Page, Richards, Waters (Muddy, not Roger), Guy, Wolf, Watson etc for movie back and forths and the guy did not budge.

    Like the Hadrian’s Wall of holding the line for movie reviews. I admired that.
    Long may you run.

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