The episode: “Master Ninja I“, ep. 322
The riff: Snidely quipped by Crow as the movie’s hero Max, played by Timothy Van Patten, gestures to his pet gerbil Henry’s cage, which rests in between the front two seats of his A-Team-style conversion van. He’s talking to a young Demi Moore, by the way.
The explanation: A wordplay collision and reference to the 1986/1990 film “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,” which was based on the life of real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. The film was completed in 1986 but not release in 1990 due to controversy and rating troubles surrounding its graphic violence, but today is something of a minor cult-classic. The ultra-low budget film was made for around $100,000 and starred Michael Rooker in the title role, today famous for his role as Merle in AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” It’s entirely reasonable to think that “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” is the performance that ultimately netted Rooker the juicy part of the demented Merle Dixon in cable’s most popular show today.
Novelty factor: I recognized the reference immediately because I’ve heard of this film, but I’ve yet to actually see it. It is currently buried somewhere in the depths of my Netflix queue, waiting to be viewed.