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Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
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122 out of 144 people found the following review useful:

If only more people had the guts to make films like this....

Author: james_oblivion from Nowhere Interesting
8 October 2003

I really wish that there were more movies like "Henry" out there. Most people still don't realize just HOW controversial this film was when it was made. The MPAA wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. McNaughton fought for 4 years to get an R rating, but no dice. And since he didn't want the X, and there was no NC-17 rating at the time, it was finally released, with no rating, in 1990. And why? I've seen films with MORE violence in them...Romero's "Day of the Dead" leaps to mind. But it's not the violence in this film that makes it so disturbing. It's the way the material is handled. And this is what the film's detractors obviously can't appreciate.

"Henry" doesn't bother with any type of morality...it neither glorifies nor denounces Henry's actions. It simply observes. It places those actions before us and says "there it is...you deal with it...you sort it out." People who don't like this film often say that there's "no character development...no discernible plot line...etc., etc." Those people should stop throwing around film school terms. This is one movie that doesn't present events in a "movie reality"...it shows us things as they are in the real world. Character development means showing you enough of the characters in 90-120 minutes to make you feel as if you've known them forever. How often do you spend 90 minutes with a real person and know that much about them...or feel that you can seriously identify with them? It's just a conceit of film-making. Same with plot lines. Does life have a plot line? Not at all. Life is an endless succession of things happening. Some seem important and/or entertaining...some don't. "Henry," in its attempt to realistically portray the life of a serial killer, does not need a plot line...in fact, it benefits from having only a very loose plot line. Much like a homicidal version of "The Catcher in the Rye," this film seems much like a lot of things that happened, as opposed to a carefully constructed fictitious story...which make it seems all the more real...and all the more disturbing.

"Henry" is disturbing on many levels. Firstly, it feels very real. Too real, perhaps. Nothing is slicked up...nothing seems counterfeit or contrived. The entire thing is so utterly plausible that it chills you to the bone. Secondly, the complete lack of police involvement is equally disturbing. The only time you see a police car in this film, it's driving past in the background as Henry is cruising the streets. It drives past...and that's it. And Henry isn't scared...nor is he even aware, apparently. He has nothing to hide. He knows the police won't connect his crimes to one another...and they certainly won't connect them to him. So what has he to fear?

And finally, the setting of Chicago makes the film more disturbing for me, as I'm somewhat familiar with that city and can spot some locales in the film that I recognize. In fact, a friend of mine who lives in Chicago told me that the first time he watched "Henry," he and a friend rented it and sat down in his friend's apartment to watch it. It was about halfway through that they realized that the apartment they were sitting in was the same one used as Henry's apartment in the film. All I can say is...I'd never use that bath tub again.

All in all, I truly wish that more directors had the guts to make films like "Henry." Honestly, I can't think of one film that's comparable. There simply aren't any films out there that are anything like this. This is truly one of the most disturbing films I've ever seen. After seeing "Happiness," I guess that "Henry" probably got knocked down to Number Two on that list. But "Second Most Disturbing Film Of All-Time" is still a damn fine achievement, in my opinion.

If you want to see an accurate and appallingly realistic portrayal of what the life of a serial killer must be like, definitely give "Henry" a viewing. Make up your own mind from there.

Oh, and a final note...one reviewer stated concretely that his biggest problem with the film was that "serial killers work alone." This is, of course, not always the case. The real life counterparts to Henry and Otis (Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole) DID kill together, as did Bianchi and Buono, the infamous Hillside Stranglers. Those are not the only such instances...but they're certainly the best-known. Therefore, the overly broad generalization that serial killers "work alone" is no real attack on the realism of this film.

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99 out of 126 people found the following review useful:

Chilling

Author: rbvs from San Francisco
30 October 2004

I am 57 years old. I've seen many films in my lifetime. I am not easily frightened or upset by movies. I am partial to drama and documentaries. I can count on one hand the films that I have found to be so deeply disturbing, that I later regretted seeing them.This film is among them. It is possible to "see too much" in this life, and once seen, some sights remain trapped in your head FOREVER short of getting a lobotomy, or being

hypnotized. Leaving the theater that day, I honestly felt as though I had actually witnessed several murders. I was really shaken by the horrific realism of this cinematic event. I was sorry that I had seen the film, but it was too late to retract the terror that, even today, still remains in my memory. Some things are so

emotionally damaging, that perhaps they should be left alone. This film was so powerfully unsettling for me, that I feel a need to warn others of the emotional impact. This speaks well of the directors skill at scaring movie-goers, but

approach with caution please. This is a very heavy movie. The Honeymoon

Killers is another film that I regret seeing. Would that I could forget that

nightmare!

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101 out of 130 people found the following review useful:

one of the scariest movies ever made, period.

Author: Rusty-61 from United States
3 August 1999

With the BWP hype, a lot of talk of going around about "the scariest movie you've ever seen". Probably because I've seen over a thousand horror/fright/suspense/gore movies, I have trouble pinning it down. I can't name the scariest, I can name the top 5. As far as non-supernatural horror goes, this movie and Last House on the Left are the scariest movies I've ever seen.

I saw this at a film festival and the audience was very, very quiet. My friend and I just sat there quietly cowering most of the time. It's just way too realistic. The opening and closing are probably the most frightening, and we don't even see Henry killing anyone, just the bodies of his victims and their terrified screams in the background, echoing. It will give you chills down your spine. The stuff in the movie that scared me wasn't any big "jumps" or gore, just very disturbing, creepy moments (especially if you knew someone who was been the victim of a homicide, as I do). My friend I saw it with worked at the city prosecutors office and heard about plenty of local murder cases and said it rang very, very true to life. One of the most chilling scenes is early on, when Henry goes to a mall and just sits patiently in the parking lot, scanning. The camera looks coldly and calculatedly at different women in the parking lot from Henry's point of view. There are so many shots you almost start to wonder what the point of the scene is until it hits you: they are ALL potential victims, this is how he looks at women. I have always been careful as a woman whenever I am alone but after seeing the film, to this DAY I do not walk to my car alone at the mall without my mace in my hand, and I look all around me and never turn my back on anyone. The movie also does not glamorize the killing or violence against women at all.

Also, it's a good primer on home and personal safety. (a good rule- Do not EVER let a stranger into your house when you are home alone if you were not expecting him. In fact, after I saw this I never open the door when I am home alone and not expecting anyone, period. Think I'm paranoid? Watch this movie and see how safe you feel).

The plot sounds simple but it's not boring. The movie follows the exploits of Henry, a young man who is practically a textbook case of a serial killer (male, white, 30's, drifter, soft-spoken, shy). Conflict comes when his disgusting nasty inbred cousin Otis Toole stays with him, along with his pathetic sister. One night Otis and Henry pick up a couple of prostitutes and are having sex with them in the car. Henry kills both of them sort of offhandedly, with no more emotion than you would swat a fly. Otis starts joining him on his exploits. Henry is more sympathetic than Otis, however, because while Henry does these things because he is sick and doesn't have a choice, Otis seems to get off on them, and also should know better. Things sorta go downhill from there, and the sister complicates things because she is so desperately lonely that Henry starts to look good to her. It culminates in one of the most chilling, downbeat endings of all time.

After I saw this movie at the festival, I was lucky enough to be there when Michael Rooker, who plays the title character, came out and lectured and did Q & A. When I say lucky, I don't mean lucky that I got to meet a celebrity (though that was neat). I mean lucky that I was able to have proof immediately afterwards that this was just a movie. If the movie had ended and I just had to get up and go home, I probably wouldn't have gotten any sleep for about a week. He was very nice and personable, wore glasses and a blazer, not at all like his character. The thing I remember most clearly is someone asked him what kind of movies he liked and he replied, "I don't like horror movies, really, I like musicals". Everyone laughed for about 5 minutes, partially out of relief. BIG relief. See, it's just a movie, there's the actor right there, and ha-ha, he's actually very shy and charming and harmless, isn't that funny?

Even with all of that, I still find this one of the most disturbing, unsettling movies ever made. You haven't seen a really scary movie until you see this movie.

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76 out of 96 people found the following review useful:

Is this a film to acclaim or condemn?

8/10
Author: Brian W. Fairbanks (brianwfairbanks@yahoo.com) from United States
4 April 1999

In 1960, Michael Powell committed professional suicide by directing and producing "Peeping Tom," a thriller in which a psychopathic murderer photographs his victims at the moment of death. Denounced as sick and without redeeming social value, "Peeping Tom" vanished from theaters, while its director, also denounced as sick, went on to make only two more films in the next eight years. Powell's film has gone on to attract an avid cult following and, if it hasn't done so already, so will "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer."

Loosely based on the real life exploits of Henry Lee Lucas, a leering, low IQ sicko who became a media star after claiming to have murdered several dozen people (some believe Henry was bragging), this film takes a gritty, realistic approach that creates the impression that we are watching real life unfold. Director John McNaughton exploits the discomfort the viewer is inclined to feel by presenting a scene in which Henry and his equally vicious former cellmate, Otis, videotape the rape and murder of one of their victims, then play it back for further amusement. This shocking episode effectively makes the point that those who seek second hand thrills through violent "entertainment" are almost as guilty as the perpetrators of such deeds. By casting anonymous non-stars in the leading roles (not that he had a choice considering the budget and the repellent subject matter), and focusing entirely on the exploits of the killers (there are no scenes of police investigating the crimes or peeks into the lives of the victims), McNaughton has created a brutal, amoral horror film that makes the bloodiest gorefest look benign. Although the real Henry was apprehended, his cinematic counterpart is never even suspected of his crimes, and gets off scot-free.

Is "Henry" a film to acclaim or condemn? It's a difficult question to answer, and I, for one cannot make a decision. It is so expertly made that I think McNaughton deserves a round of applause and maybe an Oscar. But, at the end of the video tape of the film that I watched, there was a commercial hawking "Henry" T-shirts ($14.98) and posters ($7.98). Both were available through "Henry Merchandising," and this attempt to turn this all too real murderer into a cult figure deserving of a fan club is despicable.

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60 out of 72 people found the following review useful:

Harrowing and real.

7/10
Author: Skeptic459 (nren006@ec.auckland.ac.nz) from Auckland, New Zealand.
1 January 2004

The real Henry Lee Lucas had one of the worst childhoods that I have ever had the misfortune of reading about. Growing up in Texas, he lived with a family that was totally dysfunctional. He grew up in a shack, that had nothing more than a dirt floor. The father being a legless alcoholic, literally as well as figuratively. The mother worked as a prostitute. Henry was also forced into sexual activity with her clients. They forced him to dress as a girl and then would proceed to have sex with him. He was a child that grew up being raped.

He then grew up with such an intense rage that he became a serial killer. Are we surprised? Now, I am not trying to justify his behaviour. Rather, I am pointing out the fact that these people do not just fall out of the sky. There is no such thing as an inexplicable evil. That is, the person is just evil because they are. Yes, there seems to be some genetic evidence for psychopaths. However the majority do not become killers. The ones who become killers are made. If you are truly interested in what makes a psychopath, I suggest you read, 'Not Guilty by reason of Insanity ' by Dorothy Otnow Lewis. Serial killers are often portrayed as being like Hannibal Lecter. Smart and talented creatures that have suddenly lost their moral code. The truth is most are a psychological mess. Losers that are full of conflicting emotions. There is also strong evidence to suggest that these people are made by a specific form of brain damage. Basically when you combine trauma in childhood and frontal lobe brain damage, you end up with Henry.

This movie is what happens when people are treated in an utterly horrific way. Michael Rooker is excellent as a psychopath who seems normal but deep down harbours a psychotic rage against society. He and Otis travel around killing. Why? Why not? The pointlessness of their lives is perfectly captured. People complain about the lack of plot. I think it perfectly captures the plot. It shows the emptiness of these characters. In fact Henry and Otis feel nothing unless they are killing. The emotional side of the characters has been like killed off by previous abuses against them. They are not unlike the living dead. Even when Otis's sister shows some affection towards Henry he cannot reciprocate. He can't relate to people, he can only get off on torture and death. Yeah, this is shocking. But it is also incredibly sad.

Here in New Zealand there are many shocking drunk driving ads that they play to try and get people to stop this behaviour. I feel that this movie is like that. The movie is an ad for psychopaths, who they are and the dysfunctional psychological world that they inhabit. It is a film that honestly looks at these kinds of people. This certainly does not glorify these people, which is a criticism that has been levelled at the 'Silence of the Lambs' series. This is why I think it shocks people. The serial killer kills for visceral, physical pleasure. As Ted Bundy stated, 'I killed because I wanted to.' Maybe, this is where the film falls down. That the characters motivations are not explained well enough. But either way the viewer is given a shockingly realistic interpretation of a serial killers world.

Obviously this is a film that was made on a budget! But this just adds to the bleakness. In fact Chicago looks dirty, grimy and not like somewhere that you would visit. The performances of the rest of the cast are pretty average if not bad. So the film has some definite flaws. The exploitation factor is there. But then I think of films like Baise Moi and this film has nothing on that!

Overall I think this is an objective look at a world that those of us who come from normal backgrounds will find horrific. A world that we prefer would never exist, but however does exist. Maybe one day, as our society matures these people will cease to exist. Stories like these will become completely fictional. I really hope for that day. 7 out of 10.

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43 out of 52 people found the following review useful:

Wholesome entertainment for all the family.

9/10
Author: Wilbur-10 from Isle of Man
9 March 2003

A flat disturbing film, almost documentary in scope which trawls the depths of the human condition. 'Henry' is not surprisingly often slated as a violent exploitation film, bundled together at Film Fairs with the Italian cannibal flicks of the 70's.

Make no mistake though, this is a highly commendable piece of movie-making, which tackles the subject of serial killers with the same no-holds-barred approach which 'M' did way back in 1931. By referencing the early Fritz Lang classic, I am intentionally comparing 'Henry' favourably with it. I would also say that Henry Rooker's performance is on a par with Peter Lorre's.

The film develops like a three-handed play, revolving around Henry's flat which he shares with former prison-mate, Otis. The trio is made up by Becky, the sister of Otis, who comes to visit.

We are introduced to Henry immediately as a killer and the story does exactly what it says it will in the film's title. We simply follow Henry throughout his daily routine. No mention is given to any police enquiries and Henry is oblivious to any notion of avoiding capture or covering his tracks. Much of the film's power comes from this nonchalant approach, whereby if a person doesn't register that something he is doing is wrong, then it quickly becomes almost acceptable.

Rooker, in the title role, is totally convincing and gives a chilling performance, free from the mannerism clichés which detract from more famous serial killer characters like Hannibal Lector and Norman Bates. I can only think of Kevin Spacey in 'Seven' (1995) giving a similar level of performance for this character-type.

Despite a couple of scenes whose violent content borders on the gratuitous, for the most part 'Henry' succeeds by relying on a suffocating atmosphere and it's down-beat characters.

Anyone without a sense of desolation at the end of the film must be devoid of their senses.

BEST SCENE - Henry and Otis enjoying a night in on the sofa, watching their recent home-video recordings, is one of the most disturbing scenes I can remember watching.

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33 out of 41 people found the following review useful:

A dark and twisted film about a very deranged and demented soul.

9/10
Author: Miyagis_Sweaty_wifebeater (sirjosephu@aol.com) from Sacramento, CA
29 January 2005

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) is a film that is loosely based upon the exploits of notorious white trash serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. This man claimed to have killed hundreds of people, mostly women. But the director takes us down the path of a man who is in many ways similar to the real deal.

Michael Rooker stars as Henry, a demented man living in a twisted world who lives with a scummy roommate Otis (based also on Henry Lee Lucas' running buddy/lover Ottis Toole). Otis' kid sister Becky (loosely based upon the very young sister of Ottis) comes to live with her older brother after a falling out back home. She decides to head out to the big city to find a new life.

The film follows the murderous trail of Henry who's pent of rage and sexual frustrations fuel the madness that's locked deep within his psyche. Those that are around him soon feel his madness and it's brutal and fatal consequences. The director follows these three individuals with a pseudo-documentary feel. The rape and murder scenes are graphic and brutal as they should be. This is no mere exploitation film because there is nothing exploitative about it, as it should be.

I have to recommended this film. It's a sick, twisted but honest look at the life of a serial killer. He's no movie magic monster because unlike those, he's for real. Co-starring future B-Movie thug Tom Towles as Otis.

You'll never see a film like this again.

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33 out of 49 people found the following review useful:

The human mind can be pretty disturbing from time to time

8/10
Author: Coventry from the Draconian Swamp of Unholy Souls
1 August 2003

As you probably know, this film is partly based on the confessions of the real Henry Lee Lucas. If you know that and see this movie, you can ask some serious question about how disturbing some of our fellow humans are. This man shows no emotions what so ever. Contact with other people is nearly impossible, no mercy, not wondering whether his victims have a family or how old they are...no nothing. You wonder if he even IS a human, no living creature can be so awful.

So, if you ask yourself all this during this movie, and I assure you will, you could say it's an excellent film. The mission of the movie itself has succeeded. The ideal atmosphere is achieved in the movie. Dark, melancholic, depressing...Director McNaughton really creates world you don't want to live in. Michael Rooker plays the role of his life and puts down one of the best acting performances ever. Sure, he's never honored with an Oscar or any other important price for his performance, but everyone who sees this movie knows it's true. Actually, when I first saw this film at the age of 9 ( Too young, I know) I thought this actor was in fact a real-life psycho. Henry talks with the same, aggressive tone of voice during the whole movie, his eyes seem to shoot fireballs when the camera looks like in them and his appearance makes you want to puke. Actually this film is pure genius for mainly one reason : you don't have sympathy for any of the characters. Most film, even is the whole cast play villains, there's always one you like. One character you create a sort of band with. In Henry: Portrait of a serial Killer you can only feel hate. Hate and disgust for Henry and for his companion Otis. Heck, you even start to hate the girl... For being so naive that is.

Although many persons are killed and many violence occurs, Henry certainly ain't a gore or bloody film. Many things are suggested but not shown, and in this case it's actually more or at least as scary as showing the actual murders. That's a quality you don't see in movies very much. Only the old horror movies from the 30's and 40's could do that. And now also Henry can. I advise everyone to see this movie, if they haven't already. Not just if you're a fan of horror or thrillers, but also if you appreciate good movies in general. Even the most critic movie buffs can only find this film terrific. It was on many many levels a very important film.

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25 out of 35 people found the following review useful:

A realistic portrayal of a serial killer.

9/10
Author: HumanoidOfFlesh from Chyby, Poland
12 January 2001

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Henry Lee Lucas was the son of a prostitute and a railway worker.His mother seems to have detested the child and treated him with sadistic cruelty.In January 1960 he murdered his mother during the course of a quarrel,slashing at her with a knife.He was sentenced in a forty years in prison,but was recommended for parole after ten years.After that he met another drifter Ottis Toole.The two teamed up and left a bloody trail through Michigan,Ohio,Indiana,Illinois and Wisconsin.When Lucas was arrested he confessed to a total of three hundred and sixty murders(many of these admissions proved to be false).Both-Lucas and Toole-were sentenced to death."Henry:Portrait of a Serial Killer" is a pretty good film.Michael Rooker as a psychopathic killer is really believable.The supporting cast is also great.The scene when Lucas and Toole watch themselves murdering a family,who they tie up and kick to death,is very disturbing.A must see for any fan of the genre.Check it out,you won't be disappointed.

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13 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

A Movie To Keep You Up At Night...

10/10
Author: Christopher T. Chase (cchase@onebox.com) from Arlington, VA.
4 December 2008

When I had the chance to see HENRY 2, I wasn't really sure if I had seen the first one, because so much time has passed since its release and the commotion it caused back in '86. Now having had the chance to see the 20th Anniversary Edition from Dark Sky Films, I'm not so sure that I didn't remember it, as much as I didn't WANT to remember...

John McNaughton presented the indie world with his calling card via this film, and simultaneously raised the bar for what "realism" is in these kinds of horror movies. And where the true horror lies is the way in which it deconstructs and de-glamorizes the image that Hollywood has created for serial killers. This is not a chronicle of a super-intelligent monster like Hannibal Lecter, or even the "channeled" virtuosity of a "noble" murderer like Dexter Morgan.

This could be anybody you walked past down the street yesterday, or saw at the stop light on the way home from work. And make no mistake about it...he works at a job, pays rent and buys groceries like anybody else. And if you happen to catch yourself alone with him at the wrong time, the next time anyone will ever see you again is at the morgue. Count on it.

Based loosely on the exploits of multiple murderer Henry Lee Lucas, HENRY was the breakout role for Michael Rooker (SLITHER), and together with co-stars Tom Towles as his dim-witted sidekick, Otis and Tracy Arnold as Otis' emotionally blasted sister, Becky, they paint a documentary-style picture under McNaughton's guidance, of how some people living on the fringes of society behave. This doesn't necessarily mean that they're wild-eyed, foaming-at-the-mouth-crazy, and therein lies the scariest part of all. These are the kind of blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth types that you might dismiss without giving a second thought...but the time might come when you do so at your own peril.

From the opening frames of the movie, you know you're in territory that's far removed from the usual slasher film. Henry is seen doing mundane, everyday things - buying cigarettes, finishing lunch at a local diner - and juxtaposed with those scenes are absolutely horrific shots of dead, mutilated bodies, as the sounds of how they died careen and crash underneath the discordant music along the soundtrack. Sorry, kids, but this isn't THE Texas CHAINSAW MASSACRE. In that picture, as within this one, a time and place is firmly established. But if you don't live in Texas, part of you can sort of remove yourself from the horror that wants to seep into your subconscious and stay there.

With HENRY, it becomes obvious that the locale is somewhere in metropolitan Chicago, but the urban landscape is familiar enough that it could be Atlanta, Detroit, Boston, New York, anywhere. It could be the city where YOU live now.

And by writing the characters and the events they're involved in with a totally detached, non-judgmental eye, McNaughton and writing partner Richard Fire reveal a horror more numbing and penetrating than a thousand Freddy Kruegers or Michael Myers. There are people in the world who actually do these kinds of things, and they're out there NOW...and it's only by the grace of providence or some cosmic lottery that we've won, that we don't ever run into these people...or that some of us unfortunately do.

Enough has already been written about the remarkable performances of all the actors involved, so the only thing I can add is that if you've never seen HENRY, you need to watch it all the way through at least once. I can safely say that you will see why horror is the way it is today, and how so many filmmakers have misinterpreted what director McNaughton was saying with HENRY.

With the searing images still fresh in my mind, I can only say this...I feel like I need to take about a hundred hot showers, and none of it will ever wash away how nasty and horrible it made me feel. Which I believe is exactly what the makers of this film were trying to accomplish.

I sincerely hope that once you've seen this, you would feel the same. And I would be really worried about anybody who doesn't, or worse, who said they "enjoyed" it.

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