Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) Poster

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If only more people had the guts to make films like this....
james_oblivion8 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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Harrowing and real.
Skeptic4591 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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A Movie To Keep You Up At Night...
Christopher T. Chase4 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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rbvs30 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

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one of the scariest movies ever made, period.
Rusty-613 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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Wholesome entertainment for all the family.
Wilbur-109 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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Is this a film to acclaim or condemn?
Brian W. Fairbanks4 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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A dark and twisted film about a very deranged and demented soul.
Joseph P. Ulibas29 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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A realistic portrayal of a serial killer.
HumanoidOfFlesh12 January 2001
Warning: 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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The human mind can be pretty disturbing from time to time
Coventry1 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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A frightening analysis of the psychology of evil
DarthVoorhees22 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
'Henry' is a hard film to sit through, plain and simple. It lacks any theatricality to it whatsoever and engages in utmost realism in it's presentation of it's title monster. The fact is that people like Henry have existed without the soundtrack, without the dramatic tension, and without the stylized body count. 'Henry' isn't interested in creating a film merely for entertainment's sake. 'Henry' isn't really an entertaining film in the traditional sense of the word. It is a well acted and well paced drama about evil.

Michael Rooker gives a tremendous performance as the title character. Henry is by far one of the most frightening characters in film and he does so with subtly. Henry is a sad looking fellow. Most of the time he is at a loss for words and with a blank solemn expression on his face. He's the kind of guy you bump into on the street and don't think twice about. Rooker is brilliant in portraying Henry in this restrained fashion. It isn't what we expect that frightens us. Look at Anthony Hopkins in 'Silence of the Lambs', a brilliant performance but it lacks any suspense or fear to it whatsoever. Henry is the anti-Hannibal. The characters in this world underestimate him until it is too late. Rooker's delivery of the minimalist dialogue is outstanding. Cold, blank, and with a sad gravel we are intrigued by Henry and yet we don't know what exactly intrigues us about him. This fascination is brilliantly played with in the character of Becky, fascinated by Henry to the point where she convinces herself that she loves him. Tragically for her Henry is incapable of love or any humanity.

In keeping up with this realistic view, director John McNaughton has created a brilliant portrayal of the cold rainy streets of Chicago. The film feels almost like a documentary as the camera work is very static and gritty. I can't think of a better place to set the film than Chicago. It's capable of being a very ugly city and McNaughton's haunting trip into the back alleys and seedy neighborhoods at night is filmed beautifully. We get to comprehend the environment and yet McNaughton doesn't over empathize it.

Henry is a brilliant film. Well acted and brilliantly conceived. It isn't an easy film to sit through but often the most challenging works of art aren't. Kudos to Rooker and McNaughton for taking this subject matter with utmost sincerity. Violence is either glorified on one extreme or attacked viciously on another. 'Henry' is an honest look at the capabilities and evil power violence has.
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What A Sick (But Fascinating) Film!
ccthemovieman-14 October 2006
This low-budget film gets high marks because it's entertaining, despite the perversity of the subject matter. It's only 83 minutes long and it moves very fast. Some will be turned off big-time with the shocking brutality of this film, but that's what it is about - a cold-blooded killer (Michael Rooker, playing real-life killer Henry Lee Lucas) with seemingly no conscience, and a stupid partner (Tom Towles as "Otis Toole"), who is about as bad.

"Chilling" is a good word to describe these guys.

The only part of the movie which was repugnant to me was the scene in with Rooker and Towles break into a house, terrorize a woman and videotape it. Other than that, this is fun to watch in a sick way. This, and the French movie, "Man Bites Dog," are the two movies in my collection I am embarrassed (morally speaking) to say I own and find fascinating to watch.

There are only three main actors in this film: Rooker, Towles (playing fellow killer, Otis Toole, a real dumb-ass trashy character) and his kid sister, "Becky" (Tracy Arnold). All three are extremely interesting.

The rest of the people are all victims of those two guys who go on a killing spree that is almost a daily occurrence for a short time. It's absurd, but that's the story. It caused quite a star when it was released. It was given a rare NC-17 rating. Nowadays, it would be "R" with no fanfare.

This is a very sick story, but it sure is interesting.
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A Gritty, Realistic Exploration of Serial Murder
gavin694217 May 2007
Henry (Michael Rooker), a character based on serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, hooks up with his prison friend Otis (Tom Towles) and his sister Becky (Tracy Arnold). Henry teaches Otis how to be a bloodthirsty killer, but things go awry when Otis fails to have Henry's level of control and turns his sights on to his own sister.

Director John McNaughton was a delivery man for executive producers Malik B. Ali and Waleed B. Ali of Maljack Productions, who then had him make some low-budget Chicago-themed documentaries before offering him $110,000 and a 16mm camera to make a horror film (without offering any ideas or limitations).

The story was brought to McNaughton by his friend Gus, who had a videotape of "20/20". McNaughton never heard of Henry before, and was not even familiar with the term "serial killer", but felt this had great potential. He had always loved horror films, especially Roger Corman's work with AIP, and he teamed up with Richard Fire of the Organic Theater (the home base of Stuart Gordon), where they found Tracy Arnold and Tom Towles. Towles, of course, would go on to work with McNaughton many more times.

Along with the cast, McNaughton brought in composer Robert McNaughton (no relation), who does a fine job adding to the creep factor, and the use of samples (such as screams) was quite innovative for its day. We also get some great street scenes, showing Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago (near where director McNaughton lived). One home shot at was at the corner of North and Wood in the Wicker Park neighborhood.

This film is absolutely amazing. Opening with still frame scenes of death, including a murdered hooker who is the most disturbing corpse I have seen since I watched "Four Rooms" (and this precedes that film by a decade). The first scene opens with the unknown victim "Orange Socks", posed just as in the police photograph, only adding to the authenticity.

The camera used was of lesser quality than a normal theatrical movie camera, giving a more realistic or "snuff" feel. I can watch heads explode and all sorts of simulated violence without flinching, but this really put me in a zone of discomfort. With a repeated viewing, this feeling decreases, but the grit of "Henry" is timeless.

Likewise, there is a later scene where a murder is being filmed on a home video recorder. The actors go to such extremes with the violence that it looks completely plausible -- I would be surprised if the victims were not actually injured in the process. This realism is something not often found in horror, and really makes this film stand out as a groundbreaking piece of work.

Michael Rooker, still a novice actor at this point, is amazing. He comes across as somehow dumb yet clever, unable to read but able to get what he needs. This fits the redneck killer profile of his character, and is so convincing you woud think Rooker himself was a little bit dumb or slow if you had not seen him in other roles ("Mallrats", "Days of Thunder").

The use of largely unknown actors, and not very attractive ones at that, again added to the realism. Hollywood would try to make the killers ugly but do so by using beautiful people (I think "Monster" proved this). "Henry" presented us with exactly what we were promised without all the glossy shine. At a screening of "Henry" in Chicago in August 2008 at Portage Theater, director John McNaughton made an appearance but refused to answer questions about the picture. This is a shame, McNaughton. Not only is this the film that made you a name, but it is legitimately a great picture and possibly your best work. Please don't alienate your fans or deny yourself this great achievement.

If you are looking for lots of sex and blood, you are probably looking for "Murder Set Pieces" (which is like this, but different at the same time -- less realism). If you want pure in-your-face brutality, this is more your style. I give it a complete recommendation, and consider it a "must see" for all horror fans of all ages (well, those old enough to handle the intensity, that is).

One last interesting note: after some distribution issues, this film was part of the reason for the MPAA's creation of NC-17 along with Pedro Almodovar's "Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down". So, along with being a great film, it also has historical value.
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The best character driven horror movie ever made...
H Johnson30 March 2006
This was a brilliant, terrifying piece of art. With a small budget, no name actors (at the time), and a rookie director, this film was extremely well made, realistic, gritty and terrifying. Michael Rooker (Henry) is one of the most believable killer ever portrayed on the screen, right beside Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver and Woody Harrelson in Natural Born Killers. Along side of Henry there is Ottis, a low life drug dealer who met Henry in prison. They live together and go on pointless killing sprees.

The beautiful part of this film is that it does not focus on why they kill, but more on the psyche of their killings. They give many clues as to why they do it in the text, but in the end it is just killing for the sake of killing. This is beautifully portrayed in the performances of all the actors, as well as the wonderful direction and writing.

This is not a typical slasher movie, but more of a psychological horror. You are frightened not only because of what you see, but what you don't, and the sheer mystery of the characters as well as their blunt qualities you cannot avoid cause for a film that is scarier than any blood fest schlock that's out now.

Truly one of a kind.
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Truly Horrifying
coldstick17 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a true horror movie; an in-depth psychological study of how a serial killer's mind works. These killers feel no remorse for their victims, and think killing is a game. The film is difficult to watch, especially a particular scene in which the two killers videotape themselves murdering an entire family, then later keep rewinding and rewatching it, admiring their work. They are both pure evil, and the movie, despite some chunky and sloppy directing and camera work, does an unforgettable job of showing their complete lack of humanity. The film is constantly chilling and troubling, moreso than almost any other film out there.
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Grim and nasty - perfect 42nd St. flick
Dr. Gore12 May 2003
Warning: Spoilers

I was vacationing in New York when this movie came out. I was out with my cousins looking for a movie to see. "Henry" was suggested. I had told my cousins that I wanted to go to Times Square. This was at the tail end of the complete decadence era of 42nd Street. I can't think of a more perfect film to see in that cesspool. Mind you, this was not the 42nd St. of today. Back then, you were taking your life in your hands seeing a flick down there. The theater was great too. It had a ten rows of 8 seats each separated by a walkway down the middle. Forget stadium seating, surround sound. You were lucky if the movie came out in the right order.

"Henry" is a depressing, nasty piece of work. Henry kills people with efficiency. He doesn't seem to get any joy from it. It's just something that he does. He teaches his roommate the ropes on how to be a good serial killer. Henry becomes disgusted with him when he starts taking too much pleasure in it. This leads to the one gory scene in the movie. It involves a bathtub and a saw. The minute it was over, a girl in the audience got up and ran out of the theater. Most of the movie house started laughing at her. I kept watching.

Excellent movie. Nasty, grim and mean.
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Portrait of an imagined serial killer
p-stepien10 September 2012
Supposedly based on the true life serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas (played by a turbulent Michael Rooker), but in fact is framed on tall stories of the largest fabler in American crime history (made even taller by director / scriptwriter John McNaughton, who adds his own two cents to the mythology). Henry Lee Lucas admitted to over 600 murders, whilst in fact, together with his comrade in mayhem Otis (Tom Towles) are probably culpable but for a fraction of those events. Inspired by the prefabricated musings of a trickster conspiring with police 'to clean up the books' John McNaughton supposedly presents us a portrait of a psychotic mind, but essentially remains underwhelmingly vacuous.

The hyperbole of Lucas's life story is taken at face value giving a terrifying vision of a pair of two morally incapacitated individuals, albeit Henry himself finds a soft spot for Otis's cousin Becky (Tracy Arnold). The trio of off-beat uneducated drifters clinch viewer attention with idle chit-chat coupled with pending violence boiling just below the surface. Unlike Hannibal-like eroticism the serial killers are hollow, dead and pitiful, which allow for a certain level of affinity with the characters, though thankfully never creating a need for compassion. Suitably events are portrayed pretty matter of fact (thankfully) without the ulterior intellectually deviant underpinnings so predominant in serial killer movies - this murderer isn't a deranged genius, just a murderous lost soul.

Low key direction with unassuming choreography keeps attention focused on Rooker and Towles, which make a oddly disturbing couple, believable, but at the same time unreal. Rooker especially has a tentative quality of lingering anger and dead eyes, which slowly rescinds during contact with the awkwardly naive Arnold. Gifted with the best lines Rooker excels at his portrayal painting an appalling picture of a psycho, albeit one that is doubly fictitious, hellbent on murder, but conscious enough to avoid having a modus operandi.

McNaughton does also have some nice touches, which add undeniable dread, especially with the opening act, where murders are not shown, but heard menacingly dubbed over pictures of corpses. The strongest point of the movie (in true "Funny Games" style), when a tellingly graphic murder of a family is presented as a video tape being watched by the serial killers, drawing comparisons between them and viewing watching such gruesome pictures. Disturbing and drastic hard to recommend as anything other than exploitative horror, one so vividly criticised by Haneke in "Funny Games". Roughly shot and essentially pointless and thoughtless, not even having the decency to entertain a story more based on fact and less on delusions. Maybe beforehand knowledge about the actual Henry Lee Lucs detracts away from viewing pleasure, as the true life story of his incarceration makes just a much more enticing talking point, than the on-screen imaginings presented by the director.
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I'm still shaking!
It's been half an hour since I finished seeing this movie, and believe me people, I'm still shaking.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, tells the story of Henry, a man with one hobby: killing strangers. Played by Michael Rooker (his best performance ever) and loosely based on notorious serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, this character is pretty much the summit of what a serial killer is about: white, in his thirties, lonelier, soft spoken and shy. But, however, what makes Henry persona so disturbing (and interesting) is his lack of guilt or remorse. He just kills whoever crosses into his path; and moreover, he does it in such a ruthless and remorseless way,(expressing no feelings), that makes the original Terminator look like Lassie (you have to see it yourself).

The rest of the main characters are Tom and Becky, who are brother and sister. Ottis, Henry's sidekick at first is a kind of obnoxious grown up Milhouse since he does whatever Henry says (as Milkhouse does with Bart) and also, since he seems to have homosexual feelings towards Henry (In the Simpson it has been implied more than once that Milhouse has homosexual tendencies, especially towards Bart. However, you have to figure it out by yourself in the case of Henry and Ottis). Nevertheless as the films moves forward, Ottis becomes Henry's partner in crime and his lust for blood equals Henry. Becky, on the other side is as problematic as Henry, since both have been molested when they were kids (even though Henry was molested in a crueler way) and because of that she finds in Henry her equal and thus, falls in love with him.

This movie is not for everyone. It's dark, bleach, depressing, melancholic and has an atmosphere of evilness rarely seen in other films. Most of the violence shown on the film is shocking and some scenes are disgusting.But,don't get me wrong, it's not a cheap gore-fest either. It is superb filmed and well acted movie and what is surprisingly enough, it doesn't condemn nor support: it is just the story of a sick, twisted and sad human being, whose lust for violence and blood makes him able to cope (more or less) with a world he doesn't understand. If you get easily disturbed and sick whenever you see a scene of violence, don't watch it. But if you want to open your mind and to discover the dark side of a human mind, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT. As long as you live, you won't never forget this movie.
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"Yeah. I killed my mama."
bensonmum215 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Movies like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer really test my assertion that I base my ratings and opinions more on entertainment value than anything else. Was I entertained by Henry? Well, not if you're using the traditional definition of the word. I can't imagine that anyone would find the all too realistic handling of the subject matter "entertaining". There's a sense of real menace and violence just under the surface of every scene. Henry doesn't come across like a normal Hollywood horror movie where everything feels like fantasy and you know as soon as the lights come on it's over. The horror in Henry goes on long after the movie ends. I generally watch movies for escapist entertainment – and you won't find that here. Watching Henry and Otis go about there daily life, including the butchering of innocent, unknown victims, is like peeking into the mind of an actual serial killer. I'm not sure that's a place any of us want to be. So I can't really use the word "entertained" to describe the experience of watching Henry. But I was certainly mesmerized. It's almost cliché to say, but watching Henry is akin to watching a car wreck – it's impossible to look away.

Director John McNaughton crafted an incredible film given its almost repugnant content and miniscule budget. The low budget look, the pacing, and the almost documentary style of the film really go a long way to making Henry effective. Another plus for the film is the acting of the three main characters. Michael Rooker gets most of the acclaim, but I think Tracy Arnold and especially Tom Towles give equally strong performances. It's a nice job by three unknowns (at least unknown to many people).

So in the end, I've got to give Henry a rating of 8/10. It's a powerful, shocking, raw, brutal movie that, while often difficult to watch, is impossible to ignore or forget.
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It's the face, the portrait
Polaris_DiB12 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
If you want to see the film that most approximates the feel of snuff porn, "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" could possibly be it. Dirty, gritty, low-fi sound and image are pasted together in a sickening deluge while the camera focuses, intensely, on the face of a serial killer. As serial killers go, the eponymous Henry is a very good representation of one: he's smart, he's charismatic, and he's completely devoid of remorse.

"Henry's" plot is slim, purposefully unresolved, and mostly lingers in long takes of relative inaction. In this way, the audience is not brought along in a narrative of good vs. evil, but is forced to accompany Henry along with his actions, often times focusing more on the search for a victim then on the actual killing itself. Meanwhile, drama is given through the interactions with Otis, Henry's roommate, and Becky, Otis' sister, who has a romantic attraction to Henry. Henry's life is set to context by Otis' and Becky's long history of abuse and degradation to help reflect the world-view that he was brought up in. In this way, the movie is unrelentingly uncomfortable and focused on showing the aspect of the world that a typical escapist movie-goer is desperate to avoid. Bad sound quality and washed-out imagery enhance this effect by creating nauseous images and discordant themes, especially through the key part of the score (though admittedly most of the score is unfortunately 80s enough to now come off as rather dated and ridiculous). Also, the movie isn't always just violent on-screen, but sometimes uses sound as referent to leave many of the killings to the audience's imagination.

This movie is typically credited for questioning our cultural fascination with serial killers. I'm not sure if it can entirely be accredited to that, because part of what makes serial killers interesting to our culture is the media exposure they get, and in this movie Henry not only doesn't get noticed but takes great pains to make sure he doesn't leave a traceable mark upon his victims. Instead, the focus is so much more psychological, questioning what can drive a person to do these things and even argue logically for them. The interesting part is how open-ended the discussion becomes, via the use of the dialog where Henry tries to explain his past but includes gaping contradictions. Ultimately, the true story isn't really the point, it's the face (portrait) that matters.

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Proofs once more that low budget genre movies are often the most effective ones.
Boba_Fett11389 December 2007
For these type of serial killer movies you never need a budget worth millions of dollars to let it work out. Often a shoe-string budget work out the best for this type its movies, because it contributes to the movie its unpleasant atmosphere. You can say that in these type of movies the amateurism and simplicity all adds to the creativity and overall effectiveness of the movie. The best known example of this is the original first "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre", from 1978.

This movie is far less known and also isn't blessed with such a great title. The title of this movie somewhat sounds something like a based on true-events TV movie, without any graphic images. But don't be fooled, for "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" is filled with graphic violence and other disturbing moments.

The movie feels and breaths an '70's atmosphere. Also the overall style of the movie is very '70's like, in a gritty, dark and very straightforward type of way. It also of course helps that the movie at times uses 'home-video' movie, in which we get to see the killings/rapes from the perpetrators perspective alone.

It isn't a movie that has a true beginning or ending, in terms of having a conclusion that puts an end to things. It has instead now got one of the best possible endings thinkable, that is shocking, unexpected and satisfying even though it doesn't put a definitive end to things.

The real story of Henry Lee Lucas is even more shocking and disturbing but also a lot longer and more complicated of course. It's far too much to put in a movie and then prevent it from getting ever overlong or starts repeating itself and remain original. This movie obviously had to make some choices and even decided to not only exclude a lot but also to change and add certain elements, which all strengthens the story in this case. The story might seem very simple at first sight now but is's perhaps the very same simplicity that makes the movie so great- and let things work out in it so effectively. It makes some great choices with its story and build up, that seem simple but are all thought out and constructed cleverly.

The movie features the then still unknown Michael Rooker in one of his earliest roles. None of the actors are that impressive within this movie, which gives Michael Rooker all the more room to shine in his role. He plays a great two faced character, that can be both kind and sort of shy as well as ruthless. He does this very convincingly within the movie.

But it are the graphic killings within the movie that makes this a really watchable one. It doesn't show all the killings how they happened but only just a few, which makes the impact of them work out all the more and adds to the reason why this movie is regarded by many as one of the most shocking one's.

A great and effectively shocking movie within its genre.


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Realistic, incredible performances. Solid horror film!
spacemonkey_fg3 February 2006
Title: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Director: John McNaughton (The Borrower)

Cast: Michael Rooker, Tracy Arnold, Tom Towles

Review: There's only a handful of movies out there that you watch them and after wards you are left with this look of shock in your face. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is one of them. Based on the real life exploits of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, this films achieves a thing rare in todays horror films. It scares you.

Henry appears to be a regular guy. He works as an exterminator and lives in a little apartment in Chicago with his roommate Otis. They were both inmates in jail and now that they are both out, they decide to live in the same apartment. Things get complicated when Otis's sister Becky decides to move in with them because shes had some problems back home and because of her extreme loneliness she falls in love with Henry. Of course she doesn't know about his part time job as a vicious serial killer.

This movie really surprised me. As I watched it I couldn't help but think why the hell I had not seen this before. The reason is the film was made in 1986 and no studios were interested in it because of its graphic and realistic nature. Therefore it went straight to video in 1990. Well, it took me a while but I finally got around to watching this film and let me tell you, if you haven't seen this film and you call yourself a horror fan, well, get your ass off your couch and go and get it like right now! Its essential viewing my friends.

Now, some people might think that this film is all about gore and blood and the murders, and yes there's lots of that. But to me what really stood out were the performances. Michael Rooker does an incredible career making performance with Henry. Its strange but the way the character is portrayed he seems almost like a good guy when compared to for example his roommate Otis. Now there's a real scumbag if there ever was one, which brings me to another point about this movie. The characters are the lowest scumbags you will ever know! I mean, you don't want to meet these guys on the street. And the actor who plays Otis (Tom Towles), he really out did himself in making his character a real turd of a man. So my hats down to these two actors for doing some of the best acting I've ever seen on a horror movie. I also enjoyed Tracy Arnold playing Becky, Otis's sister. Her reactions towards some of the events rang very true, specially towards the end.

The writers of this film made sure that the tense moments were very effective. And strange thing is that some of the most tense moments have nothing to do with the actual murders being committed. I found the most tense moments were those between Otis and Henrys different personalities clashing or just the fact that you know that these two guys are certified lunatics so you know that any given situation can turn into a real bloodbath, every moment in this movie is just right there on the verge of going completely ballistic. So the intensity levels are high here thanks to some great performances and a solid script.

But whats a movie about a serial killer without some killings? Some well orchestrated murder set pieces? Well there's plenty of those in this movie since the real life Henry Lee Lucas reportedly killed hundreds of people. So right from the get go in the first scene you get a taste of Henrys work. Interesting thing is the way that the movie chooses to show you some of the killings. The director decided only to show the aftermath of the actual killing. He focuses on the corpse of the victim and then we chillingly hear how it all happened. I found this to be effectively creepy. By the way, John McNaughton the director used some really great sound effects to enhance the sequences. There's some gore here too, not everything is implied. And when things get gory...they get gory my friends. There's a scene involving a bathtub...wow. You'll see what I mean, don't wanna spoil any fun.

So, basically, this is one of those movies that makes you feel really uncomfortable as you watch it, but you just cant take your eyes off it. And at the same time you can appreciate how extremely well crafted this motion picture is. One thing is for damn sure, you wont feel like your watching the type of horror movie they make today. This is a solidly horrifying film that you wont soon forget.

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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Wholesome Family Entertainment Part 5: It's Either You or Them
Tromafreak16 December 2008
First off, If I sat here all damn day, and tried to think of an 80's horror movie that is equal to this one... well, it just wouldn't happen. Yet another fine example of a low budget bringing out the horror, within the horror. A story, with no moral, and no retribution. This is Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Michael Rooker will forever haunt your dreams as Henry, a character based on serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas. Rooker just has that cold, merciless, look about him, perfect for the part. Henry is a drifter. Calm, and soft-spoken, actually mild-mannered on the outside. Underneath, an unspeakable rage with all the fury of hell, simmering inside him, constantly searching for someone, anyone to kill, for just a little peace of mind. As he passes through Chicago, Henry hooks up with an old friend from prison.

Meet Otis Toole, played to perfection by Tom Towles, a man, who was apparently born to play the role of "deranged redneck." Otis is the epitome of white trash. Probably more capable of rape than anything, that is, until Henry gets in his head.

Becky, Otis's sister is in town for awhile, so the bachelors have a little female company, which is fine with Otis, because he's just lookin' for a little lovin'. Unfortunately for Otis, Becky is more in to Henry, I guess she prefers the quiet type. Being naive and irritating, and having stupid hair is no reason to set such low standards.

Before we know it, Henry introduces the splendor of cold-blooded murder to Otis, who is a natural. At times, during their little outings, Otis comes off even more sadistic than Henry, although lacking the intelligence needed to have a successful killing career, besides, Henry's patience is running thin with this obnoxious redneck, plus, Becky is all up in his business, so it might be a good idea to hit the road soon.

They occasionally play Henry on the Independent Film Channel. IFC would kick ass if they played less watered-down "independence" and more outrageous B-cinema, like this. I would recommend the 20th anniversary DVD, with the documentary on what actually happened. What actually happened is even more brutal than the Portrait. Like all great horror epics, there must be a sequel, which must make money. Henry 2 is just OK, which, now that I think about it, would probably qualify the sequel as one of the best horror movies of the 90's, considering the 90's, and all. No cops, no justice, no rhyme, no reason, just evil destroying innocent, then, moving on. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is some vile/dandy horror. For a better serial killer movie than Henry, check out... no, wait, this is it, seriously, it doesn't get any better than this. 10/10
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A successful horror/crime movie
James Comins8 February 2005
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, while not, as it is often described, among the most disturbing movies ever made (compare with Eraserhead, Pi, and the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), takes an approach to the biopic genre which was both novel at the time (grainy film stock, hand-held camera-work, no Hollywood plot resolution, a style echoed in Morris' The Thin Blue Line two years later), and frighteningly effective--even today, when audiences have been thoroughly exposed to Anthony Hopkins (and Brian Cox) and the psychological gore films of Se7en and Saw.

By stripping down the production and putting the viewer face to face with the empty eyes of Michael Rooker as Henry Lee Lucas, H:PoaSK makes the viewer wonder whether to sympathize with him and believe his sad story of his childhood, or see him as a killer with no hope of redemption. Furthermore, by keeping the camera close to the action, one has no choice but to feel thrust into Henry's world, and feel like an accomplice to the killings.

That said, however, there are a few significant problems with the film. Character development is wanting, with some characters--most noticeably Becky--almost a blank slate. The killings, while a few are rather novel and disturbing, get repetitive. And, as has been noted, the lack of police action or justice is glaring.

One last point, however: H:PoaSK's use of sound is nothing short of remarkable. The use of mickeymousing (which, for those unfamiliar with the term, is when an action on screen is matched by a similar sound effect: Mickey Mouse falls down the stairs, and the sound effects man slides his hand across a piano) is fairly rare in modern cinema, appearing in the occasional Bond film when a villain appears, or in the Kill Bill movies, but out of fashion, generally; however, H:PoaSK uses mickeymousing to heighten the impact of Henry's murders in a truly startling way--almost as startling as in Lynch's Eraserhead, when the Fats Waller soundtrack cuts to silence, then to an orchestral sting, then to silence. Certain scenes in H:PoaSK are worth revisiting (for those who can stomach them), just to see how well the sound works in them.

This movie is certainly not for everyone, but is, at least, a fairly powerful experience. Seven stars out of ten.
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