Friday, November 15, 2013

824. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990)

Running Time: 83 minutes
Directed By: John McNaughton
Written By: Richard Fire, John McNaughton
Main Cast: Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold, Mary Demas, Kristin Finger
Click here to view the trailer


After this one, there are eighteen movies left for me to watch from the decade of the 90s (not counting a handful I tucked away for finale time). So expect me to jump around throughout those eighteen, as I reserve the right to jump around randomly. Anyway, today I took a sick day from work, because I toughed it out earlier in the week and because I still wasn't feeling up to snuff. With my wife at work, I curled up under a warm blanket, inside my warm bed and watched a not so warm movie.

"Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" uses the story of real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas as a blueprint and casts Michael Rooker to perfection in the title role, telling the story of a man who uses murder as a means of getting off and letting off steam. The film begins with a dead woman lying in a field, her body beaten and bloodied - surely the work of Henry,  our title villain. The film plays like a real life horror movie, following a mild mannered, seemingly normal Henry in the day and showing us the monster that is unleashed during the night. The film picks up when Henry's roommate, and later accomplice, Otis invites his sister to stay with them for a little while. Her name is Becky and for some reason she is fascinated with Henry and the story of why he was incarcerated - for supposedly killing his mother, because she molested him and forced him to watch her have sex. Becky is as normal as they come and she thinks Henry is too, but little does she know is that Henry is a monster. Later, Henry takes Otis under his wing and shows him how to be a successful serial killer: never killing anyone using the same method, never having a motive, etc. After a while, the two come into possession of a video camera and begin filming their murders and watching them later.


Boy, I gotta' tell you, watching this after watching a handful of foreign films probably wasn't a good idea. For starters, I really liked this and because I really liked it, I kind of felt like a miscreant. I mean, the film really scrapes the bottom of the barrel, both in subject material and in production values and is probably the polar opposite of the beauty that Kieslowski and his cameraman were able to capture. Of course, the subject matter that we're dealing with shouldn't be told in the same way that Kieslowski's subjects should be, so I guess making a comparison between the two is unfair. With "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" we're talking about a film that had a $110,000 budget and inexperienced actors. I'm always fascinated by films with small budgets, the kinds of movies that turn chump change into a real life, moving picture - it's amazing. The acing, in my opinion, isn't that great - but again, the bad acting almost lends itself to the deplorable storyline and it all seems to make some sort of odd sense.

What you have to do is realize that this is a horror film. It can be viewed in the same vein as "Night of the Living Dead" or "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", in that it's gritty and ugly, but that it needs to be both of those things in order to be genuine. The film is disturbing too (in places), as we're taken inside the home of a family, during a home invasion and watch as they're murdered, in cold blood. Add to that the fact that Otis, after the fact, takes it upon himself to attempt some necrophilia. We also deal with incest in this very scummy, grimy, ugly picture that really makes your skin crawl and makes you feel like you need a shower when you're done with it. There's also a sequel to this, released in 1996, but no Rooker means no buys for this movie goer.

RATING: 7.5/10  Really good stuff, but watch don't watch it amongst a bunch of beautiful French films; it's like drinking orange juice right after you've brushed your teeth.

PS. I have no clue why THE BOOK lists this as released in 1990, as all other sources have it being released in 1986. They apparently really messed this one up....


November 15, 2013  5:38pm


  1. I've never actually had the guts to watch this. Just reading about Henry Lee Lucas and Otis is disturbing. I don't doubt that Michael Rooker was awesome though. He plays a good baddie. Great review!

  2. Oh Rooker is great Brittani. And really, if you can handle Kill Bill and certain horror flicks, then this one is fine. I don't think it's quite as bad as people make it out to be and certainly worth your time.

  3. Sorry Andrew, It was an effort to get through this.. and for polar opposit reasons i struggled to get through ''Farewell my Concubine'

  4. There are some films that you watch and when it ends you know that you can never watch it again. HENRY is one of those. It's not because the film was bad or that I was not fascinated by it, but it was so intense and disturbing that I don't think I could sit through it knowing some of the things that were going to happen.

    Part of that is the fact that it is so 'real' and the actors so natural in their roles. It has an almost documentary feel to it that draws you in while it repells you.

    I'd certainly recommend the movie and have, but be certain to warn folks that if they are just looking for horror and scares they should stick to a Freddy Kruger movie. This is much more. Good review!

    1. Agree on all counts Steve. Although, I will say I could see myself rewatching this, but definitely see your points on the documentary-esque feel.


  5. What makes this one so scary for me was that it felt more real than your average horror movie. I don't normally like the horror genre because most of the stories are just too fantastic - it's too easy for me to say to myself, "This isn't real," then I can't empathize with the characters. But the gritty, blue-collar vibe of this film was able to pull me in and get me thinking how this could really happen. I was not surprised to learn that this was based on true events.

    1. Neither was I surprised to learn that this was based on real stuff. See, now I kinda dig horror (especially a lot more than I used to) - to me, it's the ultimate genre for maximum escapism.


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