Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer Reviews
Girl: I was raped by my father and recently came out of another bad relationship
Guy: That's cool, My mother beat me and made me watch her whore out to other men, then I killed her and now I'm a serial killer...
Girl: we have such a connection!
This was when I stopped watching.
Rated NC-17 and exploitative as fuck, it has a world view of chaos and unimaginable darkness. Throughout the movie, the audience doesn't see the attacks, but we hear the echos of them as the camera slowly zooms in on the still silence of the most recent victim. This is ultimately more haunting than a stylized action scene. We see the emptiness of humanity with each kill and it is borderline pornographic. To worsen the effect, we spend so much time with Henry and within his life, that one could potentially develop a sympathy for the monster. That notion reminded me of Peeping Tom. The film is as casual with violence as it is with the friendly conversations Henry has with his roommate Otis & Otis' sister, Tracy. Each of these characters has a background of sexual abuse but it's more alluded to than shown, thus leaving the viewer to dwell on the dark connection between lust and murder.
This movie offers no hint of a police investigation or justice for Henry's crimes. It's simply a showcase for the mundanity of evil. For the first time in my adult life I could almost agree with the censors on the excess of depravity. This is a valuable movie from a critical perspective, but after watching this you can see why some would want to ban it in hopes that it won't inspire future sociopaths.
Watch only if you have the stomach for this level of unyielding graphic violence. If you can handle the first 5 minutes, congratulations and "enjoy" the remaining 78.
This film certainly begins with all the requisite imagery - a bloody, nude girl in a field, and lots of other post-trauma results of the killer's handiwork. At the outset, I found some of the dialog clunky, and the characters (aside from Henry) seemed to be overly exaggerated. What does work well is avoiding showing the brutality that occurred during his killings. Instead, we are shown the results, with voice overs and sound effects filling in the gaps. As the film progresses and introduces us to the heavily flawed characters in Henry's life, we begin to see that the actors are struggling their best to deal with the awkward script. To be fair, I decided not to first research the life of Henry Lee Lucas, upon whom this film was based, because I wanted to take it in without any preconceived notions about the facts. This was a good decision, because the film is really only loosely based on reality.
A bond between Henry and Becky, the sister of his male roommate (Otis) is introduced early on, primarily based on the abusive treatment each of them received during their childhoods. Becky has moved in temporarily to get away from her loser husband, but had to leave their daughter with her maternal grandmother. The film goes to a different place when Otis is reprimanded by Henry for acting inappropriately towards Becky. She gamely offers to cleanup while they go out together and get a beer. Instead, they pick up two prostitutes, and during sex in their car, Henry kills first his chosen lady, and then Otis' when she screams. Following the murders, which leave Otis shell-shocked, to say the least, there are actual moments of dark humor as they share takeout food and coffee. Otis begins to realize the depths of Henry's psychopathology first-hand. A visit to get a new television set turns into the first murder that Henry and Otis commit together, with Otis actually beginning to enjoy the proceedings. They end up also with a camcorder. With this, they film a brief bit of footage of horsing around and dancing, but it ends when Henry withdraws, obviously uncomfortable with being kissed by Becky, and by Otis' relentless "direction" of "more, more, more!"
Otis, currently on parole, works part time at a gas station, but makes side money by selling pot. One particular customer, a high school jock, learns that Otis has sexual designs upon him during a sale, and brutally punches him in the face. This results in Otis telling Henry that he wants to kill the boy, or at least kill someone. Henry responds with, "Let's me and you go for a ride, Otis." Henry has a gun, and they soon pretend their car is broken down, flag down another driver, and Otis shoots him to death. Henry asks him if he feels better, and laughing, he says yes. Henry becomes the teacher and Otis the pupil. Their "studies" include learning not to fall into any identifiable patterns, so as to keep the police at a loss and unable to connect their killings. The camcorder becomes part of their adventures, including the assault and murder of three members of one family in their home.
Becky talks to her mother and daughter Lurleen on the phone and finds out that the girl's father is in jail on a murder charge, though the little girl believes he joined the Army. Becky misses Lurleen badly, and vice versa. Meanwhile, the killers' camcorder gets broken while Otis is filming attractive women out the window of the car as Henry drives. Becky tells Henry she has decided to go back home to her daughter. She asks Henry if he would like to go with her. He needs time to think, and then asks Becky out to dinner. When they return, Henry finds Otis passed out drunk with the murder videotapes playing, slowed down to frame by frame. Quickly shutting off the television so that Becky won't see, he is surprised when she attempts to seduce him. Otis hears them and awakes, asking if he is interrupting anything. Henry leaves in a hurry, apparently in utter confusion.
On his return, he find Otis raping Becky, and attacks him. Otis manages to smash Henry in the head with a wine bottle, and Becky retaliates by stabbing Otis in the eye with the handle of a metal comb. The dazed Henry then finishes Otis off with multiple stabbings. Henry dismembers Otis in the tub. He and Becky get the body parts out of the apartment, inside plastic bags within suitcases. These they dump off a bridge into the river. As they drive and discuss their options, Becky tells Henry she loves him, and responds with "I guess I love you, too." They find a motel for the night.
The next morning, Henry leaves alone. He soon pulls over on the side of the road, pops open the trunk, and with some resignation begins to remove a large suitcase that obviously contains the dismembered parts of Becky. Henry drives off alone.
Ultimately, the film comes off much better as it proceeds, delivering on the icy coldness of Henry, whose complete ability to love or be loved has been taken away. Writer/director John McNaughton's still photography background definitely paid off in the way he composed his film. The low budget and 28 consecutive day shooting schedule were well rewarded in the film's box office. Many others have criticized this film as having no moral compass since it does not take the protagonists to task for their evil, but I believe that it actually presents reprehensible violence in an in-your-face, realistic way, which is the way that it is committed in real life. It was initially given an "X" rating, though the rating system was changed (partially as a result of this picture), and it was redesignated as "unrated" for the video market, but today is considered an "NC-17" release. So, to sum up, it is not a perfect film, but definitely an impacting, unforgettable, and disturbingly successful one.
I'd recommend this to any fan of the horror genre.
Henry is an eccentric man that has developed a friendship with Otis and his niece, Becky. Otis isn't too bright and is looking for direction and falls in nicely with Henry, a serial killer. Becky is unaware of their behavior and is trying to save up money to eventually get her daughter back. Otis and Henry go on a killing spree until Henry and Becky begin to fall in love. Otis may not take too kindly to that and his relationship with Henry starts to go astray.
"What was your daddy like?"
"He used to drive a truck until his legs got cut off."
John McNaughton, director of Wild Things, Mad Dog and Glory, Speaking of Sex, The Harvest, and Expert Whiteness, delivers Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The storyline for this is as good as any of the classics and in line with Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the great feel and authenticity on display throughout the film. The kill sequences are wonderful and the characters are believable and developed perfectly. The acting was better than I anticipated and includes Michael Rooker (easily his best film), Tom Towles, and Tracy Arnold.
"My mama was a whore. I don't fault her for that. It's not what she done but how she done it."
I had heard about this film for years and finally got around to watching it off Netflix. This is a masterpiece and definitely belongs in my classic horror DVD collection (beside Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist). The film has the perfect grit, pace, and run time and the conclusion is unbelievably well written (though all historically incorrect). I thoroughly enjoyed this film and will likely add this to my DVD collection.
"Where you going?"
"Nowhere. Want to come?"