Henry: Portrait Of The Way Horror Should Be


The Plot:

Most people want money. All psychos just want to have fun. When serial killer Henry Lee Lucas crashes on the couch of his buddy Otis, things seem normal enough. Even Otis’ sister Becky stops by for a little shelter. But when a chance occurrence shows Henry’s true crazy colors, his soon to be psycho wannabe side kick Otis can’t get enough of the thrill to kill. As the body count rises, the police are in desperate need or the whole city’s citizens will be wearing a toe tag. Welcome to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Don’t do that Otis. She your sister.- Henry Lee Lucas

The Review:

I love the kind of horror that chills you to the core. While it’s true I love at least one title in every genre of horror, I really love the films that you aren’t sure if they are even real films at all. It’s as if the footage was somehow real, regardless if you know deep down its fiction. So when fourteen year old Joey found a copy of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, my eyes were forever altered; my brain changed. So let’s all sharpen those knifes, get rid of the evidence, and rage on the fugitive fight as I review John McNaughton’s 1986 cult classic Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

The Direction:

John McNaughton directs Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer with vision and purpose. McNaughton, who also directed 1993’s Mad Dog and Glory and the popular 1998 thriller Wild Things, was really in the zone when helming this psychotically sick story of man meets bone. Edited to a tight, quickly paced eighty-three minuets, McHaughton crafts a film that is strikingly realistic and beautifully disturbing. The film is greatly directed for what the filmmaker was trying to achieve, but not in the same celluloid sense that I would usually considered good film making. In fact, it’s hard to consider the piece a film really at all; that’s the bloody point.

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While the film isn’t concerned with composition or camera movements, the picture is concerned with chilling you to the core and forcing you to dust of that old night light by way of documentary style realism. That’s not to say there isn’t any good camera work. The film opens with a rotating shot, stylistically rotating to expose one of Henry’s many victims. I loved this shot, and it works most because it’s the first shot we see. Had this shot been showcased in the middle of the picture, it would have reminded us we were watching a film and not witnessing the horrors of something we aren’t sure is actually happen. I suspect that was McNaughton’s intend. Bounce pass. Swish. Nothing but the bloody net good filmmaker.

Seriously, I forgot I was watching a film for a few moments while witnessing the story of the darker parts of humanity named Henry Lee Lucas. Though Michael Rooker is one of my all time favorite actors, I kept thinking that this killer looks a lot like the Days of Thunder actor. The reason being that the film is so brutally realistic. Each kill isn’t stylized, but hauntingly bleak. Every swipe of the blade grabs us. Every last breathe forcing us to take ours quicker. The climax of the film is one of the most shocking moments in the history of horror cinema, and I love it.

The Acting:

The acting in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is like biscuit and gravy on a Sunday afternoon; this stuff is too good. Let’s discuss the best biscuit of all, that being star Michael Rooker.

Rooker, who has been in everything from James Gunn’s 2014 masterpiece Guardians of the Galaxy to Renny Harlin’s 1993 thriller Cliffhanger, is really bring the stuff here with his portrayal of Henry Lee Lucas. He’s so good in the skin of the soulless killer that I wouldn’t be a shock to learn he did a little killing himself to get ready for the role. Gotta love the method actors. I was chilled to the core. He’s especially good in the film’s climax, masterfully handing the dialog and emotions like a mad thespian juggler going for the jugular. Merle Dixon fans will be pleased.

Then there is Tom Towles, who plays the helplessly lonely Otis. His work here is great, which is sad because most wouldn’t know him from a store clerk at your local Wal-Mart. Towles, who turned in great work in Tom Savini’s vastly underrated 1990 remake Night of the Living Dead and Rob Zombie’s 2003 break out pic House of 1000 Corpses, really shows why he choose this profession. His scenes with Rooker’s Henry are amazing and often it’s hard to not believe this isn’t actually Otis. What’s more striking is the depths of what the role demanded. I won’t go into detail, but it rhymes with grape.

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Lastly, there is Tracy Arnold. Playing the ever oblivious Becky, Arnold brings innocence to role that helps the overall narrative realistically push on. While she isn’t the best actress, she only been in a handful of productions, her naïve nature helps for playing a woman that is blissfully unaware of her surroundings. I welcomed her take with milk, cookies, and tasteful satisfaction

The Script:

Director McNaughton’s script, along with co-writer Richard Fire, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer‘s  reads like the graffiti on a bathroom stall at a crappy, should have been torn down years ago, hole in the wall bar. That’s a compliment Deadites. The dialog, which is only enhanced by the excellent performances, is beyond white trash. That’s the point though. Some are stupid; others are stupidly crazy. The script’s main theme, the only blaring one that just jumped out, was the darkness of humanity. How sometimes, some get so dark, it’s hard to call them human at all.

Henry is a remorseless psychopath. He needs to kill and seemingly sees humans worth only an object to fall at his hand. Otis, and to a lesser extent his sister, are unintelligent. When Otis begins getting in the Henry business, you know the one of the killing kind, he seems to less need the thrill of the kill and more simply doesn’t know any better. Quite possibly, he wants to fit in with old Henry as well. There’s a blaring difference here and one that could end up costing Otis more than just a broken camera.

Speaking of that theme of that lightless tunnel of inhuman nature, Director McNaugton doesn’t shed away from the topic. There are a lot of shots of victims we have never been introduced to. The screenwriters never wanted this to be a story of the misunderstood murderer, but a reminder that even on a sunny day a darkness looms in some. It must have a place to go. The polarizing end shows just that. You go Henry.

The Verdict:

John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is real horror. You won’t soon sleep with all the lights off, and just like Men’s Warehouse, I guarantee it. While the film isn’t much versed in cinematic language, the narratives minimalistic approach helps the proceeding. It’s beautifully brutal and the perfect film for anyone with the horror blues.

The Grade: B+

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