Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

We’re well into the 1980s with the 101 Horror Movies list, and Michael Rooker takes center stage as a psychopathic killer named Henry, based on murderer Henry Lucas Lee.

I found this one fairly easy to get through in all honesty, I find the human monsters in horror movies somewhat easier to deal with than the supernatural ones, they tend to get under my skin.

Rooker turns in a fantastic performance as Henry, a killer who follows his instincts as opposed to his smarts. He acts on impulse, but is wise enough to use different methods each time he kills someone. Still, most of the time, he sticks to killing women, something which is directly influenced by his childhood, and of course his mother, who he admits to having killed, though his description of how he killed her changes constantly.

I loved the opening sequence, intercutting scenes of Henry’s murders, with the bodies sprawled and bloody, with Henry just going about what looks like a basic daily routine, establishing for the viewer Henry’s existence.

Henry is living with Otis (Tom Towles), a fellow ex-con, who’s working in a gas station and eking out a living. He knows Henry has a past but doesn’t realize how bad it is, until the apple cart is upset with the arrival of Otis’ sister Becky (Tracy Arnold).

Becky is leaving behind one bad relationship, and seems to be stumbling right towards another, as it’s readily apparent that she’s falling for Henry.

We learn from Becky that her father used to abuse her sexually, and it seems that he may have taught Otis the same thing, because he tries to pull Becky into a kiss before Henry stops him.

That same evening, Henry shows Otis what he’s really about, and toys with the idea of taking him on as an apprentice.

The murders that follow are brutal, violent, bloody, and incredibly quick.

And you can see that this isn’t going to end well for anyone…

Directed by John McNaughton, who also co-wrote it with Richard Fire, the film almost feels like a documentary, taking us inside their lives, observing them, while not necessarily understanding them, watching their actions and leaving the viewer to make judgments.

Rooker is nothing short of amazing in this film, as he realizes that Becky has feelings for him, you can see how conflicted he becomes, best shown after their initial kiss which Otis is taping with a cumbersome video camera. Henry drops to a seat on the couch, and as Becky perches on the arm of the couch, he moves a little further along the couch to put some distance between them.

Henry and Otis hunt and kill together, Henry guiding him, sharing what he himself has learned. When Becky comes between them, as Otis, once again unable to restrain his carnal needs, rapes her, things spiral completely out of control, as Becky realizes Henry truly is a killer.

It’s a fascinating story, fantastically made, though with some of the violence, it may not be for everyone, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for any younger viewers ever.

And while it may not be my favourite film about a serial killer (did I really just type that sentence?), which would be The Silence of the Lambs, followed closely by Halloween, it’s an impressive film, made the more insidious because like with other tales of evil, you don’t get a real back story on the character, they simply are what they are.


Have you seen it? What did you think?

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