Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Welcome back to another Mr. Pat's 31 Days of Halloween! I couldn't properly introduce you in my first video because of Hurricane Ian. I had to stay at the station and I didn't know if I'd have power when I got home. So hello! Now, I'm not a fan of the serial killer genre, it's not my thing. I don't watch all the Netflix documentaries, I prefer my serial killers to wear hockey masks. But there was one I kept hearing about that was called "The most controversial movie of all time." So let's discuss...
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
The 345th review
The movie is semi-based off the exploits of a real serial killer named Henry Lee Lucas. When he was arrested Henry said he murdered more than 600 people from 1975-1983, saying it was about a person a week. But the vast majority of those claims were a lie. Police, desperate to get some cold cases knocked off their files, would offer him better conditions if he confessed and Henry, thinking it was a good deal, complied. With each "confession" his fame would grow. He was eventually convicted of 11 murders, well short of the 600 he claimed.
One thing this movie has going for it is that it's very unique. I've seen so many slashers and despite this coming out in the 80's and despite all the fanfare it gets, there isn't a movie like it. For one, it's EXTREMELY low budget and it's one of the better aspects of the movie. It opens very effectively showing bodies long after Henry had killed and dumped them. You don't see the act of how they died, but as the camera pans through the remains, you hear the struggle and screams right before they die. It's a really chilling open that is made better and somehow more disturbing without seeing the violence.
Henry is played wonderfully by Michael Rooker from Guardians of the Galaxy, "The Walking Dead" or as I know him, from Cliffhanger. Henry is a drifter that lives with an old prison friend named Otis. Things get complicated when Otis' sister Becky comes to live with them and she develops feelings for the man at the same time Otis gleefully joins in on Henry's murders. That's the movie in a nutshell. A lot of serial killer movies like American Psycho, Natural Born Killers or Devil's Rejects revel in the bloody violence, but this one is more subdued and a lot more disturbing because of it. There's a scene I can't get out of my head that's so unbelievably sad. Otis and Henry are filming the murder of a husband and wife when their son comes home. Henry drops the camera and the son and Henry fight. While they're rolling around on the ground, Henry eventually kills him right in front of his helpless mother and it really messes you up. Then the camera pulls out and you realize Henry and Otis are actually watching the murder from their couch.
While they're both working together, the two men are very different about how they go about it. Henry is quiet and contemplative. Murder is just who he is and what he does. He even casually discusses how he's been able to get away with it for so long while eating a burger. He gives tips and how he manages to evade police as casually as reading a grocery list. Otis on the other hand takes joy and satisfaction in what they're doing. Henry also has... I guess... some type of moral code. He detests sexual violence and he and Otis eventually dissolve their partnership over it.
This movie doesn't get talked about much, but it's really good. Michael Rooker is great because you watch him and every single interaction he has with a person you wonder if that's going to be the latest victim. Even the most mundane interactions can turn deadly and some of them are wonderfully tense. Another thing I noticed that I really liked, there isn't a single policeman in this movie. It takes place in Chicago and without any appearances of authority figures it takes away the safety blanket the audience has. Henry operates with impunity because there's no one to stop him and it adds to the unease of the movie.
Then there's the ending. It's just sad for everyone involved in a way I didn't think was possible. I don't want to get too deep into it, but you can see it coming from the beginning. Still, it's a gut punch to see play out. It was seemingly the last chance and one character just can't change who they are. As for the other, maybe it was for the best, but it's still sad and probably the best way the movie could have ended.
It's not the ultra disturbing schlock I've seen it described as, but it's not an easy watch. Outside of the murders, Otis is just a nasty character. He takes part in necrophilia, incest and rape, all of those putting him at odds with Henry. I would never recommend this movie to a casual fan of horror but for those who watch everything, this may be something to consider. What's truly frightening about this movie is that Henry and Otis feel like real people that you could pass by in the street one day and not think anything about it until they follow you home. Rooker especially gives such an understatedly chilling performance as Henry.
One last thing; this movie has one of the best lines I've heard in a film in quite awhile. Overwhelmed that Becky started kissing him and Otis walking in on them, Henry goes to buy some cigarettes. Being that this movie takes place in Chicago, the store clerk asks him, "How about those Bears?"
To which Henry replies, "Fuck the Bears."
Well said Henry.