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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Day 208: Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer

Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer
Wait, this isn't the Hank Aaron story

The United States has a long history of serial killers. From Son of Sam, to the Zodiac killer, to The BTK Killer, all have cut a bloody swath in their time, terrorizing the masses and sparking intense interest in what makes them do what they do. They have also been the basis for countless horror movies such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween. What is it about serial killers that fits so well in horror movies? Perhaps it is because they can be anyone, like a co-worker or a neighbor. Unlike monsters, serial killers look like you and me. Horror movies use this to their advantage and are able to craft scary, realistic movies that other subgenres of horror cannot.

Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer is a 1986 horror movie starring Michael Rooker (Slither, Mallrats) as Henry. The film begins with various scenes of dead woman, who have been brutally murdered, interspersed with shots of Henry going about his daily life. Becky (Tracy Arnold) has just left her husband and has come to Chicago to stay with her ex-convict brother, Otis (Tom Towles, The Rock, Night Of The Living Dead), who lives with Henry. Becky becomes close with Henry, who confides in her that he killed his prostitute mother when he was young. Becky tells him that her father would rape her when she was a young girl. Becky finds work the next day at a salon and starts raising money in hopes of bringing her child out to Chicago and finding her own place. That night, Henry and Otis pick up two prostitutes. Unable to control himself, Henry kills both women. Unfased, Otis joins Henry in his murders, even bringing a video camera along to tape their acts of depravity to watch them later. Becky informs Henry that she quit her job and is leaving to return home. She tries to seduce him, but he rebuffs her advances. A drunken Otis enters and an embarrassed Henry leaves. Despite being her brother, Otis advances on Becky and rapes her. Henry returns, catching Otis in the act and murders him. What will happen to Henry and Becky?

What a happy, deranged family

Based in part on the life of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, the movie is a vicious and often times brutal look at the serial killer. Based on a gritty 1980's Chicago backdrop, Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer can most accurately be compared to the movie Maniac. The opening scene, is very powerful, where we see Henry's victims while sounds of their murders play in the background. It is a hauntingly effective idea that surprisingly is not used more. The story itself is very basic and to the point by establishing characters just enough to keep the plot moving. The movie focuses more on the sick depravity of Henry and Otis's murders which do become uncomfortable at times, but that is the entire point. The audience wants to stop these two evil men, but are forced to watch and endure. The movie does make the distinction between Henry, who kills, but has some sense of morals, and Otis who is a depraved deviant. It is a strange feeling to be cheering for Henry at the end, knowing what he has done and what he is capable of. It's like cheering for Tony Soprano.

Michael Rooker's performance really makes Henry work. He is the right amounts of distant, awkward, and vicious. Apparently he stayed in character the entire time during the movie and made some crew members feel incredibly uneasy. Tom Towles is very good as Otis combining murderous glee with sick depravity. The movie was made on a shoe-string budget, but it works to the film's advantage as it is dark, grimy, and simple. The movie is difficult to watch at certain points similarly to The Last House On The Left. I felt uneasy at times, especially knowing that there would be no resolution or true hero to put an end to the chaos. It's this fact that makes the movie all the more real and all the more depressing. 

Just another day at the murder office

Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer is a realistic view into the mind of deranged killers. There is a large amount of blood and violence and is difficult to watch. This certainly should not be considered a “date movie” by any stretch of the imagination. It is sick, dirty, and harsh. Michael Rooker and Tom Towles are both very convincing in their roles and the movie would not be what it is without their performances. If you like your horror “real” you'll probably enjoy Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer.


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