Henry: Serial Killer


Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Cast:  Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold
Director: John McNaughton
Nutshell: often shocking and difficult to watch but brilliantly acted and depressingly honest glimpse into the life of a serial killer.


This film is as far removed from the glamour and gloss that is associated with “Hollywood” as can possibly be.  From the onset, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer inhabits a dark and incredibly ugly world and the film begins with a montage of hideously posed corpses disposed like trash and cuts to Henry (Michael Rooker) driving around super markets with his sensors homing in on a fresh victim.

He lives with a degenerate drug dealer wastrel Otis Toole whom he had befriended during a stint in prison.  Otis’s sister comes to stay with them escaping a bad marriage and ends up falling in love with Henry who looks at her differently and more respectfully than other men.  Henry who is of course based on the real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas was treated horrifically as a child by his mother and her various men friends and endured unimaginable abuse growing up until one day he snapped and murdered his mother and from then on, killing became a pleasure and a compulsion.

Henry starts to trust Otis enough to mold his as an accomplice and together they prowl the highways around Chicago looking for a kill or two.  They get hold of a camcorder and film some of their most depraved and sadistic slaughters and then replayed them time and again at home, enjoying every lurid and sickening moment.

The toxic relationship between the three and Henry’s relentless drive to kill without any reason other than to kill seems to be working because of Henry’s instinct as a survivor.  He may not know how to read but his instincts as a killer are fully honed to perfection.  He knows exactly what to do and how and what to avoid and how not to get caught.  One-night Otis’s sister makes romantic and sexual advances towards Henry and he is unable to cope with the situation and has to escape by making some excuse.

Things follow their grisly path to its depressing conclusion leaving the viewer exhausted and shaken.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is as potent a film about the subject as any and manages to shed light on a psychotic mind without having to resort to explanations.  The film manages to be highly disturbing due to how real and authentic depiction of events and characters and then Rooker’s performance is a standout.  It’s a stunning and disturbing film that is often very difficult to watch and though compelling, it is not made for a pleasant evenings entertainment.  Highly potent film-making by John McNaughton, a seasoned hand at the outstanding Baltimore based “Homicide” detective series.