In my recent review of Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm, I made mention of the fact that I couldn’t quite comprehend what all of the fuss over the film was really about. By the end of my second viewing, I had more of a grasp on it, but still wasn’t quite there. Another film that had the same effect on me upon my first viewing was John McNaughton’s 1986 film, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. This second viewing, however, has gone very differently.
Loosely based on real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, Henry depicts the progressively disturbing behavior of a murderer; Things are bad enough as Henry (Michael Rooker, Guardians of the Galaxy, TV’s The Walking Dead) leaves bodies in his wake, everywhere he goes. Things get even worse, however, once he gets his roommate, Otis (Tom Towles, House of 1000 Corpses), involved in the killing.
My first experience with Henry was probably about ten years ago. I remember being quite underwhelmed by what I had watched and I’m sure I quickly moved on to my next horror movie for the day. Fast forward a decade and my experience this time is much much different. This film is eerie and gritty, it is well written and highly effective at creeping the hell out of its viewers.
Featuring a tiny cast of only three focal characters, Henry remains intimate and personal for its entire [rather short] 83 minute runtime. Anyone who has seen Michael Rooker in his other work knows that he isn’t the greatest actor of all time, but he is always effective in the roles he does play. His portrayal of Henry is no different. He flips between ruthless killer and gentleman flawlessly, and it’s awe-inspiring to watch, as it unfolds. Tom Towles as his perverted roommate, Otis, also does wonderfully, all the way up until he meets his inevitable demise. Lastly, but certainly not least, is Tracy Arnold as the innocent and curious, love-stricken Becky. All three actors worked beautifully together, making the film’s somewhat sluggish pacing seem like it passed by at lightning-fast speeds.
For horror fans who may have missed out on the film’s initial release in the late 80’s or perhaps didn’t get the chance to rent the film on VHS growing up, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer may not be anything to write home about. I mean, in a day and age where films like A Serbian Film or AtroZ are being released, how can anything like this be considered ‘too explicit.’ With that said, I still have a firm belief that this film holds up rather well, even compared to the flicks I just mentioned.
Thirty years have passed and Henry is still as gritty and shocking as ever before. I must have been a real jerk or some kind of horror snob when I was younger because this time around, I absolutely loved everything about it. The kill scenes are amazingly realistic, the acting is superb on all accounts, the score is eerily effective, and the script itself is ahead of its time.
Whether you are a new fan of the genre or are a hardcore horror head from back in the day, you need to not only watch this film [again], but you also need to own it in your collection. For its 30th anniversary, Dark Sky Films has done a marvelous job bringing the fans a brand new home release of the film on Blu-ray. It is packed with a ton of bonus content, including behind the scenes glimpses at the making of the film, a short featurette on the filmmakers’ battle with the MPAA ratings board, and interviews taking a look at the impact the film has had on the horror genre, even today. In addition to all of that, the release has reversible sleeve artwork and a booklet containing a retrospective look at the film by author, musician, and film historian Stephen Thrower.
I highly recommend this one and give it a deserved 4.5 $50 black and white television sets out of 5.