Henry: Portrait Of A Movie Review

So, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is loosely based on the crimes of Henry Lee Lucas, convicted serial killer, once said to be America’s most prolific. I say loosely not just because some story elements were changed for dramatic purposes, but because many people challenged Lucas’ confessions. There isn’t a lot of evidence to implicate him in the crimes, so he might have made most of them up. It’s like a bizzaro true story were the facts are changed but the names remain to incriminate the guilty.

Henry, played by the always great Michael Rooker, is a drifter. He spends time driving and working low-paying jobs. But he’s a little different than your ordinary drifter. Shots of murdered women are intercut with Henry’s menial activities, implying that murder may be his hobby. Henry finds his way to Chicago, where he meets up with his old prison chum Otis (Tom Towles). You see, they have a lot in common- both imprisoned for murder, Henry for his mom and Otis for some poor schmo during a robbery. Without any place special to be, Henry decides to move in with Otis. And soon after that Otis’ sister Becky (Tracy Arnold) moves in, too. Henry and Becky soon hit it off, bonding over stories of their childhood abuse.

Not long after, Henry and Otis pick up a couple hookers and go parking. For no reason, Henry kills the hookers and dumps them in an alley. Otis wasn’t exactly an accomplice, but he did try to keep his pro from yelling, and he’s not quite sure what to think about participating in murder as recreation. Henry eases his mind and the two start to escalate the violence.

After Otis kicks the TV in, which he has to have, he and Henry go to the local fence to get a new set. Unfortunately for him, the fence is a prick and Henry and Otis kill him by stabbing him with a soldering iron and smashing a TV over his head. They take a TV and a video camera on their way out. The new kick becomes video taping their murders and watching the tapes at home, on the couch, the way non-sociopaths would watch a movie. Otis is enthralled and obsessively watches his favorite parts in slow motion. The two become more prolific, as Henry indoctrinates Otis with his murderous practices, like staying on the move and using different methods of execution so as not to develop a signature.

But like all good things, Henry and Otis’ relationship must come to an end. When Otis belligerently interrupts Henry and Becky as they are about to consummate their relationship, Henry goes out to get some smokes. He comes back to find Otis raping Becky. A fight ensues and Becky stabs Otis in the eye with a comb handle. He’s screaming and fussing so much that Henry has to kill him. He chops up the body and they toss the parts off a bridge. Like all smart serial killers, Henry sees it’s time to be moving on, so they head for California. One morning Henry packs up the car and leaves the motel, apparently without Becky. He pulls the car to the side of the road and sets a bloody suitcase in the ditch. He and Becky might have gotten close, but geesh, he is a serial killer after all.

The movie was originally set to come out in 1986, but the MPAA wouldn’t award it anything other than an X rating, even if edits were made for the sex and violence. It was finally released unrated in 1989.

It’s an extremely effective movie in accomplishing what it set out to do- give a portrait of serial killer. It feels like a documentary at times, focusing almost exclusively on the viewpoint of one of the three main characters. The story is presented from a agnostic point of view where the actions are neither justified or vilified, they just are, which is probably why the movie has such an ability to disturb viewers.

It’s quite an accomplishment, seeing as this was one of the first movies for all involved. If you can stomach it, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is well worth seeing. It gives an uncompromising peak into a world few know- that of a killer with no empathy or remorse.

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