Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) by Matt Wavish

Directed by:
Written by: ,
Starring: , ,

Technically, this was released in 1986, however, was very quickly banned. It was then re-released in the early 90’s, obviously cut, and then eventually in 2003(ish) it was released apparently uncut. So, it deserves a place both in the 80’s and 90’s list. Henry tells the true story of American serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. The majority of the film is based on fact, with some obvious extra bits thrown in to make it more dramatic. Henry is one cold bastard who literally prowls the streets looking for victims, and eventually his friend Otis joins in the fun. Whereas Henry is cold and calculated, and very very chilling, Otis is more of a loose cannon. Henry, in the nicest way possible, NEEDS to kill, Otis, on the other hand, has far too much enjoyment.

Otis’ sister, Becky, comes to join them after running up debts and being kicked out of home, and Henry grows fond of her, leading to tension to mount between Henry and Otis. Michael Rooker plays Henry, and he has never, ever been better! Michael Rooker IS Henry, and he is absolutely terrifying. The film starts, in the same way it finishes, it shows  a body, the camera slowly reveals the dead girl in the bushes whilst in the background, over the haunting score, you hear the sounds of the girl being murdered. You don’t actually see it happen, you just hear it, so your imagination will piece together how she came to be in such a state, and that’s the power of this film to begin with, it doesn’t show you too much. Within a minute or so, we see Henry walk into a cafe, and then another body and screaming sounds, and there’s a few more. This is our introduction to Henry, and it’s plain to see he is seriously fucked up, and wanders around with no remorse whatsoever. He is, quite simply, a killing machine. No other serial killer film has got under my skin like this one, and no other serial killer film has portrayed a killer quite like this film does.

When Henry speaks, he sounds like a normal guy, genuine, softly spoken, not aggressive at all. In a conversation with Becky, he talks about his past, and how his Mum would dress him up like a girl and beat him. It’s a cold insight into what made him into a monster, and it’s very close to what really happened to the real Henry. The conversation is one of those that have you on the edge of your seat. At the end, he admits he “killed his mamma”. The fact he gets confused, in the same conversation, as to how he did it is downright unsettling. He has killed so many, he can’t even remember how he did it, first he shot her, and then he killed her with a baseball bat. Michael Rooker plays this part inch perfect.

There are occasions where Henry does kill on screen, and its convincing, and brutal and scary as hell. You know what this guy is capable of, and to actually see him do it is frightening. One of the most unnerving is where he casually kills two hookers, snaps their necks like a chicken and throws them out of the car, and then gets something to eat like nothing ever happened. Otis is with him, and Henry lectures him on how not to get caught “you can use a gun, just don’t use the same gun twice”. Chilling words indeed. Otis and Henry eventually go on a murderous rampage, and in one scene, they fake a car breakdown, and the unfortunate helper is shot in the head by Otis, while Henry looks on with a huge smile of satisfaction on his face as his friend becomes a killer too.

The film is made on a low budget, it looks cheap and that’s one of the things that make it so damn unsettling. There’s no brightness to this film, it’s murky, dark and horrible. Nothing is made to look glamorous, and everything is done with the intention to scare, and it does. Otis and Henry film themselves raping and murdering and mother and her son, and seeing them watch the video, coldly sat on the couch, is one of the most disturbing images of the nineties. Things do come to a head, and the final 15 minutes sees some horrific violence, and the film finishes with an ending even more brutal than the Mist.

Henry is the ultimate serial killer film, it pulls no punches and it doesn’t let you come up for air for a second. It’s a brutal portrayal of a vicious man, forced into killing by a shitty childhood, it’s an honest portrayal, as we listen to Henry talk about his life, and coldly plan his kills, it’s  frightening, but also a fascinating portrayal. It will haunt you for the rest of your days, it will disturb, unsettle and sicken its viewer, and you will have to be of a strong stomach and strong will to be able to survive this film. Henry is a classic and no other serial killer film has EVER come close to the power of this shocker

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

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About Matt Wavish 598 Articles
A keen enthusiast and collector of all horror and extreme films. I can be picky as i like quality in my horror. This doesn't necessarily mean it has to be a classic, but as long as it has something to impress me then i'm a fan. I watch films by the rule that if it doesn't bring out some kind of emotive response then it aint worth watching.

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