Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986)
0 comment Sunday, May 25, 2014 |
Runtime: 83 minutes
Country: USA
Cast and Crew
Directed by John McNaughton
Written by Richard Fire and John McNaughton
Starring Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold, and Ray Atherton
In my last review, I wrote of how the film Battle Royale was disturbing and unsettling for several reasons, child brutality being the foremost example. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is also very disturbing and unsettling. But the two films work on completely different levels. Battle Royale is tinged with fast-paced action sequences and contains an operatic score that likens the film to a kabuki tragedy. Henry is more akin to that creepy uncle that your family doesn't invite to the reunion. It is a dark and gritty piece of cinema that slithers down your throat and leaves you with a cold and queasy feeling in your bowels. To put it succinctly, it's beautiful.
Henry leaves a roadside diner on his day off of work, cruising about the Chicago streets in his beat up car. Henry is a killer, a serial killer to be exact. He has left a horrid path of corpses in his wake, the dead bodies of once beautiful women mercilessly slaughtered and left to rot. He rooms with lunkheaded Otis is his scummy apartment when he isn't working for an extermination company or scoping out victims. Henry is surprised to find Otis has brought his abused sister Becky to the place in order for her to begin life anew. This new arrival sets off the gears of an unstoppable machine where Otis is drawn into Henry's homicidal proclivities. The result is an insane crescendo of violence where no one is safe from Henry's wrath...
The depravity, if you'll allow me, seems to radiate from the screen as we watch Henry go about his day to day activities. That in of itself is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the film. Henry coolly stalks women through the winding streets and prompts Otis to kill unsuspecting victims as if he were simply taking out his laundry or reading from the phone book. Henry is an empty shell, fueled only by the addictive lust to destroy human lives. Everything about him (his job, his interactions with people) are only accommodations he must make in order to move in for the kill and blend into society.
American Psycho and the television series Dexter also deal with murderous men performing only the absolute necessities of humanity in order for their true nature to go undetected. The strength of these two examples primarily depend on the strong and complex performances of the lead actors, Christian Bale and Michael C. Hall respectively. Henry is no exception. Michael Rooker delivers his lines in a manner that evokes both shivers and fascination. The Southern lilt to his voice is infectious; you may find yourself nodding along with Henry's words, as disturbed as they may be. The scene between him and Becky where he discusses how he murdered his mother is perfection. The proverbial pin makes a deafening crash during the oppressive silence that occurs in between Becky's wide-eyed curiousness and Henry's quiet rage. For having no acting experience whatsoever, Rooker hits the nail on the head with his dynamite role.
The film does not lose one ounce of the demented power it exercised over shocked audiences twenty years ago. The brutality is coarse and in your face; you become a captive victim yourself as you are forced to watch the horror unfold before you. And I don't know about you, but if that videotape murder sequence doesn't chill you at least a little bit, your pulse must have ceased ages ago. Not even the realistic factors that were present in The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity can match the jaw-dropping nature of that scene. It seems to be a pioneer of that oft-repeated "handheld camera" look that films try to desperately achieve. Henry gets it down to a science. If you didn't know any better, you would be positively sure that the actors had broken into a home and started terrorizing an actual family. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. Not to mention Otis's nonchalant request: "I wanna see it again."
According to John McNaughton, there was an occasion where a stupefied audience member actually confronted him and said "You can't do that." He was appalled that the director would make a film where the villain, after performing unspeakable acts, was left unscathed and unharmed by the law at the film's end. McNaughton's simple reply was "We just did." That quote is a good summation of the film as a whole. McNaughton and company sought to make a horror movie that dealt with the human monsters among us, set in the harsh landscape of the starkest of realities. And they succeeded. Just cause they wanted to. Deal with it. The movie is a good challenge for a viewer to put themselves through to test their endurance. Can they withstand the bloody crimes of a mad murderer? Can they distinguish where the lines of character and actor are defined? Can they take the horror of it all?

Labels: , , , , ,