Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer ReviewJoe Shaffer
Some folks dig shooting hoops, others play video games, and a good handful of them enjoy hunting, fishing, or recreational drug use. Then you have Henry, who loves to murder random people...
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a thriller that tells its tale from the perspective of the antagonist. Yeah, I know what you're thinking: How do you empathize with a monster like Henry? Short answer: you don't. Yet somehow the film's crooked avenues eventually have you rooting for Henry in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, love will help him see the light.
Were there nothing more to Henry than arbitrary murders for shock value
it would just be a remake of the deplorable Island of Death, sans bestiality, it would have been a real snoozer. To shake things up a bit, writer/director John McNaughton introduced our titular killer to a troubled brother-sister combo of Otis and Becky. The former is an ex-con with a propensity for sexual deviancy and incest, the latter is an abuse victim who identifies with Henry because they both hate their parents. In Otis, Henry sees a potential protege and partner in crime, someone who's willing to video tape their murder sprees for later viewing. In the latter, the film seems to imply that Henry has finally found someone who turns his sociopathic world upside down, possibly forcing him to feel the warm fuzzies he's been ignoring (or viciously stabbing to death) for decades.
Highlighting the trip is Michael Rooker's awesome performance as Henry. The man is fittingly expressionless when need be, but shows bits of emotion and suggestions of unresolved issues. Though the movie seems to imply that Henry's murderous talents come as a result of his mother's prostitution and the physical and mental abuse he sustained at her hands, there are a number of subtle hints that insist that he has a rich backstory that will sadly never be told. The man remains consistently cold throughout the film, and is convincing enough that you might suspect that Rooker actually murdered some people prior to shooting. You know, method acting and all that.. He was so convincing as Henry, in fact, that his wife waited until after the filming of the movie to tell him she was pregnant.
Take nothing away from Tom Towles or Tracy Arnold, who make up the pair of siblings. Towles turns up the creepy in this movie, portraying not only Henry's pupil, but a sexual predator with a penchant for teenage boys and sisters. Arnold, on the other hand, shows us a quiet, down home girl who just wants to live, laugh, and forget about the fact that her father is a dirtbag. The film's conclusion rightly has the audience pulling for Becky and calling for Otis's blood, but mostly because of their actors' terrific human portrayals.
It's interesting watching the individual relationships blossom and seeing cold-blooded killers act as if they're just average thrill seekers. At the same time, the implications are horrifying. Here you have a pair of men who murder at random so as to avoid suspicion from the authorities. Not only is this a credible concept, but it has happened before. What's most terrifying is that these men feel no remorse, and are likely to repeat the process of slaughter in a never ending cycle. How do you stop someone the police can't apprehend due to lack of evidence or pattern? How can someone relent if they think their particular hobby, deadly though it is, is so cathartic that it's addictive?
Younger horror fans might complain about the movie's grainy cinematography, but I don't find that to be a problem. The graininess gives the film a gritty aesthetic similar to grindhouse flicks from ages ago. It tells you that you aren't watching some prosy work of art or a feel-good film. You've stepped into the rough, flawed domain of demented thrillers, and you'll probably need a shower once you're done.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is not the kind of movie you watch with your grandmother. It's a nasty piece of work filled with all manner of psychosis, yet somehow the film manages to be more than base shock factor. It's interesting to see horror from the other side of the axe for a change, allowing us to potentially get to know the bad guy and understand that even though he's a terrible individual, he doesn't kill for no reason. As I've said in reviews before, evil begets evil, and you'll find no film to convey that than Henry.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.