31 Days of Horror: Film #12 HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer has the reputation of being one of the most disturbing American horror films ever made. It’s a film that’s always been on my radar, but I didn’t really want to watch it. I remember seeing one edited scene from the film many years ago in a televised program on the most shocking horror films ever (the sort of thing that would now be summed up in an online article). That one scene was enough to convince me to stay away from the film. In that scene, Henry and his friend Otis are filming themselves during a home invasion which results in the deaths of three people. The camera pans back and we see that Henry and Otis are actually watching the tape of the murders on TV. When it’s over, Otis rewinds the tape, and they watch it all over again. Seeing that scene now, unedited and in the context of a film all about a mad man, the sequence is even more shocking.
Few films live up to their reputations but Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is one of them. This really is one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen. It’s an unflinching slice of life drama with cold-hearted killer Henry at the center of the story. Throughout the film Henry kills on a whim and he’s just smart enough to change up his tactics so that the cops don’t know all the murders can be traced back to one man.
The film is as cold as Henry. It feels almost like a documentary at times. Only a few of Henry’s murders occur on camera. The opening of the film shows Henry going about his daily routines, with shots of dead people cut in between the scenes. It’s the past sneaking into the present. The result is that you know everything Henry and the movie are about long before you see him do anything wrong.
Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead) makes his screen debut as Henry. The character’s a monster and the actor is great in the role. It’s probably Rooker’s best performance.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is well-made and it deserves its cult-classic status. Just the same, I don’t ever want to see it again. There are more depraved, violent, messed up films out there, but Henry has a claustrophobic feel to it, like you’re stuck there with the monster and the filth. When the film was over, I breathed a sigh of relief and was happy to finally remove it from my Netflix Queue.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of books and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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