Thursday, January 31, 2013


Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) d. McNaughton, John (USA)

John McNaughton’s unsettling chiller (inspired by the real-life exploits of Henry Lee Lucas) is simply one of the most disturbing and frightening horror films ever made. Grimly underplayed by Michael Rooker, Henry is an illiterate drifter who moves from job to job, killing at random.

Told with a deliberately flat documentary style, utilizing stark naturalistic lighting, Midwest locations, grainy color and limited music, the film was originally rated X for violence and “questionable moral content,” but was eventually released unrated on video in 1990. Definitely not for kids, though gorehounds seeking titillating violence or elaborate effects will likely be disappointed – in terms of onscreen acts of violence, Henry contains a fraction of the average slasher flick, but the suggested horrors – including an unexpected ending – are much more terrifying than graphic cinematic splatter.

However, Henry is not an exploitation movie, but a sincere attempt by McNaughton (who co-wrote with Richard Fire) to profile a man for whom murder is as natural as breathing. Killing is simply something he does, without emotion or pleasure. The nihilistic point of view and realistic psychological touches add up to a shocking film that never cops out. Rooker is unforgettable in his breakout role, with excellent supporting turns by Tracy Arnold as a young woman in love with Henry and Tom Towles as her lowlife brother (and accomplice to some of Henry’s crimes).

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