Home  •  About  •  Contact  •  Twitter  •  Google+  •  Facebook  •  Tumblr  •  Youtube  •  RSS Feed
Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer

Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer

By Arpad Lukacs • September 26th, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 2/5
HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (MOVIE)
Greycat Films

Original release: January 5th, 1990
Running time: 83 minutes

Director: John McNaughton
Writers: Richard Fire, John McNaughton

Cast: Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold

Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer

Sometimes there are good reasons to see a movie about a serial killer or a crime. For example, David Fincher’s Seven (1995) is a thought-provoking – but ultimately pessimistic – debate about the meaning of life. There’s also Joel Schumacher’s 8mm (1999), despite its gritty and depressing atmosphere, it’s a moving story about compassion and a selfless act of kindness for a young woman who only found someone to care for her after she died.

Until now, I hesitated to see director John McNaughton’s low budget film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. I knew several high-profile critics gave it positive reviews and the film’s “unforgiving realism” was often praised. Having seen a few excerpts, I was sceptical. Can realism alone give a film some sort of artistic merit, especially when it comes to the gritty subject of serial murder?

The film is loosely based on real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, played by Michael Rooker, and is a fairly straightforward telling of his daily life of dull existence, occasionally interrupted by the killing of randomly selected victims. His flatmate Otis – also based on real life murderer Ottis Toole – is visited by his sister Becky (Tracy Arnold) who’s just split from her husband and comes to Chicago in search of a job. While the three of them live together, Henry and Otis develop what I can reluctantly call a friendship.

Henry soon decides to share his passion for taking life with Otis, which results in the two teaming up to become sinister predators looking for prey on the streets of the city.

The first thing I noticed in Henry was the lack of outsider’s perspective. We have Henry, and to some extent Otis, as the protagonists of the film and also the antagonists. It’s an unsettling, uncomfortable and almost unbearable perspective. Looking through the eyes of a pathological mass murderer going senselessly from victim to victim I could only think of one question: Why was this movie made?

Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer

When I ask myself what it is exactly that I got from seeing Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, I can’t say very much. There’s this guy and he kills people for no reason. That’s what we see in the beginning, the middle and then at the end. As a film it lacks any sort of arc, structure or point.

In one scene, Henry and Otis are sitting on a couch watching footage they recorded of themselves during a home invasion where they murdered all members of a family. We, the audience, are also sitting on a couch watching the footage of the murders.

Co-writer Richard Fire stated in the Making Of documentary they wanted to create a character study without social commentary. In that, the film has a great deal of integrity. It’s an uncompromisingly realistic docudrama with Michael Rooker giving a terrifyingly believable performance as Henry. However, I think what’s shown in the film desperately needs some context. Without it, the film is exactly what the filmmakers intended it to be – and in this case it’s simply not enough.

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.

Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.

Have a look at Arpad's photography site, and you can follow him on Twitter @arpadlukacs.

© 2018 STATIC MASS EMPORIUM . All Rights Reserved. Powered by METATEMPUS | creative.timeless.personal.   |   DISCLAIMER, TERMS & CONDITIONS

HOME | ABOUT | CONTACT | TWITTER | GOOGLE+ | FACEBOOK | TUMBLR | YOUTUBE | RSS FEED

CINEMA REVIEWS | BLU-RAY & DVD | THE EMPORIUM | DOCUMENTARIES | WORLD CINEMA | CULT MOVIES | INDIAN CINEMA | EARLY CINEMA

MOVIE CLASSICS | DECONSTRUCTING CINEMA | SOUNDTRACKS | INTERVIEWS | THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR | JAPANESE CINEMA