Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) Review

Horrorific content by adrian on January 09th, 2021 | Movie Review | Cult Classic, Serial Killer, 80's Horror

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It's about a guy with an uncontrollable urge to kill and another guy he meets with the same problem.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was directed by John Mcnaughton (who also directed The Harvest and The Borrower) and stars Michael Rooker (from Fantasy Island, The Belko ExperimentHypothermia and Penance), Tracy Arnold and Tom Towles (from Night Of The Living Dead).

The shocking true story of Henry Lee Lucas.

Henry: Portait of a Serial Killer Review

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a low budget horror that was filmed in under a month with a budget of only $110k. It's based on the real Texan serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole. The production value is low, the practical effects are basic and there's no plot twists or metaphors lurking under the surface. But despite all this it's one of the more powerful and tragic movies I've seen, horror or otherwise. The MPAA actually banned it to keep it out of theaters when it first came out. Job Bob Briggs described it as having a "disturbing moral tone", and he 'aint wrong. This movie hits you hard fast and sticks with you for days.

This movie is about a serial killer serial killing. Nothing more. Nothing less. It opens with Henry leaving a slew of bodies behind in a city he's leaving, never to return. Some are strangled, others are shot, some are drowned. All were random. Next stop, Chicago.

Henry takes a menial job as an exterminator that leaves him with way too much time on his hands.He eventually starts hanging out with a guy named Otis and Otis' sister Becky. Otis and Becky are both damaged goods, just like Henry. One night Henry and Otis go out to grab a beer but end up killing a couple of hookers instead. Otis gets a taste for killing so Henry takes him under his wing as a kind of twisted apprentice.

This describes a lot of serial killer movies. What makes Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer uniquely disturbing is the complete absence of emotion attached to the kills. In most movies the serial killer is crazy, unhinged or bipolar. They often fight their inner demons that fuel their urge to kill. There's always some kind of inner struggle of good against evil. Or, they come across as perfectly normal in public but become maniacs when they kill. Some good examples of serial killer movies that fit this bill would be The House that Jack Built, Angst and Maniac.

Henry, on the other hand, is void of emotion. He's even keel at all times. He's the same when he's working, eating or killing. He's void of anything while stalking and while cleaning up. Killing is just something he does. He has a damaged past which determines the type of victims he targets, but that's it. He doesn't try to stop himself, he doesn't get a rush afterward, nothing. He just is. Otis, on the other hand, got a rush from it all. Otis and Henry were polar opposites in this way.

So that's about all I can say without spoiling it. Of course a movie like this can't really be spoiled since it's the visual experience that makes it special. It's a lot like The Poughkeepsie Tapes or Ms .45 in this way. Ms. 45 is about a woman who gets revenge on her attackers. Sounds generic, but it's not. It's a beautiful horror movie that feels like a gut punch, just like Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Worth Watching?

If you like realistic serial killer movies, like almost documentary style, then there's no reason you shouldn't watch this. Go watch it now, it's as close to a perfect serial killer movie you're gonna get. If you're at all squeamish or if you prefer Hollywood horror movies that offer hope of victim survival, then this might not be for you.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) Worth Watching? - ALL HORROR Tweet it

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