Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

John McNaughton’s horror drama is a pitch black film that managed to raise so much controversy upon its release and to this day is still a very polarizing work of art in the horror genre. Like “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” it centers on a point of humanity and pure evil that is irredeemable and absolutely impossible to rationalize. “Henry” is that kind of movie without a single bright spot, a tale about a shapeless person indulging in sadism and murder who thinks of snuffing out human life as a mundane hobby that he revels in indulging in.

Michael Rooker plays Henry, a man released from prison following his mother’s murder. He cut the tedium of his job as an exterminator with a series of indiscriminate and violent murders of seemingly random women. Fellow jailbird and drug dealer Otis (Tom Towles) becomes a willing accomplice in Henry’s bloody killings, indulging in sadism and torture for the joy. But as the depravity escalates and Henry forms a bond with Otis’ sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold), things spiral out of control.

Based on the true events of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas and his accomplice, “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” is a movie that even today manages to strike a nerve with viewers. Watching it again after so many years, I had a difficult time enduring certain scenes, including the stunningly grotesque prologue. There’s also the infamous home video footage of Otis and Henry preying on a small family in their home, all of which is punctuated by the way the men so casually approach the acts they’ve committed.

Often considered the godfather of the found footage sub-genre, “Henry” is that rare film that seems to overstep the realm of fiction, and never once fluffs the events that unfold.  Every single scene is perverse and disgusting, while Henry’s own circumstances change the moment he meets Becky. Michael Rooker and Tom Towles are enormous in this film in that they will definitely leave a mark on the audience. They’re so entrenched in these slimy personas, it’ll be tough to split reality from fiction, quite often. Tracy Arnold is a particularly tragic character who can change Henry, the problem is: does he even want to?

There’s always that nagging after thought that perhaps Henry could quit and move on with his life. But what if we were following a character who’d never apologize for anything he’d ever done? “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” promises to almost never leave the public consciousness year after it entered in to genre. It’s the picture of senseless violence, death that makes it less a film and more an experience.