Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

John McNaughton

Richard Fire
John McNaughton

Mary Demas – Prostitute
Michael Rooker – Henry
Anne Bartoletti – Waitress
Elizabeth Kaden – Dead Couple (Wife)
Ted Kaden – Dead Couple (Husband)
Tracy Arnold – Becky
Tom Towles – Otis



Release Dates:
USA – 24 September 1986 (Chicago International Film Festival)
USA – September 1988 (Telluride Film Festival)
USA – 14 September 1989 (Boston Film Festival)
USA – 5 January 1990
France – 6 February 1991
UK – 12 July 1991

1990 Locarno International Film Festival (Locarno, Switzerland): Golden Leopard – John McNaughton (Nominated)

1990 Seattle International Film Festival: Best Actor – Michael Rooker

1990 Sitges – Catalonian International Film Festival: Best Director – John McNaughton; Best Film – John McNaughton; Prize of the Catalan Screenwriter’s Critic and Writer’s Association – John McNaughton

1991 Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film: Silver Raven – John McNaughton

1991 Fantasporto (Porto, Portugal): Best Actor – Michael Rooker; Best Actress – Tracy Arnold; Best Film – John McNaughton; Best Screenplay – Richard FireJohn McNaughton

1991 Independent Spirit Awards: Best Director – John McNaughton (Nominated); Best Feature – John McNaughtonLisa DedmondSteven A. Jones (Nominated); Best Male Lead – Michael Rooker (Nominated); Best Screenplay – John McNaughtonRichard Fire (Nominated); Best Supporting Female – Tracy Arnold (Nominated); Best Supporting Male –Tom Towles (Nominated)

USA: X (Original rating) (Rating surrendered) 
USA: Unrated
France: -16
UK: 18
IMDB: 7.2/10
Netflix: 3.2/5
Rotten Tomatoes: 88% Fresh

I have the indisputable honor of being the first guest reviewer here at  . . . a misplaced boy . . .

Joe assigned me this movie as he is a bit squeamish and according to Entertainment Weekly . . . Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer was “one of the 20 scariest movies of all time.”  Poor Joe, we wouldn’t want our misplaced boy having night terrors as an aftereffect of such a frightful experience.  I simply could not allow this and agreed to relieve him of such an onerous chore.  Besides, I’m still unemployed and Joe is busy now plumbing the depths of the newspaper industry.  I’m not Joe (duh, chick /dude).  This review is going to be different from what you have come to expect here.  So, in a media first . . . drum roll, please . . . Miss Demure Restraint reviews Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer!

This cult classic was shot using 16mm film (cheap gauge for NON-theatrical release) in less than a month on a budget of $110,000.  Wow!  I can’t believe it . . . a motion picture of this quality made for a cinematic pittance.  On the other hand, this is pretty substantial financing when you consider The Blair Witch Project was made for an initial investment of $35,000 in 19 hours and the original Halloween only had $300,000 and 21 days to shoot with multiple camera angles and everything.   It would be reasonable to anticipate a higher quality of cinematography than BWP.  I didn’t find it necessary to make use of an airline barf bag, so that expectation was met.  The camera work was on par with your average documentary or Paranormal Activity ($15,000/one week original cost and schedule).

Henry’s makers – to further economize – utilized friends, family and crew so as not to have the expense of real actors.  The one thespian I could readily identify was Michael Rooker in the lead role.  For you horror fans, Rooker, in the first episode of television’s Walking Dead, was the redneck left hand-cuffed to the roof of a building in Atlanta necessitating he saw off his hand to keep from becoming zombie cuisine.  The actual hand removal was performed off screen paralleling much of Rooker’s performance as Henry.

The female lead was a bit of a problem for me.  I know it wasn’t her, but the chick fiercely reminded me of Rosanne Barr’s oldest, sitcom daughter.  What was her name? That’s right, Becky.  The name of the character in the movie?  That’s right, Becky.  I kept expecting that annoying voice screaming . . . “Becky, what are you doing up there?  Get down here.  Hah . . . Hah . . . Hah.”

Otis, Becky’s brother billed on Netflix as the “dim-witted fellow killer,” was played by bit actor, Tom Towles.  If I had to point to any of the performances as noteworthy, I’d have to choose Towles’ . . . not because he played an outstanding dim-wit – the entire cast was remarkably dim-witted – but because he was creepy in an inbred, perverted kind of way.

The movie begins with shots of naked female victims . . . at one point the film had an X rating.  Now remember this was in the 80’s and an X rating simply meant no one under the age of 17 was permitted at public viewings.  There is no frontal nudity and the onscreen violence is subpar to what can be seen weekly on cable television.  The most grisly of these still shots was purported to be the scene with a broken bottle buried in the face of a young woman.  I can’t attest to this as I was too distracted by the slutty attire of the “actress” (the only one to be clothed) to even notice her face or what was planted in it.  Can you say exploitation?

The filmmaker did have a great idea for implying the savagery of the murders using the soundtrack since we are not shown the majority of the bloodshed.  In the numerous scenes we are shown victims post brutal slaying, the gruesome sounds of dying can be quietly heard in the background.  I like the idea and I think it could be really, really scary (could be).  I will give the soundtrack one thumb up.  That’s right (one) and I think I’m being generous. The music provided the only distinguishable suspense and without it I might have overlooked the scenes intended to instill some sense of foreboding in me.

The acting was flaccid.  These were the least emotive performances I have ever witnessed.  Becky relates her childhood abuse by her father with about as much emotional investment as one uses ordering at the fast food drive-thru.  Henry reciprocates with his monochromatic revelation that mommy used to make him wear dresses and watch her have sex with strangers.  The dialog was lackluster, but the actors actually made it sound worse than it was.  The only line worth quoting was delivered in response to Otis’ demanding that Becky get him a beer . . . “when the pope pees in his hat.”  She got him the beer, so I guess the pontiff must piss in his mitre.  Who knew?

More boring dialog . . . some hookers get their necks snapped . . . Becky gets a job . . . I doze off for a couple of minutes . . . video taping of a family being murdered . . . minor act of necrophilia . . . watching the video tape . . . Otis rapes Becky . . . yes, I said I fell asleep . . . Becky stabs Otis in the eye . . . Henry cuts Otis up and puts him in trash bags . . . throwing body parts in the river . . . I love you Henry . . . I guess I love you too . . . Becky left by the side of the road in her suitcase . . . the end.  Did you catch that?  No, not the necrophilia thing, pervert!  I was so terrified by this movie that I actual nodded off during this masterpiece of awfulness.  That’s right . . . sitting up, middle of the day, plenty of sleep the night before . . . full-on snoozing.

I’d have to say the bulk of the budget had to have been used to buy “good” reviews and accolades.  On the other hand, I can honestly say this has got to be in my top 20 “scary to know it was released to the public rather than burned” movies of all time.  On a scale of Mary Poppins being the least scary and Ringu the most, I’d say Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer ranks below the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious nanny.  Julie Andrews was really kind of freaky when you think about it. . . bag of tricks, flying umbrella, jumping into chalk pictures on the sidewalk, and floating when she laughed . . . all way more frightening than anything in this movie.

Applause . . . Applause . . . Applause (for me, not the stupid movie!)

Spoiler Note:  The only thing that could ever spoil this movie is watching it.

Note to Insomniacs:  Next time you’re having trouble sleeping . . . 15 minutes, half hour max and you’ll be out cold.  I guarantee it.

12 thoughts on “Guest Random Movie Review – Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

  1. Yeah, I think this is one of those cult “classics” you watch once because you feel like you kind of have to. There was one line that I thought was pretty funny – Otis: “Where you going?”, Henry: “Nowhere…wanna come?” Apart from that, well…

    • Or watch because some crazy guy talked you into it. That’s 83 minutes of my life I will never get back. “Nowhere” exactly where the movie took me!

      Good to know somebody else got suckered into enduring the acclaimed piece of . . . drek?

  2. Thank you MDR! Great review!!!

    Interesting that you bring up the soundtrack and the idea that much of the carnage happens off-screen. I think the thing that horrified me was hearing a review on the radio when the movie first came out…probably on NPR. They played the scene where Henry and Otis are watching the video of themselves slaughtering a family (like you do). It sounded so horrifying on the radio that it was too much for me.
    Again, thanks for doing this for me and my squeamish chicken butt.

    Anybody else out there have some thoughts? Just remember: If you disagree with Miss Demure Restraint do so respectfully, she’s my friend and if you’re mean to her I might have to go all Henry on you!

      • You are welcome…but to clarify by threatening to “go Henry” on them I was not threatening violence, but to bore them to sleep.
        In fact, I’m proposing that henceforth the term “to go Henry” will mean to fall asleep during what one thought to be a critically acclaimed film:
        “What did you think of Black Swan?”
        “I dunno, man, I went Henry. Missed the whole lesbian sex scene.”

    • Wasn’t it? There’s nothing quite like a good writer gleefully savaging a movie that wasted 83 minutes of their time!

  3. Oh yes I really like this one, nooooooooooooooo not the crappy movie, I mean this down-to-earth film review as it steers the reader well away from ever watching this terrible movie, indeed when a line such as ‘Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer Ranks Below the Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Nanny’ is coined, then it really does give a very clear message, and that is ‘Do Not… Under Any Circumstances… Well Unless In Need of a Good Kip… Watch This Most Mind-Numbing, Boring, Tripe of ALL Time Movie’…

    Thank you Miss. D
    I am now convinced
    of two things…

    1/ This Film Is Absolutely Rubbish…


    2/ You Are Most Certainly a Wicked Film Reviewer…

    An Excellent Effort Miss. D 🙂 Well Done You 🙂

    Androgoth XXx

  4. Haha, great review! Once I started reading, I didn’t really care about the movie; I just wanted to see what you said next. You have a very sharp tongue and I like that…the wit, not your actual tongue. You might have a very nice tongue for all I know….not that it matters. Now I sound like a perv and your bf is going to get upset. I need to shut up but I can’t stop. Um…so, yeah. Great review and I guess I’m going to remove it from my list of movies to watch. All I ever heard about it, was that it was the greatest serial killer movie ever made. I think I trust you a lot more than the other critics. Congratulations on the review and I hope it’s the first of many more.

  5. Again, thanks to the aMAZEing Miss D for a great guest post…and thanks to all of her wonderful readers for coming over to visit! Y’all come back anytime 🙂

  6. Miss D. Please do not under any circumstances write a review on anything I have published! I would die of morbid embarrasment if I received a review as devestating as this! Your review is by far scarier than the movie itself! LoL. Great Job, Miss D!

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