Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
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 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 Independent Spirit Awards: Best Director – John McNaughton (Nominated); Best Feature – John McNaughton, Lisa Dedmond, Steven A. Jones (Nominated); Best Male Lead – Michael Rooker (Nominated); Best Screenplay – John McNaughton, Richard Fire (Nominated); Best Supporting Female – Tracy Arnold (Nominated); Best Supporting Male –Tom Towles (Nominated)
USA: X (Original rating) (Rating surrendered)
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.