Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

05/15/2018 07:20

Film: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Year: 1986

Director: John McNaughton

Writer: Richard Fire and John McNaughton

Starring: Michael Rooker, Tracy Arnold and Tom Towles



This is a fictional portrayal of the real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. He was best known for getting the superstar treatment after he was arrested and confessing to hundreds of murders. Most of this could not be substantiated, so he was only convicted of 11 of the murders. Now the official synopsis for this film is Henry, a drifter, commits a series of brutal murders, supposedly operating with impunity.

I have to say that coming into this film, I had heard a lot about it, but just had never gotten the opportunity to view it. After hearing a couple of podcasts talk about how good this film was I finally got around to it. I have to say that this film is disturbing in a different way from films I have seen in the past. Michael Rooker’s portrayal of Henry is great. Rooker is a solid actor overall, but he fits this role perfectly. Henry is a quiet guy who any time that sexual tension starts to build, he bolts. We learn this is from his mother being a prostitute and making him watch as she would have sex with men. She also would make him wear dresses as well. Some of this is actually true from what I read, which makes this even worse. The lasting effect this has on Henry is sad and scary at the same time.

Henry lives with his friend he met in prison, Otis (Tom Towles). When we first meet him, he is picking his sister up as she is coming to stay with him for awhile as well. Her name is Becky (Tracy Arnold). Their relationship is also odd. Becky married a man who wasn’t good and beat her so she left him. We learn though that she has some deep seeded issues as she was molested growing up. She is drawn to Henry and his strength. Otis has his issues as well. He makes inappropriate passes at his sister and he’s not all there in the head either. His life changes though when Henry involves him in a murder and puts them down a path of insanity.

The crimes in this film aren’t overly graphic, but what they do have is the realism. I have seen much worse on screen, but this effected me in a different way. Seeing their disregard for human life is sickening. They’re portrayal though is quite realistic. The effects used looked good as well, which adds to that realism. I was a fan of the work they did here.

Editing of the film was something that was interesting as well. The film has a feel almost of a documentary, but it isn’t found footage. You feel like you are with them and there are some great shots in the film. It was the choice to have some very long takes that run minutes long and they are solid. To go from this, it was interesting that we never see a police officer in the film. There is a scene where we get a police car, but it does nothing as the men go and commit a murder. Otis is also on parole, but his parole officer that is in charge of him really does very little to ensure that he is doing what he is supposed to. It is an interesting dynamic even today and bringing up issues with our judicial system.

The sound design of the film is pretty good as well. It doesn’t have an overpowering score, but some of the selections for the film were good. It helped to set the tone of the scenes for sure. I think this is definitely a positive of the film.

Now with that said, I would recommend this film. What we see in this film is more subdued than some films that you see today, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of what happens in this one. The depravity of these two men and the acts they commit bothered me. The acting is the strongest point of the film and the leads do an excellent job there. Knowing that some of the things that happened in this film really did occur really hit home. The effects and editing of the film are good. The sound design was as well. I don’t think this film is for everyone, but I do recommend it if you are interested in fictional portrayal of true crime and like really good acting.


My Rating: 8 out of 10