Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Released: 1986

Directed by John McNaughton

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer presents an uncompromising look into the mind of a sociopathic murderer as he lives his seemingly mundane life as a freelance pest control man living with his prison buddy Otis and Otis’ sister Becky.

Until the arrival of Becky, Henry and Otis had a working dynamic: they would lead fairly boring lives, and
Henry would occasionally butcher a stranger. When Becky arrived, however, a tension emerged between the three as a result of Otis’ suggestive behavior toward his sister. In an attempt to relieve this stress, Henry murders two hookers in front of Otis later that evening. Once Otis tasted the thrill of murder, he wanted to experience it once more, thus beginning a killing spree that would span some unknown period of time.

Henry is a dark gritty film partly as a result of $110,000 production budget, which was incredibly low, even for 1986, and partly due to the ‘TV long cut’ film style of cinematographer Charlie Lieberman. These two attributes manifest to forge a tone of realism that is most noticeable in the scenes shot throughout the city of Chicago.

Henry’s character (Michael Rooker) is a killer with no restraint. As he claims lives again and again, the audience gains an understanding that this man views killing as an inseparable part of his life, rather than some hobby or thrill. Otis, however, is quite the opposite in this regard. To Otis, murder is an enthralling adventure to be relived multiple times, with the assistance of a stolen video camera. While Henry is not phased by this past time, Otis clearly becomes addicted which ultimately leads to his downfall.

This film may be a commentary of sorts on the differences between moderation and excess; however, I suspect this to be an afterthought. The film appears to be nothing more than a depiction of the mind of a sociopathic killer, and, this, it accomplishes well.

Rating: 6/10

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