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Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
IMDB Rating: 7.0/10 from UNRATED votes
Release: 07 Sep 1990 /

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama
Director: John McNaughton,
Stars: , , ,
Synopsis: Based on the true life serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas.

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Critic Reviews

I really wish that there were more movies like "Henry" out there. Most people still don't realize just HOW controversial this film was when it was made. The MPAA wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. McNaughton fought for 4 years to get an R rating, but no dice. And since he didn't want the X, and there was no NC-17 rating at the time, it was finally released, with no rating, in 1990. And why? I've seen films with MORE violence in them...Romero's "Day of the Dead" leaps to mind. But it's not the violence in this film that makes it so disturbing. It's the way the material is handled. And this is what the film's detractors obviously can't appreciate.

"Henry" doesn't bother with any type of morality...it neither glorifies nor denounces Henry's actions. It simply observes. It places those actions before us and says "there it is...you deal with it...you sort it out." People who don't like this film often say that there's "no character development...no discernible plot line...etc., etc." Those people should stop throwing around film school terms. This is one movie that doesn't present events in a "movie reality"...it shows us things as they are in the real world. Character development means showing you enough of the characters in 90-120 minutes to make you feel as if you've known them forever. How often do you spend 90 minutes with a real person and know that much about them...or feel that you can seriously identify with them? It's just a conceit of film-making. Same with plot lines. Does life have a plot line? Not at all. Life is an endless succession of things happening. Some seem important and/or entertaining...some don't. "Henry," in its attempt to realistically portray the life of a serial killer, does not need a plot line...in fact, it benefits from having only a very loose plot line. Much like a homicidal version of "The Catcher in the Rye," this film seems much like a lot of things that happened, as opposed to a carefully constructed fictitious story...which make it seems all the more real...and all the more disturbing.

"Henry" is disturbing on many levels. Firstly, it feels very real. Too real, perhaps. Nothing is slicked up...nothing seems counterfeit or contrived. The entire thing is so utterly plausible that it chills you to the bone. Secondly, the complete lack of police involvement is equally disturbing. The only time you see a police car in this film, it's driving past in the background as Henry is cruising the streets. It drives past...and that's it. And Henry isn't scared...nor is he even aware, apparently. He has nothing to hide. He knows the police won't connect his crimes to one another...and they certainly won't connect them to him. So what has he to fear?

And finally, the setting of Chicago makes the film more disturbing for me, as I'm somewhat familiar with that city and can spot some locales in the film that I recognize. In fact, a friend of mine who lives in Chicago told me that the first time he watched "Henry," he and a friend rented it and sat down in his friend's apartment to watch it. It was about halfway through that they realized that the apartment they were sitting in was the same one used as Henry's apartment in the film. All I can say is...I'd never use that bath tub again.

All in all, I truly wish that more directors had the guts to make films like "Henry." Honestly, I can't think of one film that's comparable. There simply aren't any films out there that are anything like this. This is truly one of the most disturbing films I've ever seen. After seeing "Happiness," I guess that "Henry" probably got knocked down to Number Two on that list. But "Second Most Disturbing Film Of All-Time" is still a damn fine achievement, in my opinion.

If you want to see an accurate and appallingly realistic portrayal of what the life of a serial killer must be like, definitely give "Henry" a viewing. Make up your own mind from there.

Oh, and a final note...one reviewer stated concretely that his biggest problem with the film was that "serial killers work alone." This is, of course, not always the case. The real life counterparts to Henry and Otis (Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole) DID kill together, as did Bianchi and Buono, the infamous Hillside Stranglers. Those are not the only such instances...but they're certainly the best-known. Therefore, the overly broad generalization that serial killers "work alone" is no real attack on the realism of this film.

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