Sunday, February 3, 2008

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Fear 1/5
Gore 4/5
Entertainment 4/5
Creepiness 4/5
Grisly and disturbing film that really defines what "horror" means. No monsters, no goblins or ghosts, no chainsaws and masked slashers. Just a couple of white trash dudes who grew up abused and molested living in the sprawl of a decaying Chicago who have no conscience and no sense of wrong and right.
There is plenty to get disturbed by here - rape, incest, random and gruesome violence, and some pretty nasty gore scenes that had me cringing. I remember seeing this when it came out and being slightly bored, but later feeling really gross. With the film's 20 year release anniversay coming soon I have to say that the second viewing was the one that really got me. Maybe it's because I'm older and have a wiser, more seasoned look on things. Maybe I appreciate life more and don't have that indestructible outlook that an 18 year old has. Whatever it is, this film was effective and freaked me out.
There are a couple of scenes in the film that are especially fucked up, particularly, a scene where Henry and his screwy pal Otis attack a suburban family, raping the mother, killing the son and torturing the father, all while videotaping it. It's hideous and vile and much too realistic. No exaggeration here - this movie has a high "bummer" potential meaning that if you are not prepared, this one will ruin your night.
Of course, this is the triumph of the film - it's awfully awful and painful. The script is good, the acting solid (the Otis character is very well done and Michael Rooker is great as Henry) and the overall tone of the film is dark and sleazy, it's backdrop being one of urban decay and destruction. It makes you feel icky to watch these two carelessly murder over and over without any sense of remorse.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer remains one of the most effective horror films ever made. I wouldn't recommend it as a date flick - stick with the Screams and Friday the 13th films - but I will recommend it as an example of how well done art can shock audiences by being nothing more than a reflection of what could be happening at this very minute. When you walk out of a film like Dawn of the Dead, you feel like you've had fun. The stuff you just saw can never happen. After Henry, however, you should be a little wary about your neighbor or the quiet dude that works in the mail room. I know I am.
- Complaint Department

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