Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

“He’s not Freddy… He’s not Jason… He’s real.” Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

IMDB summary: Loosely based on serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, the film follows Henry and his roommate Otis who Henry introduces to murdering randomly selected people.

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 85%

Why I love it: I don’t. I almost took it off the list.

I feel filthy. Like really, really, disgusting.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial KIller. I didn’t have the heart to put the whole title up at first. I only put Henry. That’s how skeeved out I am.

Henry killed his mama. She was a whore. But he didn’t fault her for that. It was the way she did it. She used to make him watch her as she had sex with men for money. And he had to wear dresses and curl his hair. He either killed her with a baseball bat, stabbed her or shot her on his 14th birthday.

Henry comes to stay with his buddy Otis and Otis’ stupid sister who used to dance (almost) naked. She has a thing for Henry. She makes fish dinners for the guys in the dirty kitchen sink, seemingly unfazed by the fact that Henry is a mother killer. Stupid girls get killed, Becky. Do you not see what’s coming? Henry schools his friend about changing up his modus operandi so they can enjoy their killing spree. (He knows Latin.) You know things are about to get bad for the whores and the housewives out there and the other stupid people who mouth off to Henry and Otis when they score a video camera. And they do. They get real bad.

Henry Lee Lucas was a sadistic American serial killer starting in the early 50’s. His real-life lover Ottis Toole was a paranoid schizophrenic, a “part-time transvestite and deeply psychotic retard” who was just as awful. Together they confessed to hundreds of murders, but most of their confessions ended up being lies.

From mayhem.net: The Tag Team from Hell: the Sadist King and the Generalissimo of Pain. The numbers speak for themselves, or maybe not. Lucas and Toole could either be the deadliest team of killers in the Archives, or the greatest hoaxers in crime history. No one can be quite sure how many people they killed even if they confessed and recanted up to 600 murders. With his death the night of March 12, 2001, Henry Lee Lucas took to his grave either a far-reaching confession hoax, or a lethal cross-country rampage of random serial killing.

I saw this movie at the Nuart in West L.A. For its 1986 release, it was rated X. At one point it was going to be rated A, which was meant for graphic and violent adult movies that weren’t pornographic. I saw the 1990 unrated version, which was basically the rated X one. Call it what you want, it’s so fucking disturbing that I actually find myself looking over my shoulder as I write even though there’s nothing but a wall behind me. And I can never see a movie with Michael Rooker in it without wanting to throw up. Where the fuck do you have to go as an actor to pull off this kind of “realism?”

On the (debatable) genre of film realism, French film theorist Andre Bazin wrote “the narrative unit is not the episode, the event, the sudden turn of events, or the character of its protagonists; it is the succession of concrete instants of life, no one of which can be said to be more important, for their ontological equality destroys drama at its very basis.” Fine, if you’re watching a movie about, say, baseball. Or two people falling in love. Not everything has to make a sweeping and dramatic statement à la the beach scene in From Here to Eternity. I can respect realism as a storytelling device, even in this case, because movies and books and art are supposed to move us and make us wonder about who we are and what we think about. But when it comes to scary movies, I can watch The Exorcist because I don’t believe in the devil. And because movies aren’t real. This one kind of is real. I know it’s not, but still. There’s “oh my gawd, that was so freakin’ scary!” And then there’s “OK, that was so fucked up I might actually need immediate, professional trauma counseling.” And now I’m sitting here worried that a psychopath is going to break in my house, rape me, kill me and possibly skull fuck me when I’m dead. Thank god I have my dog here.

I completely agree with one IMDB reviewer:

“I am 57 years old. I’ve seen many films in my lifetime. I am not easily frightened or upset by movies. I am partial to drama and documentaries. I can count on one hand the films that I have found to be so deeply disturbing, that I later regretted seeing them. This film is among them. It is possible to “see too much” in this life, and once seen, some sights remain trapped in your head FOREVER short of getting a lobotomy, or being hypnotized. Leaving the theater that day, I honestly felt as though I had actually witnessed several murders. I was really shaken by the horrific realism of this cinematic event. I was sorry that I had seen the film, but it was too late to retract the terror that, even today, still remains in my memory. Some things are so emotionally damaging, that perhaps they should be left alone. This film was so powerfully unsettling for me, that I feel a need to warn others of the emotional impact. This speaks well of the directors skill at scaring movie-goers, but approach with caution please. This is a very heavy movie.” ~rbvs

There’s a sequel to this movie. I just can’t. It’s too icky.


Next: The Blair Witch Project

Written by Anne Clendening
Anne Clendening was born and raised in L.A. She's a yoga teacher, a writer and occasionally slings cocktails in a Hollywood bar. She could eat chocolate cake for every meal of the day. She has a huge fear of heights and flying. And fire. She wishes she could speak French, play her guitar better and make cannoli. She's probably listening to The Dark Side Of The Moon right now, kickin’ it with her boxer dog and her hot Australian husband ★